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Morton Grove pledges aid for Skokie holocaust site

Friday, December 15, 2006
Special to suffredin.org
by Rebecca Little, Special to the Tribune

Charles Sheehan contributed to this report

Morton Grove approved a plan Thursday night to sell $30 million in bonds on behalf of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois, money that will go toward building a museum in Skokie.

The Village Board voted 3-3, with Mayor Richard Krier casting the tie-breaking vote. The money will allow officials of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center to expedite construction.

Krier said before the board meeting that the village is in a no-lose situation as far as the sale. Earlier this year, Skokie officials turned down the foundation's bond-sale request, citing municipal sale limits and saying they feared setting a precedent for other non-profit groups approaching the board about bond sales.

Krier said attorneys have assured him there is no financial risk to the village. He also said he isn't worried about a flood of applicants.

He said the message of the Holocaust Museum extends beyond municipal borders, saying anti-Semitism is a global concern.

"This is not a Morton Grove issue, this is not a Skokie issue, it's a lot bigger than that," Krier said. "There is a conference taking place in Iran right now where people have gathered to dispute that the Holocaust ever happened.

"If we can help in any way, I say why not."

Richard Hirschhaut, project and executive director of the museum, said that in 2 1/2 years that group has raised $20 million from foundations and individuals and $6 million from the state. The group asked Morton Grove to help open the museum as soon as possible, he said.

"The urgency for us is so the survivors, as many as possible, can be with us at the opening," Hirschhaut said. "The bonding allows us to get the building built right now."

Ground was broken in June for the 65,000-square-foot museum at 9603 Woods Drive, between Golf and Old Orchard Roads. It is set to open in 2008.

Some residents and officials objected to Morton Grove's involvement in an outside deal.

"If there is an Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, it's not going to be listed as the Holocaust Museum next to Morton Grove," Trustee Dan Staackman said.

"This is like buying furniture for your next-door neighbor's house," resident Pat Kansoer Sr. said.

Although proponents argued that the traffic generated by the museum would help Morton Grove's tax base, Staackman was skeptical. He voted against the bond sale.

"They are saying that this will attract 250,000 people and that a portion would drive through Morton Grove adding to our economic base," he said. "I can't see that. I don't see any financial gain to our economy."

The Skokie Village Board denied the foundation's request in part because board members said they feared a lawsuit if they rejected requests from other groups, a sentiment echoed by many residents and Staackman.

"The question is, if we turn down other [similar] requests, what happens?" Staackman said. "Do they take us to court? We've been advised by legal counsel that we would win, but it would be a tremendous expense."

Janet Hoffman, the Morton Grove board's independent legal counsel, said, "There is no constitutional precedent that would require the village to issue bonds to any other requesting borrowers."

The foundation, which wants to raise $42 million, was founded in 1981 by Holocaust survivors.



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