"Plan B" for Yerkes... Aug 23, 2006 23:54:34 GMT -6
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Aug 23, 2006 23:54:34 GMT -6
Village president welcomes plan B for observatory
WILLIAMS BAY-The Williams Bay village president welcomes alternative plans for the future of Yerkes Observatory, but an official with the University of Chicago, which owns the aging observatory, says there is no plan B.
Village President Don Weyhrauch said he thought Williams Bay would benefit from having "a plan B, C and D out there now, too."
Chicago investor Richard Driehaus has offered to hire three architects to present alternative plans for the preservation and use of Yerkes Observatory and surrounding grounds.
The University of Chicago wants to sell the observatory and 79 acres to Mirbeau Inn & Spa of New York for about $8 million.
Mirbeau proposes to build a 100-room resort-spa, a parking garage and a 72-home subdivision on about 47 acres, while the observatory and 32 acres would be turned over to the village as part of a special taxing district.
A five-year commitment from the university and the special taxing district would financially support the observatory and the programs it now hosts.
Weyhrauch said he had a preliminary meeting with one of Driehaus' representatives.
In a letter presented to the village board Aug. 7, Driehaus, owner of Driehaus Capital Management and owner of a mansion on Geneva Lake, offered to pay for a competition among three "nationally prominent architects" to develop alternative concepts for the Yerkes site.
In the letter, Driehaus wrote: "I am concerned that the good people of Williams Bay are being pressured into accepting a plan for the Yerkes Observatory site that will badly compromise this valuable asset for the benefit of others but to the detriment of the community."
The letter says the architects would be asked to present their own recommendations that would include a continuing educational role for the observatory, the need for an endowment to maintain the observatory and grounds and that the University of Chicago needs revenue from the sale of the site.
Now too old for cutting-edge research, Yerkes is still used for science and astronomy education. Opened in 1897, Yerkes is a local landmark.
But Henry Webber, University of Chicago vice president of community and government affairs, has said that the Mirbeau proposal is the university's only proposal, and a plan B doesn't exist.
Webber said the University of Chicago would like to meet with Driehaus or his representatives to discuss his offer.
"I have great respect for Mr. Driehaus' contributions to architecture and preservation in Williams Bay and in Chicago," Webber said.
But Webber also defended the Mirbeau proposal.
"I believe the real challenge here is preservation," Webber said. "How do you generate the resources to preserve this Henry Ives Cobb building (the observatory) and educational programs that go on within it?"
He said the university is committed to answering every question the community has about the Mirbeau proposal.
So far, the village has not been presented with any formal requests for rezoning or creation of a taxing district. The village already has hosted two public hearings about Mirbeau's proposal for Yerkes Observatory. A third is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Williams Bay High School, 500 W. Geneva St., Williams Bay.