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June 26, 2019

6/12/2019 2:32:00 PM
City Bails Out Canal Shores But Golf Course Loses Revenue to Northwestern
By Mary Helt Gavin

Canal Shores Golf Course got another hole on June 10, this one in its budget. The City of Evanston will help offset some of the cost caused by differing interpretations of certain leases, but the golf course has lost a stream of revenue.

The City of Evanston and the Village of Wilmette lease from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District the land on which the golf course sits; a number of extensions to the lease have been executed, and the present one is set to expire in 2032. The Evanston Wilmette Golf Course Association subleases the property and operates the not-for-profit Canal Shores Golf Course there.

The main sources of revenue for Canal Shores are greens fees and football-parking charges. For several years, the City has allowed Canal Shores to rent up to four holes of the golf course for parking and tailgate parties on days of Northwestern University football games. Last summer, Canal Shores allowed SPACE to hold concerts there over two weekends, at which alcoholic drinks were sold. The lease with MWRD provides a mechanism by which MWRD receives some of the revenues generated by the golf course.

Each year, the City of Evanston approved the Canal Shores parking-tailgating agreement, and last year, the City approved the agreement with SPACE for its “Out of Space” concerts. MWRD believes that it should have received a portion of the revenues from both the tailgating and the Out of Space concerts.

In a June 6 memo from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and Corporation Counsel Michelle Masoncup, the City maintains that under its interpretation of the lease MWRD should not have been surprised at the use of the golf course for football parking: “While the lease does not specifically authorize parking on the course for football game days and states ‘parking lot’ as a permitted use, it is commonly understood in the community that game-day parking occurred on the course and the Council transmittal memo in 1994 outlined the purpose of the amendment to include parking on the course. Until recently, the City and Canal Shores believed that the lease covered this activity and complied with MWRD regulations.”

Similarly, the City said the lease is “silent on the issue of alcohol sale or consumption on the property, and no expressed prohibition. … Since the lease does not prohibit alcohol sale or consumption, the City and Canal Shores believed that if a one-day liquor license were issued for the events, this would be in conformance with local and State regulations.”

MWRD disagrees with the City’s position, citing a provision of the Illinois Liquor Control Act, and says it believes it could hold Canal Shores in default of its lease. Instead of pursing that tactic, though, MWRD is demanding that Canal Shores remit what MWRD believes is its share of the revenues generated through the tailgating/parking days and the Out of Space concerts.

MWRD said it calculated its $77,510.25 demand as follows: $60, 850.25 represents 25% of the $242,401 Canal Shores received in parking revenues over the past three years; $16,660 represents 100% of the revenue Canal Shores received from the Out of Space concerts. 

MWRD further has said that it, not Canal Shores, will from now on negotiate leases with Northwestern University for parking/tailgating. Operating already on thin margins, Canal Shores will no longer have that source of revenue.

Northwestern has agreed to pay $10,000 toward the amount owed by Canal Shores, and the City will kick in the remainder in the form of two loans of $33,755 each to the golf course. One of these will be repaid over seven years with annual payments of $4,822. The other will be a forgivable loan involving Canal Shores’ providing over a five-year period in-kind services such as free golf instruction to Evanston children from low-income families and job opportunities through the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program.

During the public comment period at the June 10 City Council meeting, several speakers expressed support for the loan. MWRD Commissioner Debra Shore said, “MWRD values it relationship with the City of Evanston. We appreciate what Canal Shores has done and want to work with you.” She said she believed the recommendation was fair for all parties.

Speaking for MWRD Commissioner Cameron Davis, Christian Sorenson said timing is crucial, because MWRD Commissioners plan to consider the Canal Shores matter at their June 20 meeting.

In urging her colleagues to approve the agreement, Alderman Eleanor Revelle, in whose Seventh Ward much of the golf course lies, said it has often been overlooked that Canal Shores “has been a great financial benefit to Evansotn. City funds pay for the maintenance of the Ladd Arboretum, Twiggs Park, Butler Park and Harbert Park. Canal Shores has been maintaining the golf course, restoring the habitat and providing a variety of recreation activities, such as walking, birding and dog-walking.” She also asked that the loan be paid off in annual payments that begin in June rather than January of each year.

The vote included not only the payment to MWRD to avoid a default by Canal Shores but also an amendment to the lease with MWRD regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol on the property and  concerts and festivals on the golf course, thus allowing Space to hold concerts there this summer. It also contained a consent by the City to MWRD’s issuing a permit to Northwestern for parking.

Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, voted against the measure, which passed 7-2.

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