Update Meeting on Sale... Aug 4, 2006 14:49:02 GMT -6
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Aug 4, 2006 14:49:02 GMT -6
Yerkes hearing draws 550 residents
another public information session about a New York developer's plans for the Yerkes Observatory and its grounds is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 24.
More than 550 people turned up at the Williams Bay High School auditorium on Thursday for the second public information meeting on Yerkes Observatory, this one lasting about two hours.
Yerkes' owner, the University of Chicago, proposes selling the century-old observatory and 79 surrounding acres to Mirbeau Inn & Spa of Skaneateles, N.Y. for about $8 million.
Mirbeau proposes building a 100-room spa and a 72-home subdivision on about 47 acres. The observatory and 32 acres would be turned over to the village in a special taxing district.
The deal hinges on Williams Bay rezoning the Yerkes property from institutional to commercial and residential.
Yerkes is too old for cutting-edge research but still can be used for science and astronomy education. Since 1897, when the observatory first opened, the facility has become Williams Bay's symbol and prized landmark.
At a July 13 meeting, Don Weyhrauch, Williams Bay village president, invited residents to write questions to be answered Thursday night. More than 500 questions were submitted.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist or an astronomer to see we won't get around to answering all the questions this evening," Weyhrauch told the crowd Thursday.
To address as many of the questions as possible, the questions were grouped into categories.
At least one question didn't fall into any category.
One resident wanted to know whether Mirbeau and the university were comfortable with the fact that Weyhrauch works for Aurora University, which had submitted a competing proposal for the Yerkes property.
Henry Webber, vice president of community and government affairs at the University of Chicago, said he was confident that Weyhrauch would approach the project in a fair and objective manner.
Some of the questions had a distinctively adversarial tone, such as: "Is Yerkes a gift or a liability for Williams Bay?"
Gary Dower, co-owner and managing director of Mirbeau, said the management and funding proposal set up by the university and Mirbeau would protect the village from liability.
A Yerkes Foundation would be responsible for funding, creating an endowment program and maintaining the observatory and its 32-acre grounds. An exposition district, set up by the village and run by a six-member board of directors, would collect $400,000 annually through room taxes and property taxes to pay the bills. Williams Bay has a 5 percent hotel-motel room tax.
The University of Chicago also promises to put up $2.5 million over five years to support the observatory until the Mirbeau development begins generating revenue, Webber said.
Income shortfalls would fall on the foundation, which would be responsible for maintaining the Yerkes budget, Webber said.
And should Mirbeau go bankrupt, that would fall on the Mirbeau stockholders and investors, Dower said.
Full story here: www.gazetteextra.com/yerkes080406.asp
Charles would just shake his head.