NSSRA left with no new space after referendum try voted down

Northbrook resident Mitch Slotnick, photographed at his desk in Deerfield's Ridgebrook Travel, may wait more than four years for his cherished Northern Suburban Special  Recreation Association to find a new home. | Irv Leavitt/Sun-Times Media
Northbrook resident Mitch Slotnick, photographed at his desk in Deerfield's Ridgebrook Travel, may wait more than four years for his cherished Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association to find a new home. | Irv Leavitt/Sun-Times Media

NORTHBROOK — It took about twenty seconds to make Mitch Slotnick feel all of his 73 years.

That’s about how long it took the Northbrook Park District Board Aug. 18 to vote down a $50 million referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot to buy and convert the Five Seasons Sports Club into a recreation center.

That recreation center would have included a new home for the Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association, an organization to which Slotnick and his wife Valerie have devoted several decades of their lives.

“Being the oldest on the foundation board, my train is approaching the station a lot quicker, and I don’t have much patience,” he said Aug. 21.

He’ll have to try.

“It may take four or five or seven years or more,” NSSRA Executive Director Craig Culp said Aug. 20.

“I very much doubt we could do it in two.”

Unless something remarkable were to happen, the NSSRA, somewhat stuffed in a small building in Northbrook’s Sky Harbor industrial park, will have to wait for a new project to get off the ground in one of its 13 member park districts. The project would probably have to have a gym or some other amenities that would, for the first time, give the NSSRA a place to actually have programs, instead of using a member facility for every one.

The current headquarters at 3105 MacArthur Boulevard, purchased in 1998, is just an office.

Perhaps the farthest-along possibility for NSSRA is in Highland Park, but talks for that project aren’t close to being wrapped up, Highland Park Park District Executive Director Liza McElroy said Aug. 22.

The park district has 1.3 acres of land adjacent to 2.8 acres of City of Highland Park-owned property in downtown Highland Park. Several agencies, led by the Community Family Center of Highland Park, are looking to join forces to create a new building, now envisioned to be about 53,000 square feet – about half the size of Five Seasons, on a fraction of the land.

The building might include a multi-purpose gym, and about 7,000 square feet of dedicated space for the NSSRA.

The park district, however, would not be involved in its operations, McElroy said.

The building would be built on the site of the Karger Center, 1850 Green Bay Road, and the Highland Park Youth Center, in the old Fire House, set far back from the pavement at 1830 Green Bay Road.

As of July, estimated funding of $10 to $15 million for the proposed center hadn’t been found, with the notable exception of the NSSRA’s possible share.

“They’ve totally got it together,” McElroy said.

The NSSRA had pledged about $4.5 million to the Northbrook Park District to offset the cost of about 8,000 square-feet of space in the planned Five Seasons recreation center.

Slotnick, the treasurer of the Northern Suburban Special Recreation Foundation, said that about $3.4 million would come from member district commitments, about $500,000 from the sale of the Sky Harbor building, about $250,000 from a single donor, and the rest from a fund-raising campaign, which couldn’t start until a partnership was settled.

“‘The ask’ has really got to go with ‘It’s going to be here,’” Slotnick said.

Like the Highland Park Park District, the Glencoe Park District is currently undergoing a public district-wide planning process.

Glencoe’s Takiff Center, 999 Green Bay Road, has a gym and lot of little-used room. Glencoe Park District President Bob Kimble said in the spring of 2013 that an NSSRA component could be a positive, but reconfiguring the Takiff space might be a barrier.

The other NSSRA member districts are Deerfield, Glenview, Highland Park, Highwood, Kenilworth, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Northfield, Riverwoods, Wilmette and Winnetka.

“We need a place where a participant can drop in,” Slotnick, of Northbrook, said. “We need a place that we can have necessary recreational programming, conversation – facilities that we don’t have right now.”

Slotnick noted that the NSSRA had actually invented special recreation districts, in 1970.

“It’s a shame that the organization that set the concept does not have the kind of facility it should have,” he said.

The NSSRA is one of the few places where the area’s challenged adults can get any services at all.

“Our younger son Jay (41) has been a part of this since he’s been three years old,” Slotnick said.

“He’s been in over 1,000 programs.”

Northbrook Park District President Michael Ziering said Aug. 21, “The biggest disappointment for me (concerning the loss of the Five Seasons project) is that this partnership that we were going to have with NSSRA didn’t happen.

“I thought it would be so good for the community in several different ways.

“I feel really bad about it.”

Of all the member districts, Northbrook residents use the NSSRA the most.

The Northbrook Park District, if it is to try to build its own recreation center from scratch, is likely to turn toward the six acres it owns that once supported the Anetsberger restaurant equipment factory.

But that land, connected to Techny Prairie Park & Fields, is about a third the size of what the district would have bought at Five Seasons, 1300 Techny Road.

“A part of the land is definitely going to have to be used for parking, and we can’t build a building like” Five Seasons, Ziering said. “It would be a smaller facility.”

“I don’t know that it precludes [an NSSRA partnership]. I hope that it doesn’t preclude it. Even though we are just one of 13 communities, we are the largest user, by percentage of participants.”

The district could maximize the size of the land by building a rec center several stories tall on the Anetsberger property, where the IB zoning allows buildings up to 45 feet high.

“We were an ideal partner to share space with them,” Northbrook’s Ziering said Aug. 21.

“It’s really a sad thing that it didn’t work out – yet.”

Staff Writer Karen Berkowitz contributed to this report

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