From “Freeloaders” To Philanthropists (Kind Of)


Every so often, almost perplexingly, one or other of our local governmental bodies actually gets something “right” – rather than just not getting it wrong.

This past Wednesday night (May 29), the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District Board – after some serious deliberation – appears to have made the “right” decision on an issue we wrote about, critically, in our May 20, 2013 post: making the historic Solomon Cottage on the Park Ridge Youth Campus property available as the new home of the Park Ridge Historical Society (the “PRHS”).  And it will be done by the District’s giving the PRHS a 20-year lease of that 105-year old building at a mere $1 per year.

Yes, $1 per year.

While that kind of deal normally would have us searching high and low for undue influence on behalf of some well-connected-but-undisclosed special interest, this looks and sounds legit for several reasons – not the least of which is that the PRHS is reportedly going to initially commit approximately $120,000 of its own funds to making the Solomon Cottage “habitable”; and then another few hundred thousand dollars of private funding to turn the building into an interactive historical museum.  The PRHS also will be responsible for the utilities and routine maintenance.

In other words, this looks to be a no-cost deal for Park Ridge taxpayers.

And not only will it save this historically-significant structure from demolition but, also, it will save the District’s taxpayers the estimated $80,000 in demolition costs the District was planning to incur because operating/programming the deteriorating Solomon Cottage was not part of the District’s Youth Campus Park redevelopment plan.

Can we get an “Amen”?

Okay, let’s not get carried away just yet.  There’s still a ways to go – and a number of details to iron out – before this plan becomes a reality.  Which means there’s still plenty of time and opportunities for it to get bollixed up.  And the public still needs to weigh in on this landlord-tenant twist, because such an arrangement between the District and the PRHS was not one of the advertised features used to sell the Youth Campus referendum to the voters last month.

Additionally, whatever lease agreement is drawn up MUST totally protect, if not outright favor, the District and its taxpayers.  That means there better be a cracker-jack inspection and evaluation of the structure to ascertain the condition of its foundations, walls, windows, roof and mechanical systems before the District effectively gives the PRHS, as its tenant, the legal right to demand major repairs that could consume tens of thousands of tax dollars and turn this “deal” on its head.

As more than one Park Board member noted Wednesday night, the District doesn’t need or want another Senior Center-style public/private “partnership” boondoggle that cost the District’s taxpayers $150,000+/year in ridiculous subsidies, the $330,000 Kemnitz bequest, and a lawsuit and legal fees to sort things out.  And neither do the taxpayers.

So for now we’re giving a big Watchdog bark-out to both the Park Board and the PRHS, including its treasurer, Kirke Machon, whom we took to task in our May 20 post for being the mouthpiece for the PRHS’s earlier “Ubi est mea?” (an homage to the late Mike Royko) freeloader approach to this venture, one that would have had the Park District throwing at least $120,000 of our tax dollars – if not the whole $500,000-plus – into a deteriorating building it had no plans of ever using.

This has the makings of one of those rare win/win deals, with the private PRHS contributing a boatload of private money for the improvement of a public building.

Now it’s up to the Park District and the PRHS not to screw this up.

To read or post comments, click on title.

4 comments so far

This does sound like a win-win. So why are you only referring to PRHS as “kind of” philanthropists?

EDITOR’S NOTE: It does, indeed. But the “kind of” comes from the fact that this appears to be a pretty good deal for the PRHS, so the PRHS arguably is getting almost as much as it’s giving.

Some people will be bronzing this column.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t see why, but we’ll take your word for it. They must have a lot of leftover bronze they can’t figure out how to use.

Sorry dog, not buying it. For starters this would have served a greater cause by renting it to Senior Services for $1 a year. Second, the park board missed it by not going to referendum ethically the way they should have. Their job is to educate the public so an informed decision can be made on the question and not to influence. Heck, the park board was practically buying votes leading up to election day and bombarding residents daily with email blasts to vote in favor of the referendum. This reeks of a back room deal that was made to gain support of this special interest group prior to the election and you’re calling this “getting it right”?…..who you crapping dog?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Senior Services is on its way out the door, and good riddance: it ripped off the taxpayers for more than a cool million bucks of subsidies in just the last 6-7 years.

As for the Park Board “not going to referendum ethically,” we’re not exactly sure what that means – although, if it means the PRRPD was “campaigning” rather than just “informing,” we would agree. We’re looking forward to seeing just how much in public funds the PRRPD spent on that “campaign,” although we suspect the PRRPD will do its best to hide/bury those costs among all its other expenses.

But like it or note, and ethically or not, Mountcastle & Mel (along with the rest of the Munchkins) piled up enough votes to prevail on the referendum, so Youth Campus Park will become a reality. That being said, we believe the public will be better served by the PRHS rehabbing and operating the Solomon Cottage on its own dime rather than having the PRRPD spend $80,000 (which we believe is an inflated number, by the way, but the only one we have to work with) to demolish that building.

Perhaps it will replace the bronze plaque stolen from the new reservoir area at the conclusion of your favorite project, the Uptown Redevelopment?

EDITOR’S NOTE: What “bronze plaque” and whose “favorite project”?

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