DECATUR - Two government bodies responsible for Decatur's lakefront development indicated they would move forward with the plan they heard Wednesday.
Members of the Decatur City Council and Decatur Park District Board of Commissioners directed their staffs to work out logistics and economic factors of the plan to add more recreation, restaurants and residential neighborhoods to the lakefront. Not all was positive, however, as some citizens raised questions and concerns during more than 40 minutes of public comments.
"I'm not saying this is a perfect plan, but it's certainly a great place to start," said park board Commissioner Jack Kenny.
Because the city owns the water and the park district owns the shoreline, both must work together to move forward. Perhaps as a symbol of that cooperation, those with the city and park district chose alternating seats at the same table, representing one group instead of two.
Project leader Greg Weykamp said the park district would provide between $2 million and $4 million in seed money over the next 12 months for the first phase of the project. Construction could start as soon as this summer.
"This has never been about creating a plan to sit on the shelf," Weykamp said.
Mayor Mike McElroy promised that both groups would "watch the dollars" and not raise taxes to pay for the project. He also vowed it would not be a halfhearted effort.
"We are going to continue to make this. It's not going to be something where you're going to go down and see one fountain and one game out in the field," McElroy said.
The first phase of the project, which would take place in the next five years, is projected to cost about $10 million. It is likely to include development of a dog park and disc golf course, as well as an amphitheater and a marina near the Beach House restaurant. Planners also want to eliminate the 2,000-foot portion of Lakeshore Drive that branches off U.S. 36 and runs adjacent to the lake.
Within the next 20 years, the plan could include residential development, a waterfront village and indoor and outdoor water parks. Weykamp and representatives from design firm AECOM presented the plan and fielded questions during the meeting.
They named a variety of potential funding sources, including existing budgets, bond sales, property taxes, public-private partnerships and philanthropy. Some elements, such as new docks, eventually would pay for themselves, Weykamp said.
Many residents asked about the fate of the boat clubs that use the lake now. Planners have said people will have to pay more to keep a boat on Lake Decatur, but they won't say how much more, only that the price will be based on market value of other lakes in the region.
During the meeting, resident Bob Voyles told Weykamp that the market value should not be based on other lakes but "this lake - this mud hole you're trying to put an entertainment center around."
Afterward, Voyles said he was unhappy with what he saw as elusive answers from planners and officials.
"It was pom-poms and gold stars, as far as I could tell," said Voyles, who is commodore of the Freetime Boat Club.
Decatur resident Joe Hart objects to the proposed residential development on public land in Chandler Park.
Hart said he has lived in Decatur all his life and loves the city. What it needs is not waterfront condominiums, he said, but jobs.
"If you've got jobs, everything else will take care of itself, but I don't hear anybody talking about that. All they want to do is spend money," Hart said.
A few residents offered more positive comments, and nearly every member of the city council and park board expressed support.
Councilwoman Julie Moore-Wolfe said she was excited to be a part of the project.
"In the past 25 years, I have seen and been involved with so many plans and efforts and visions, and most of them have been pipe dreams. They've been put on a shelf," she said. "This seems real."
Both groups agreed to set their staffs to work on logistics, such as how costs for the plan might be shared.
Near the end of the meeting, McElroy addressed City Manager Ryan McCrady: "Mr. Manager, if you would, please, go ahead and start the paperwork."