Ideas for increasing city revenue meet resistance
Credit: By Alex Kane Rudansky, The Daily Northwestern, www.dailynorthwestern.com 1 March 2011 ~~
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First ward residents spoke out against lakefront development at the quarterly first ward meeting Tuesday night in response to talks of offshore wind turbines, construction and advertising along the shores of Lake Michigan.
At the meeting, held at the Evanston Public Library, Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) brought up the Lakefront Development Committee, which was formed in September to discuss a proposal for “large development” on the lakefront that could include a marina, hotel, auditorium, music venue and presidential library. The builder has merely proposed these ideas, but has not been granted any building permits, she said.
Residents expressed concern that their previous efforts, including $200,000 spent on a lakefront visioning process in recent years, were being overlooked or invalidated, and that the goal of that process was being forgotten.
“So little of the open space is left on the lake, that we should treasure every bit,” a resident said.
Fiske also discussed the wind farm committee that was formed to advise City Council about the possibility of building an offshore wind farm. Some expressed support for the proposal when it was introduced last spring, according to Daily archives. Fiske adamantly opposed the building of this wind farm. Not only would it negatively impact migrating birds, but there is no direct benefit to the citizens of Evanston, she said.
“Obviously everyone is interested in clean energy, but we need to think of the larger issue here too,” Fiske said. “The larger issue is who will be benefiting here.”
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he is looking to bring in non-tax revenue to balance the city budget. An option he wants to explore is third party sponsorship of city events, buildings, activities and services as well as advertising downtown and along the lakeshore. Businesses could advertise on city parking garages, trash receptacles and kiosks as well as on the lakefront by naming facilities there after sponsors and even advertising on lifeguard chairs, he said. Fiske voted against a proposal to explore these options at Monday night’s council meeting. Bobckiewicz said he would like the opportunity to learn more about third party revenue.
“We should go down the road to explore it,” he said after the meeting. “We don’t know enough at this point to know what the impacts would be. I’m looking at budget deficits for 2012 and 2013. To not explore these options is not prudent.”
Multiple citizens spoke out against Bobckiewicz’s idea.
“If you do this at the lakefront you’re going to demean what we have down there, which is possibly the nicest lakefront anywhere around and you’re going to do it for only a few bucks,” said David Reynolds, an Evanston resident of 40 years.
Bobckiewicz repeatedly said this is simply an idea he would like to explore, and there are no concrete plans for any lakefront development. Any steps forward would require council approval. Still, the potential for non-tax revenue here cannot be ignored, he said.
“Given the hard economic times, we can’t shut anything off as a possibility,” he said.
Reynolds and his wife Holly were active in the lakefront visioning process and both said they strongly oppose any changes to the lakefront.
“Commercialization of the lakefront is a very slippery slope,” Reynolds said after the meeting. “There is no possibility of enough revenue being generated to ameliorate the effects of commercialization on the lakefront.”
Holly Reynolds said lakefront development conflicts with the wishes of Evanston residents.
“Out of a long process of lakefront visioning, the one clear consensus and overriding idea that came out was that we wanted to keep the lakefront natural and noncommercial,” she said.
“The commercialization of the lakefront is not appropriate,” she said. “It’s not consistent with the strong sentiment of residents all over the city that participated in the lakefront visioning process.”
One resident suggested Northwestern help ease the city’s budget woes.
“It is my understanding that Northwestern doesn’t pay property taxes,” she said. “Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if Northwestern pitched in somewhat.”
Bobckiewicz said this has been a longstanding issue in the community. He said NU President Morton Schapiro is supportive of the city, and is as helpful as he can be in a lot of different ways. Still, he said garnering financial support from NU is an “ongoing challenge.”
“Northwestern is interested in talking about things that directly affect them,” he said. “They’re not writing a check just because it’s a nice thing.”
Bobckiewicz cited NU’s donation of a fire engine to the city’s fire department as much appreciated financial support for a service the city provides to the University. Support of fire and life safety services are of mutual interest to both the University and the city, Bobckiewicz said after the meeting. Bobckiewcz said he was just glad the University was helping to support the city.
He said many of the lakefront preservation issues are also of mutual interest to the city and University.
“Residents want to maintain the lakefront and students want to come here for it,” he said. “There’s a lot of common ground. Students have more things in common with these residents who are their neighbors than they realize. It’s unfortunate more students don’t get to see and know these people because both sides overgeneralize each other and really they both want the same thing.”
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