Highland Park Community House

The Highland Park Community House, at 1991 Sheridan Road, is one of the city-owned properties being evaluated by the Highland Park City Council. (Gregory Trotter, Chicago Tribune / May 6, 2014)

Highland Park's City Council is taking a hard look at city-owned properties including a community center once donated for preservation and the senior center nestled on the lakefront.

The conversation is expected to continue in the next two months. Before any property is sold, there will be an analysis with an eye toward preventing the displacement of important community services, according to Mayor Nancy Rotering.

"The thesis in all of this has been – how do we best meet the needs of our community in the most cost-effective way?" Rotering said.

One city-owned property – the Highland Park Theater – will be sold with no restrictions after multiple plans to reopen it fizzled out.

The theater could be joined by other properties in the year ahead, depending on the outcome of the council's ongoing assessment of the buildings' needs, cost, usage, restrictions and value, officials have said.

Rotering said there could be cheaper and better locations to offer youth and senior services.

Council member David Naftzger, meanwhile, has pointed to the Community House, located at 1991 Sheridan Road, as an intriguing property to consider selling.

With an estimated market value of $2.3 million, according to recent city estimates, selling the Community House could help with long-term needs like rising pension costs, Naftzger said.

Unlike the senior center and youth center, the Community House does not offer "core services," Naftzger said, but is mostly used as a gathering place for events.

"It's a high-value asset that's close to the central business district," Naftzger said. "It's one that used, but doesn't have a huge volume of users."

The suggestion of selling the Community House property has riled some.

Mike Belsky, the former mayor, has served on the board of directors for the Highland Park Community Center, the nonprofit that manages the Community House.

He called the City Council's direction misguided.

"I think it's similar to the (Highland Park Theater)," Belsky said. "They're trying to sell off cultural assets and that would diminish the quality of life in Highland Park."

The Community House was effectively donated to the city by the Highland Park Woman's Club in 1994, according to city documents.

The Highland Park Community Center, the nonprofit that operates and maintains the building under the agreement, pays the city $12,500 per year on a $500,000 loan that was part of the agreement, according to city documents.

By the end of the current agreement in 2018, the nonprofit will still owe about $260,000, said city Finance Director Nikki Larson.

Once the full loan is paid off, the city would convey the property to the Community Center, according to the terms in the 1994 real estate contract.

Steve Mandel, a Lake County board member who served on the Highland Park City Council when the Community House was given to the city, said the property should not be considered for sale or development.

"(The Highland Park Woman's Club) gave it to the community to be preserved," said Mandel, whose wife, Linda Mandel, serves as co-chair of the Community Center's board of directors.