One issue on top of Galesburg voters' minds is a proposed $26 million Lake Storey expansion project. A Phase One feasibility study, released in December, outlined expanding the lake to four times its current size and building new homes.
The Lake Storey Project
The root of the proposed project is to offer the community more recreational opportunities, according to Galesburg Park and Recreation Director Tony Oligney-Estill.
He explained that developing housing along the lake is one way to pay for the expansion. The $26 million price tag includes $10 million for purchasing land, $6 million for building costs, and an estimated $10 million for park use.
Oligney-Estill said the Phase One feasibility study was conducted in a vacuum to assess whether the project was even possible. If so, the city would proceed to phase two. However, when the city released the Phase One study, farmers and homeowners saw the city eyeing their properties for annexation and pushed back.
Area residents let the city council know through emails, in-person city council presentations, and by way of attorneys that their land and properties are not for sale. The second phase of the feasibility study was then tabled, where it remains. Only a council member can reintroduce it for a vote.
Mayoral Candidate Peter Schwartzman
Schwartzman is a current city council member. He has no intention of reintroducing the second phase for a vote.
“What we’ve learned is that the city did not consult with any of the land owners, and that seems like something we should have done—if not before phase one, then certainly during phase one—and the failure to do so has created extreme division in our community independent of whether we vote for or against it,” Schwartzman said.
He said he’s also concerned that if the project proceeds, the city would use eminent domain to force homeowners to relocate and landowners to give up their farms.
“We have not heard a coherent argument for obtaining this land other than through eminent domain. Suggestions that it can be had otherwise have not been demonstrated to me.”
Schwartzman said moving ahead with the next phase of the feasibility study would be a poor use of taxpayer dollars.
Mayoral Candidate Kristine Crow
Crow is political newcomer. Like Schwartzman, Crow opposes the proposed project. Crow said she’s concerned about the risk of fluctuating home values.
“This project, while they had the best of intentions, it carries a tremendous amount of risk that I cannot get behind simply because the success of this expansion really hinges on the ability for Galesburg to attract enough interest in home purchases along the lake,” Crow said.
Crow’s day job is in risk management, and she said she draws on that expertise when considering the proposed expansion project.
“I work a lot with capital expenditures, cost and risk analysis at United Healthcare, so I lead a team that has to keep a very tight budget in terms of computer development.”
Crow said she has been well-trained to determine the level of risk and then what can be absorbed.
Current Mayor John Pritchard
Pritchard is running for his third term. He said he sees a need in Galesburg’s housing market and is taking the long view. Pritchard considers the proposed project similar to the Oak Run development that began in the 1970s.
“I have the history of having been old enough to see people go out and buy a bunch of farmland out at Oak Run and put in a dam and now there's 416 homes in that whole development,” he said.
“That didn’t happen in year one. It happened over many, many years, and they're still adding properties. Now they've been around long enough where they’re tearing down old properties and rebuilding nicer properties.”
Pritchard has a different view of the housing market than Crow. He foresees slow and incremental growth over decades.
“I think one of the things that has been always a concern is the fact that so much of our housing is old, and even when new people look at moving to the area for work, younger people, young professionals, can't find the housing stock they're interested in.”
The Candidates on Other Recreational Opportunities
None of the three candidates considers the proposed Lake Storey expansion project the sole focus of Galesburg’s future recreational offerings. Parks and trail development and sports programming will continue, but each candidate has some new ideas.
One of Schwartzman’s hopes is to attract more visitors by using the Logistics Park.
I think part of it should be transformed into a visitation center that has a Ferris wheel or some visible element from the road to draw people to Galesburg, and it would connect people to many of the historical elements we have,” Schwartzman said.
“I think we have a lot to provide visitors and we just don't advertise them well enough, and, having something visible on the roadside, I think, would be a major improvement.”
He said it could draw visitors as they drive through on I-74.
Crow’s vision for expanding recreational opportunities is to make use of Sandburg Mall.
“Right now, the mall is sitting and decaying. My first idea would be to make a big softball, baseball complex there that maybe you can have some type of a . . . facility to give additional places for teenagers to hang out,” she said.
Crow added that softball and baseball tournaments could draw upwards of 500 people per event. She said tournament influxes into Galesburg would fill up restaurants and hotels.
Pritchard is focused on the city’s swimming pool as an upcoming recreational need.
"The Galesburg’s Hawthorne Center pool is very old, and there's new state regulations, and it's going to be pretty much very expensive to maintain that as a pool,” Pritchard said.
“So I'd like to have a discussion with the various stakeholders who are involved in pools . . . the YMCA, the school district, and so forth in and look at developing a proper Indoor Aquatic Center. That would be something that I would want to support exploring.”
Election Day is Tuesday, April 6. Early voting is well underway. For voting information, visit the city's website.
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