Stairway deal reached in Highland Park
Rick Stumpf, the Park District of Highland Park's director of planning and projects, shows off the bluff conditions at Central Park in 2009. The stairs that lead from the park down to the beach have remained fenced off during the last three years since the bluff slumped. | Photo by Charles Berman ~ staff writer
Central Park stairs
Location: Central Avenue at the lakefront
Cost estimate No. 1: $272,000 for basic stair case from the top of the bluff to the beach.
Cost estimate No. 2: $512,000 for stairs that curve with the bluff and provide several mid-bluff landings to enjoy the views.
Updated: August 20, 2012 10:52AM
HIGHLAND PARK -- For more than three years, one of Highland Park’s most picturesque settings has been wrapped with temporary orange plastic and wooden fences.
But the eyesore barrier at the bluff of Central Park may be coming down by the end of the year, as the City Council and a team of Park District representatives delicately negotiated a plan in an open meeting last week to split the cost of building a new stairway that would reconnect the park to its beach below.
A heavy rain season in the spring of 2009 collapsed the stairs. Fencing and “Danger” signs were quickly installed to keep those enjoying the vista away from the unstable bluff.
While the city, which owns the land, and the Park District, which is in charge of the surrounding park and bluff, have both long-desired to reopen the area; costs, differing opinions of responsibility and tight budgets left the site unaddressed for three years.
Ending the long stalemate last week, the city and Park District agreed to split the cost 50-50.
Before the deal was reached, Park Board vice president Brian Kaplan told Council members that the project could quickly move up the district’s capital planning priority list with the city’s 50 percent contribution.
He said if it were a sole Park District project, Park commissioners and its staff would need more time to budget and fit it into its master planning process.
“We are here to find out what the city is willing to do, so when we go back and evaluate (with the entire Park Board) we have the full picture,” said Kaplan, who was joined by Park District executives Liza McElroy and Rick Stumpf at the city’s July 9 committee-of-the-whole meeting.
The Park District has received two estimates for the construction: a $272,000 bare-bones plan and a $512,000 proposal that would offer a winding path and several mid-bluff landings to enjoy the views.
City Council members encouraged the Park District contingent to pursue some of the bells and whistles for a price tag in between the two estimates.
Jim Kirsch voiced the Council’s collective desire to work with the Park District, ensuring Central Park remains a vibrant destination a short walk east from the city’s downtown business district.
He repeatedly said the project is in both the Park District and city’s interest.
While a $100,000 contribution was first floated among Council members, Paul Frank said the 50-50 split would go a long way toward building a strong partnership between the two bodies, which still have many joint issues ahead of them led by the looming disposition of the Highland Park Country Club.
Kaplan, McElroy and Stumpf took the city’s commitment to the remaining Park Board members on July 12. The Park Board is now expected to solicit formal bid proposals.