Lakefront projects could be cut, postponed

Sara Peck

Facing the stress of the upcoming budget season, aldermen are debating the feasibility of implementing certain aspects of the previously approved Lakefront Master Plan.

At the Jan. 22 council meeting, aldermen voted unanimously in favor of the plan, which would add restrooms and concessions to four lakefront locations as well as a bike path running parallel to the beach. But after city officials realized the severity of the budget crisis, several aldermen have argued that the improvements should be postponed if not eliminated altogether.

“We’re begging for money, but we’re talking about spending,” said Ald. Edmund Moran (6th). “This just doesn’t make sense.”

Initially, the first restroom facility on Clark Street was planned for construction in 2010 and placed on the 2009-2010 budget. The three other restrooms on Lee Street, South Avenue and Greenwood Street would cost more than $7 million combined.

“No one has come to these meetings and asked for more bathrooms,” Moran said. “I don’t see demand coming from the citizenry to do these buildings down on the lakefront.”

Moran added that the buildings would obscure the view of Lake Michigan and could have a negative impact on the environment.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) supported the lakefront changes, portions of which are included in her ward. Countering Moran, Wynne said that many residents in her ward expressed interest in the facilities.

“I’ll get every mother by Lee Street who has ever had to leave the beach to take a kid to the bathroom to one of the meetings,” she said. “I’ll get it packed.”

Wynne added that despite many park improvements in the last 10 years, “no attention has been paid to the lakefront.” The current rest facilities do not meet the Americans with Disabilities Act standards, are frequently dirty and are closed for most of the year, she said.

From an economic perspective, Wynne argued that concession venues and cleaner restrooms would attract more commercial activity to the lakefront.

Even with improvements, however, breaking even on the $7 million project would be difficult. The city only collected $7,000 in beach-side concession sales last year, said Parks Director Doug Gaynor at the Jan. 22 meeting.

Ald. Anjana Hansen (9th) agreed with Moran and seemed cautious to invest so much money in a long-term development plan.

“I don’t think we should throw all our eggs in that basket for the next five or six years,” she said.

Alderman also debated another controversial aspect of the lakefront plan: the addition of a pedestrian path adjacent to an existing bike route that runs between Lee Street and Clark Street. Construction of the path would cost $1.7 million, Evanston Finance Director Martin Lyons said.

Ald. Moran voiced concern that widening the bike path to include a walkway would incur additional expenses.

“It seems like that’s an awful lot of money for a walking path,” Moran said. “We’re talking about big money.”

The lakefront projects, which total more than $8 million, will have to compete with other improvements discussed at recent council meetings such as a new Civic Center roof, improvements to the Robert Crown Center, 1700 Main St., and park refurbishments in west Evanston.

“I don’t see the point of doing these projects,” Moran said. “They’re way too expensive given our current situation.”

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