One thing that became clear at the Sept. 26 meeting of the Common Council is that the city will make part of the Lakeshore Municipal Golf Course available as a potential headquarters site for Oshkosh Corp.
One council member, Oshkosh employee Jake Krause, said at the meeting that he would not take part in any vote on the matter so as to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, and most other council members have not publicly committed themselves one way or another.
But after arguments were aired on both sides of the issue, there can no longer be much question about which way the decision will ultimately go.
This is not to say that citizens are being shut out of the process or that they should not attend the planned input and informational sessions on the future of Lakeshore. There are still lots of issues to be addressed.
For example, a strong show of support for green space and more attention to recreational opportunities could affect which alternative concept plan is pursued. Another way that public scrutiny could come into play would be on the tax incentive financing that the city will almost certainly provide for development. If citizens are paying more attention, city planners may feel the need to sharpen their pencils and make sure they are working with accurate cost estimates and including appropriate taxpayer safeguards.
It’s possible that one or both of the citizen panels that will review the issue, the Advisory Park Board and the Plan Commission, will object to the idea of redeveloping Lakeshore. But aside from the shouting (and there may be some shouting and some booing and some tears) the ultimate decision about Lakeshore, which will be made by the Common Council, can only go one way.
Here are the top three reasons why.
- Oshkosh Corp. holds the cards
Perhaps because it does not want to come across as a bully, the company has actually said very little about its priorities or criteria for site selection. But it has the only “vote” that matters when it comes to the future of Lakeshore. It is simply not reasonable to expect that any member of the council is going to say to the city’s most prominent corporate citizen, “Go away. We don’t need your jobs or charitable contributions or tradition or prestige or plans for the future,” which is what a vote to exclude the golf course as a headquarters site would mean.
Members of the council may be frustrated that there isn’t clearer communication from the company, and it’s fair to say the decision process has been a bit of a slippery slope with a series of small actions that all of a sudden seem to have turned into a monumental one. But the reality is that there has been ample news coverage of the company’s interest in Lakeshore for months (and the rumors go back years). This has not been either a backroom or a bolt-from-the-blue deal.
It has been argued that Oshkosh should consider other sites in the city. OK, but … all indications are that the company is furthest along in its consideration of Lakeshore. Like it or not, the community and the city do not have a lot of leverage to make the company accept a second choice.
- Lakeshore is a golf course and not a park
If you ride your bicycle along the river beside Lakeshore, you can’t help but notice how many signs there are that read, “NO TRESPASSING / CITY ORDINANCE 17-1 (943.133) / GOLFERS MUST REGISTER AT CLUBHOUSE.”
It would be nice to think of Lakeshore as 107 acres of green space that sits open and inviting to all citizens. But that’s not the case. It is land that is not freely accessible to the public, and it serves a distinct segment of the community.
Lakeshore has a rich history and has certainly contributed to the community over the years, even if its history is not as rich as some of its supporters had thought. But losing Lakeshore simply is not the same as losing Menominee Park or South Park. Even if part of the site is devoted to a corporate campus, more land may become more accessible and more usable to the average citizen compared to what is currently available once those “no trespassing” signs come down.
- This has been a manufactured controversy
If you listen to even the strongest proponents of keeping Lakeshore open as a golf course, it’s hard to find anyone in denial about the importance of Oshkosh to Oshkosh. Social media and a certain local news outlet that is part of a national chain have recognized this story as great internet clickbait and promoted a debate that isn’t really much of a debate (even if it has set off a storm of emails and phone calls to City Hall).
Connect the dots: The city’s only Fortune 500 company is planning to build a new headquarters but not necessarily in Oshkosh … this company has expressed interest to taking over a part of a piece of public property that will give it great highway visibility and keep it within the city limits … this property has a fervent, but numerically limited, group of users who have other, if not as convenient, alternatives for pursuing their leisure activities.
When you weigh the potential loss of Oshkosh executive offices against keeping an indebted and restricted-use piece of land open as a golf course, the decision is pretty much already made.
It’s all over but the shouting.
Photo: Numerous signs make clear that the use of Lakeshore Municipal Golf Course is restricted.