Winnetka Park District approves $3M donation from Justin Ishbia 

Will be used to renovate Elder and Centennial beaches

Winnetka Park District Approves $3M Donation From Justin Ishbia
Justin Ishbia and Winnetka Park Board president Christina Codo (Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty, ShoreCP, Winnetka Park)

The Winnetka Park District has accepted a long-disputed $3 million donation from billionaire Justin Ishbia, who has stirred up controversy in the northern suburb by constructing a $44 million lakefront mansion.

In a 4-3 vote, a donation agreement was approved between the Winnetka Park District and the Ishbia Family Foundation, the Record North Shore reported. The agreement aims to fund renovations for Elder and Centennial beaches.

Park Board president Christina Codo, vice president Eric Lussen and commissioners Warren James and Jeff Tyson supported the agreement, while commissioners James Hemmings, Cynthia Rapp and Colleen Root opposed it. 

Ishbia, who owns land between Centennial and Elder Park beaches, previously called the donation a peace offering with “no strings attached.” Some Park Board members initially scoffed at Ishbia’s offer. 

The agreement underwent months of discussions, with changes made to address concerns. Notable updates included expanding the project elements to include a pedestrian bypass around the dog beach. 

The role of arbiter, initially assigned to consultant Gregg Seiler, was later proposed to be John Peterson, retiring executive director of the Winnetka Park District. A provision was added to reimburse attorney fees for the prevailing party in case of litigation.

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The approved agreement maintains a 50-year term and a restrictive covenant, which had been a dividing point between the commissioners. 

Commissioner Colleen Root expressed concern about granting authority over public land to a private entity, while Commissioner Eric Lussen acknowledged the imperfect nature of the agreement but emphasized its positive elements for enhancing beach projects, the outlet reported.

Dissenting commissioners raised issues about the arbiter’s role, the liquidated damages provision and the restrictive covenant tying the hands of future boards. The agreement also outlines conditions that prevent the transfer of parks, and restrictions with private parties.

Despite the contentious nature of the decision, the park board aims to move forward with the ambitious project for Elder and Centennial beaches, considering it a once-in-a-generation opportunity to leave a positive legacy for the community.

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