The development of Decatur’s lakefront in and around Nelson Park was always a long-term project.
So while taking stock of the project’s progress at a joint city council and park board meeting last week, it’s not surprising that some projects have progressed quickly and others have hit some speed bumps.
Some of the achievements have included the Overlook Adventure Miniature Golf and its two adjacent restaurants, new docks and promenade in front of the Beach House restaurant, an accessible fishing pier and a walking path.
Some other projects have been postponed because promised state funding has been suspended. The park district was given funding for batting cages and a rope course near the miniature golf course. That funding has been suspended by Gov. Bruce Rauner and the park district is asking for a waiver to proceed. Separate funding for a large amphitheater, promised by former Gov. Pat Quinn, never received formal approval. The park district could be ruled ineligible for future grants if it proceeds without a grant it has been awarded.
Any discussion of the lakefront seems to bring complaints about the closing in 2011 of Lake Shore Drive through Nelson Park. The decision by the park board seems hasty in the rearview mirror, but what’s done is done. The street may have been closed prematurely, but it’s closed and everyone should move on.
A consistent issue that hasn’t been resolved is the boat docks around Lake Decatur. City and park district officials have made it clear that they want the docks to conform to standards, but haven’t determined the standards. Dock owners are worried because the new standards may require expensive renovations.
The subject is concerning because the park board, advised by consultant Greg Weykamp of Edgewater Resources, don’t seem to understand the boating market as it applies to Lake Decatur. The new docks the park district installed are under-utilized by boaters. Weykamp says that’s because it doesn’t offer the amenities that boaters want. But it may be because the docks are overpriced for what Decatur boaters are willing to pay. Either way, the market has been misjudged.
Lake Decatur is a valuable resource, but it has limits as far as boaters are concerned. The bridges that cross the lake are low and limit large boat access to many parts of the lake. Another concern, the depth of the lake, is being addressed by the city’s massive dredging project.
One solution that Weykamp is promoting is to put the docks under the control of one marina operator, paying for the construction with bonds that would be repaid with revenue from boat slip rental.
Whatever the solution, the city and the park board would be wise to spend some quality time understanding the boating market on Lake Decatur.
The overall progress of the lakefront project is steady and some of the issues, such as state funding, are beyond local control. The overall project is solid and city and park board officials should continue working together to resolve current and future issues.