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Evanston City Council members have placed on hold granting consent to a Northwestern University permit for parking and tailgating events along the Canal Shores Golf Course during football season.
The action came at the June 22 City Council meeting after representatives of the golf course raised concern about being cut out of the process.
Northwestern is seeking the City’s consent to a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) permit, allowing parking and tailgating activities for the next five football seasons – 2020 through 2024.
Until 2019, the University and the Evanston Wilmette Golf Association, the group that manages the public course, would work out terms of how revenues from the parking and tailgating activities would be shared.
Last year, however, MWRD , which owns the land along the North Shore Channel – which is then subleased through the City to the golf course – directed Northwestern to apply directly to the District for its tailgating and parking permit.
At the June 22 Council meeting, Alderman Eleanor Revelle, in whose Seventh Ward portions of the golf course are located, called “premature,” any move by the City to grant consent to the permit for the activities to proceed.
“We are being asked to give our consent before we know what kind of arrangement there will be for Canal Shores,” Ald. Revelle said. “Since early May, Canal Shores has been trying to discuss an arrangement with Northwestern. But Northwestern has been unwilling to work with Canal Shores on an agreement until after we give our consent to the permit request. I think this is backwards.”
The parking and tailgating has been an important source of revenue for the course, which has struggled financially in the past.
Ald. Revelle noted that starting in 2008, the City Council approved regular requests from Canal Shores to allow Northwestern to park cars on its golf course.
In 2018, before the MWRD demanded a new arrangement, the golf course netted $80,000 from the activities, she said.
Northwestern representatives couldn’t be reached for comment through phone calls and email.
During citizen comment earlier at the June 22 meeting, several speakers connected to Canal Shores voiced frustration about the University’s unwillingness to discuss the issue.
Matt Rooney, a member of the Association’s Board, told aldermen the situation dates back to early May, when the University solicited a five-year parking permit from the MWRD for parking on Canal Shores for football games “without even giving Canal Shores a heads up it was going to do that.”
After learning the University was planning to approach the MWRD, the golf course board sent the University a written proposal, Mr. Rooney told the Council.
The proposal was framed “in the same vein as our arrangement was with them for last year,” he said.
“It called for very little out-of-pocket money to be spent by Northwestern,” he explained. “But it did call for them to pay us for the lost revenues that Canal Shores would not get with the golf course being closed [due to the activities] for up to seven Saturdays each fall.”
“We also proposed what we thought was an equitable arrangement that would allow Canal Shores to provide some support and services to Northwestern regarding all the parking on our golf course,” Mr. Rooney told aldermen, “and also allow us to manage some of the game-day parking for them and keep the bulk of the revenues from that part that we were managing.”
He requested that Council members withhold the City’s consent in the matter, “unless and until Northwestern sits down with us and negotiates in good faith and reaches a deal that is financially fair to us, a not-for-profit organization that’s taking good care of open green space in Evanston at no cost to taxpayers.“
He closed off, warning that, “five years of lost golf revenues and an unfair deal that Northwestern could cram down our throats after it locks down your approval and the permit from MWRD would threaten our financial viability, period.”
During a brief Council discussion, Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, pointed to an inference in speaker remarks that Northwestern was choosing to give the parking revenues to somebody else other than the golf course, “and I don’t think that’s correct,” he said, not elaborating.
He recommended that aldermen discuss the issue at their July 13 City Council meeting, providing enough time for an agreement to be reached before the start of the football season.