Wilmette Park District in talks to buy synagogue campus

The Wilmette Park District is in negotiations to buy the 4.8-acre Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah synagogue campus, officials said.

“We are in the process of drafting a formal contract for final approval,” said Wilmette Park District Executive Director Steve Wilson.

Beth Hillel opened on the 4.8-acre property in the 3200 block of Big Tree Lane in the north suburb in 1961 when there were about 1,000 families in the congregation, said Executive Director with Beth Hillel Michael Kahn. He said that number has dwindled to about 300 families today and the decision was made to sell the property – including about 160 parking spaces and a 54,000-square-foot building that houses classrooms, a garden, a playground and the main sanctuary – and move to a smaller location.

“The space is just too large to much to keep up for the size of the congregation we are today,” Kahn explained. “Our goal is to find a new location nearby that’s smaller that we can repurpose for us.”

He hopes the move will be completed within 18 months.

“This happens to be the best situation for us,” he added. “The Park District was wonderful to work with. They are offering us the best opportunity to be able to stay here while we find a new home.”

Wilson said it’s also a good opportunity for the Park District, which has historically been open to buying large parcels of land in the north suburb.

“We’re in the process of some long range planning and we’ve done some surveying of our community and there’s interest in more open space and more specialized recreation facilities than we offer today,” he said. “This gives some possibilities to some of those ideas in the future.”

Wilson would not discuss the terms of the sale but said he’s hopeful the Park District will close on it this summer.

“That’s one of the few things public entities don’t have to disclose until it’s done so you don’t negotiate against yourself in the public,” he explained. “I would imagine once you have a contract and do the formal approval then there’s the inspection due diligence period. We’ll do that and then close somewhere after that…this summer if everything goes well.”

He also said the Park District has not yet decided exactly what it will do with the property if and when the sale is final.

“Absolutely no decisions have been made on that,” said Wilson. “We’re in the planning process and no conclusions have been made in general on what we’re going to pursue as a district let alone what we would pursue at this particular location if we’re fortunate enough to acquire it. There’s no determination on whether it’s a park or if we would use the facility that’s there or construct a new facility.”

Brian L. Cox is a freelance reporter with Pioneer Press.

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