The Winnetka Park District can soon combine two of its properties to create nearly 1,000 feet of continuous public beach — all thanks to a charitable transaction.
The district is acquiring the lakefront single-family home and lot that separates Elder Lane Beach and Centennial Beach, according to a press release from the park district.
The transaction will allow the two parks and beaches to be combined into one, courtesy of a property exchange agreement that results in the Winnetka Park District trading the southernmost end of Centennial Park/Beach for the lakefront property between Elder Lane Park/Beach and Centennial Park/Beach, the release says.
“This exchange marks a significant milestone for our Village, aligning Winnetka’s lakefront property to create one of the largest public beaches on the North Shore,” Mickey Archambault, Winnetka Park Board president, said in a statement included in the release.
According to the release, the parcel of property the park district is acquiring is the same width at Sheridan Road and at the beachfront as the parcel of property is exchanging.
Combining Elder Lane Beach and Centennial Beach will allow nearly 1,000 feet of continuous public beach, officials say. It will also join the two parks and create approximately eight contiguous acres of parkland.
Kelsey Raftery, marketing brand manager for the district, told The Record this transaction will allow for significantly more space for recreational activities and programming. She added the district’s plan is for one side of the beach to be for nonmotorized boating and the other side to be for swimming.
Park District Board Commissioner Warren James said acquiring the residential property between the two parks is one of the key steps in the district’s Winnetka Waterfront 2030 plan. The park board unanimously approved the property exchange earlier this month.
“Only with the acquisition of the property can we implement the Waterfront 2030 plan as it was envisioned and adopted by the board back in 2015,” James said in a statement included in the release.
The exchange will also allow the district to move forward with significant shoreline protection measures.
“We are now positioned to construct shoreline breakwaters in a cost-effective, efficient manner to protect Elder Lane Beach, Centennial Beach, and the respective bluffs,” James said. “Shoreline protection planning is in the works. We are working to apply for permits in an effort to begin shoreline work next spring.”
The district recently issued $9 million in bonds to pay for lakefront improvements, according to park officials. Of that total, $4 million is allocated for “significant, critical improvements at Lloyd Beach,” per the release.
Five million dollars is available for shoreline protection measures at Centennial and Elder Lane beaches, Raftery said, adding that is not necessarily the amount that will be spent. Officials will not know the precise cost until they receive pricing, she said, adding the district believes now is the time to act.
“The two beaches (Elder and Centennial) are approaching a critical condition, similar to Lloyd Beach, as recent lake conditions continue to inflict significant damage which will make future restoration far more expensive if not addressed now,” Archambault said.
“If we were to pause and not act, we very likely would incur more damage along this shoreline. In these times, it’s incumbent upon the Park District board to be responsible financial stewards and, in so doing, maintain the value of Winnetka’s wonderful lakefront assets.”
Raftery told The Record the district is in the process of developing plans for how the shoreline protection will look at both beaches so that it can apply for permits sooner rather than later, because of the lengthy permitting process.
The park district will not take on any expense in the property exchange, aside from standard real estate transaction costs, because of a private individual’s charitable donation.
The parcel the park district is receiving in the exchange was appraised at more than double the price of the parcel it is donating, according to district documents.
Raftery said the difference, which is more than $3 million, is being covered by the trader partner. She would not provide the name of the individual, but a property exchange agreement detailing the transaction, included in a Park Board meeting packet, lists the Orchard 2020 revocable trust as the party exchanging parcels with the district.
According to the agreement, the approximate fair market value of the Centennial Beach parcel, the property the park district is exchanging in the deal, is $3 million. The fair market value of 261 Sheridan Road, the parcel it is acquiring, is $6.2 million.
James, who helped co-developed the parks Waterfront 2030 plan, is excited for the opportunities this exchange will present.
“Merging these two parks by acquiring the private parcel between them has been a priority for many years,” James said. “So, we’ve kept our eyes on the prize for quite some time.
“The pandemic drastically affected the Park District’s revenues and we have been required to significantly tighten the Park District’s expenditures. The Park District has been, and continues to be, without the resources to conduct an outright purchase of the property.
“In light of its many competing priorities and extremely limited financial resources, the Park District could not have acquired the private parcel independent of the exchange. When we were presented with an opportunity to accept a gift of substantially greater value in exchange for a parcel of park property, we realized it was a once-in-a-generation opportunity. To have a long-term goal realized, given all its positives, truly is amazing and is of great, great benefit to the residents of Winnetka.”
Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.