Wilmette, News

At $5.4 million, Park Board approves purchase of Beth Hillel property

A nearly 5-acre property in Wilmette that’s been under the same ownership for more than 60 years and is worth millions of dollars will soon be changing hands. 

Park Board commissioners approved during their Monday, May 13 meeting a resolution authorizing the Wilmette Park District’s purchase of Beth Hillel Bnai Emunah synagogue’s property at 3220 Big Tree Lane. 

The board voted unanimously to greenlight the park’s purchase at a cost of $5.4 million, according to public documents detailing the transaction. 

The parcel, located in southwest Wilmette off of Glenview Road and near the Edens Expressway, is approximately 4.8 acres, per park district documents. 

Beth Hillel has owned the property — which includes a 54,000-square-foot building that features classrooms, a playground, a garden, more than 150 parking spaces and a main sanctuary — since 1961. 

“I think this is going to be fantastic for us in the long run as a village,” Commissioner and Board Vice President Patrick Duffy said. 

“We’re in a very mature community with very few options to supply the amenities that the village residents request, whether it’s open land or other facilities,” Duffy added. “I’m very excited to have this opportunity for the village and for anybody that might question the dollar amount that we’re spending, I think in 10 or 15 years, you might look back and you might feel like we stole it. This is a great opportunity for us as a park district.” 

Commissioner Michael Murdock joined Duffy in highlighting his support for the project, commending his fellow board members for “seeing the opportunity” to acquire a coveted parcel and “acting on it.” 

“This kind of a property doesn’t come up every often and the fact that everyone worked together and we’re getting this across the finish line is just phenomenal,” he said. 

Talks between the two entities on the sale of the property were first reported by The Record in March. Last fall, the synagogue announced it was putting the land up for sale, hoping to downsize to a more appropriately sized building for its 300-family congregation, said Michael Kahn, the organization’s executive director.

Park District Executive Director Steve Wilson told commissioners during the meeting that the proposed transaction was approved by the congregation via a 93 percent vote. 

While support among the board for the purchase was unanimous, commissioners did differ on their preferences for financing the purchase. 

The board approved an ordinance via a 4-2 vote to authorize the sale of $5.5 million in general obligation limited tax bonds.

According to a park district memo from Wilson, these bonds are typically referred to as debt service extension bonds, meaning they are repaid via taxes. The amount, per Wilson, is below the threshold that would require approval from Wilmette voters via a referendum to sell. 

Wilson said the “primary intent” of the bond sale is the pay for the Beth Hillel property but noted that the language in the bond documents offer the park district “the flexibility to use the proceeds of this sale for the ongoing annual capital needs of the district if for some reason the purchase of property does not take place.” 

“We have always issued this type of debt on a regular basis to support our ongoing capital needs so if for some reason during the due diligence process anything happens with this sale that debt can be used as we typically otherwise would,” Wilson said at the meeting. 

Commissioners Duffy and Murdock were the two dissenters in the vote, as both expressed the position that they believe there are more effective ways to finance the purchase. Duffy noted his preference for short-term, interest-only financing and Murdock detailed his opinion through a written comment submitted to his fellow commissioners. 

Board president Kara Kosloskus said commissioners had vetted decisions related to the financing of the purchase over the course of multiple committee of the whole meetings. 

“At the end of the day, there are multiple ways this transaction could be financed, which is a testament to the position that our staff has kept us in and that previous boards have managed the finances of this district to … a strong position that puts us at this state with the highest possible rating and ability to have several ways of funding,” Kosloskus said. 

Kosloskus added that she preferred the debt issue plan as it was the option recommended by the district’s advisor but again noted that there were “multiple outcomes” that would allow the park to finance the purchase. 

No preliminary plans for the property have been made public, but Wilson previously told The Record that the park district could eventually use the land as added park space or for a recreational facility. 

The Wilmette Park District currently manages 23 properties, most of which are located in east Wilmette (on or east of Ridge Road). The Beth Hillel land now gives the district another west Wilmette property.

Board officers remain the same

Prior to the start of the board’s regularly scheduled session, commissioners held their annual meeting to elect officers for the coming year. 

Commissioners unanimously voted to re-elect Kosloskus as the board’s president and Duffy as the board’s vice president.

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martin carlino
Martin Carlino

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.

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