The South Bend Park Board will hold a special meeting on February 11th to discuss the uncertain future of Elbel Golf Course.
Last Friday, a proposal to sell the course was pending before the South Bend Common Council when it was withdrawn by the mayor, who suggested that a lease may be more appropriate in light of expressed community concerns.
“I think the lease is an attractive option to some degree. It allows the status quo plus. You can still have golf out there, you can still ensure that the ecology is protected,” said South Bend Parks Director Aaron Perri.
For much of the sale debate, keeping golf at Elbel was the one and only goal until a citizens group called Elbel for Everyone became active. ‘Now we’re hearing from folks that there’s far greater value beyond the golf course,” said Perri.
The citizens group hasn’t even taken a stand on whether the sport of golf should continue or end at Elbel. Members are more concerned about the acres that are already off limits to hackers. “Elbel is 313 acres, it has the largest lake in St. Joseph County, Mud Lake, in that lake there are endangered species, plants, and animal species,” said Elbel for Everyone spokesman, Paul Blaschko. “In the winter you can go snowshoeing, there's skiing out there, it’s just a beautiful piece of property. Something we could never get back.”
The city administration saw getting rid of Elbel as a way to stop the bleeding—a way to stop sending financial subsidies to a facility that’s not even in the city limits. With a sale now out of the picture, the subsidy situation promises to get worse if the city continues to operate the facility..
“The reality is this kind of uncertain future that we've created with Elbel by playing out this public process has caused some real business challenges In terms of golf leagues have been beginning to cancel and reschedule at other places, golf outings and non-profit events have been to relocate,” said Aaron Perri. “If we’re going to sell it, if we’re going to lease it, if parks is going to internally open it some real decisions that we have to make.”
Time is much less of a concern for the group Elbel for Everyone. “There are a lot of options and again, we're concerned about the end result, right now, right now we're concerned about the process. We want it to be transparent, you know, democratic, deliberative and thoroughly researched.”
The citizens group is also concerned that if Elbel is leased and not sold, the final decision would be made by the appointed members of the park board and not the elected members of the city council.
On Monday night, "Elbel for Everyone" held a meeting to share its feelings on what it thinks is best for the park and also asking for more transparency from local government.
About 120 people were in attendance to share visions for what Elbel Park could be, as long as it remains owned and operated by the city and not leased to a private company.
"We're certainly happy Elbel is not for sale," Paul Blaschko, Organizer of Elbel for Everyone said. "We're concerned about the lease option and how it's described in the media."
Blasckho put together the meeting to get advocates and elected city officials in the same room to discuss the future of the park, both as a golf course and a nature preserve.
"Ultimately, preserving Elbel and its wetlands should not be a matter of legality, nor should it be a matter solely of budget line items," Andrew Tucker, a South Bend resident said. "This is and ought to be a matter of legacy."
But lease or not, the biggest thing the group hopes for is transparency. They want more involvement from the officials they elected to office to be their voices.
"If you're going to consider selling park land to begin with, it befuddles me how you can do so without taking input form the public," John Voorde, Council member At-Large said. "Or considering all sides of it."
"This will not hurt us if we pause," Oliver Davis, 6th District Council member said. "It will hurt us if we go forward because it will show we do not care about the public trust. We should not do the lease. We should not do the sale. We should pause."
While the sale of Elbel is off the table, talks of a lease had some concerned. However, as of now, there is no lease option for the park.
"There's been no lease crafted," Aaron Perri, Executive Director of Parks said. "I don't have a lease at my desk and I haven't partaken in the making of any lease at this point in time. Now, I know it's an option out there. Everybody is looking for creative solutions going forward and so we'll continue to be a part of that process."