Hey Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, You Missed the Fairway!

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) will be paid $77,510 25 as its skim of the revenue generated from football parking and events held at the Canal Shores Golf Course that runs along the north shore of Cook County.  The MWRD owns the land, and leases it to the City of Evanston and the Village of Wilmette, which in turn sub-lease it to the Evanston Wilmette Golf Course Association (EWGCA).  Despite its responsibility for taking care of this public land, EWGCA receives no municipal funding or tax money to operate Canal Shores; it is a self-funded, non-profit organization.  In addition to offering low greens fees to enable affordable community use, the 100-year old neighborhood course is the home track of the ETHS golf team and offers golf lessons and youth golf camps.

The MWRD had a net financial position of $4.6 billion at the end of 2018, with $755 million in total revenues and an operating fund of $284 million.  Land rentals comprise 3% of MWRD’s revenues, approximately $22.6 million.  In contrast, Canal Shores is financially challenged to generate enough revenue to cover its approximately $550,000 of operating expenses every year, which includes the cost of caring for and maintaining the expanse of the rented MWRD land.  

In order to supplement its modest greens fees, Canal Shores’ largest source of revenue comes from renting space to Northwestern University for football game day parking, reportedly generating a total of $242,000 in additional revenue for Canal Shores over the past three years.  Last summer, with City approval, Evanston’s SPACE held “Out of SPACE” concerts on the golf course, generating an additional $16,000 in revenue for the golf course. Another set of “Out of SPACE” shows is scheduled to take place at Canal Shores in August.  These creative uses of the leased space are needed to help the public course break even in funding its operations.

Notwithstanding the disparity in their financial positions, the burden on and success of EWGCA taking care of the land, and the fact that the golf course has been used for football parking for twenty-five years, the MWRD suddenly demanded that the lease entitled it to 25% of the past three years of parking revenue and 100% of the concert revenue.  Otherwise, the MWRD threatened, it could hold Canal Shores in default under the lease and sub-lease.  The City of Evanston’s corporation counsel reviewed the lease and found that it specifically permits the “parking lot” use and that the parties contemplated football parking when it amended the lease that way in 1994, and concluded that the lease contains no prohibition on alcohol sales.  But the MWRD’s shakedown was a success, and the City of Evanston will loan EWGCA most of the money needed to pay off the MWRD’s demand.

The MWRD’s stated mission is to “protect the health and safety of the public in its service area….”  It’s website tag line is, “Protecting Our Environment.”  Query how these purposes are served when this multi-billion dollar organization steals thousands of dollars away from its struggling, non-profit sub-tenant — one that has received accolades for improving the ecology and thereby serving that mission.  This move comes on the heels of the MWRD’s decision in November to allow Cook County to pave over part of the golf course in order to build a private access road for a politically-connected developer.  Clearly, the MWRD has forgotten its mission as quickly as it forgot the terms of its lease.  MWRD hoped nobody was watching when it kicked its ball back onto the fairway — maybe it should stick to the courses within Chicago’s city limits, where politicians more easily can get away with improving their own lie.  

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