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Forest Beach: The Y Replies

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To the editors:

This is in response to your article "The Selling of Forest Beach" dealing with the sale of a camp by the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago [August 11].

There is always the danger when a publication uses free-lance submissions that a local issue will receive more attention than it merits, and particularly when the article is written solely from that local perspective that it will give a distorted view of an issue. This article, a pastiche of real estate agents who didn't get a piece of business, politicians with their own development agendas, and members of an organization who lost a vote, may become a journalism school textbook example of those problems.

To try to set some of the facts right:

--The decision to sell the camp was a two-year process originally recommended as part of a long range planning process that took three years. In fact, the decision to sell was delayed a year to give the members who thought the camp could be made self-sustaining a full season to demonstrate that. Sadly, with their best efforts operating costs could not be covered, let alone needed capital costs.

--While the final vote to sell was conducted as part of a Board meeting dealing with several topics, that vote had been preceded by months of discussion and debate by both the membership and the Board of Directors.

--The site was appraised when that process was begun and the appraisal was updated by a letter of opinion before the final price was set.

--The price accepted exceeded the asking price for the property. It was also the only offer that had NO contingencies: the YWCA received its money at closing rather than having to wait for zoning decisions and other legal obstacles to have been cleared. Those obstacles, as the article pointed out, still exist, under any other offer, the YWCA still would not have funds from this sale.

--The news that the developers will realize a profit is not news. Every developer that bid planned to develop the property and, after the costs of legal fees, improvements, and the like, to make a profit. The YWCA had neither the expertise nor the funds to develop the site ourselves.

--The YWCA continues to make available a camping program, at an Illinois site, for kids in its programs. As a matter of fact for the next two weeks some 200 school-age students will be participating in YWCA-sponsored camp programs.

We have no problem with any report on the YWCA's programs or management process. We do, however, expect that reporting to be balanced and even-handed. The snide characterizations of volunteers who give a great deal of their time to the organization fail that test and indeed may not be those of the authors who did not meet with YWCA personnel.

For 113 years, the YWCA has provided help to women and families in the Chicago area. For example, later on in the same issue in which this poorly done article appears is an article on the coming importance of senior day care. The YWCA has had such a program for several years, and the camp sale helps to fund that kind of program. Most of the YWCA funds come from the good will of members, individual and corporate donors, and foundations. That good will is harmed by inaccurate and incomplete stories of this nature.

Pamela A. Bruce

President

YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago

Jill Dougherty and Valucha de Castro reply:

We find it impossible to agree with Ms. Bruce that the selling of Forest Beach Camp is a "local issue" that "will receive more attention than it merits."

Forest Beach was a major asset of the Metropolitan Chicago YWCA. It was also the last remaining large parcel of virtually undeveloped lakefront property in an area where thousands of Chicagoans own summer houses. It was sold in a multimillion-dollar real estate transaction that has been covered in at least two stories by the Chicago Sun-Times. The development of that property will be one of the first tests of new legislation passed by the state of Michigan protecting critical sand dunes. This legislation was deemed sufficiently important to be the subject of a large article in the New York Times. The sale also is the subject of two lawsuits and an ongoing investigation by the office of the Illinois attorney general.

Our purpose in writing the Forest Beach story was to shed as much light as possible on an issue in which we firmly believe there is great public interest.

There is nothing we would have welcomed more, during the six months we researched this complex story, than to have heard fully the viewpoint of the YWCA board. We made several attempts to do just that. Ms. Bruce claims that the authors "did not meet with YWCA personnel." She, perhaps, forgets our brief meeting at Cook County Circuit Court during which she, Ms. Audrey Peeples, and Ms. Mary Spellman refused to make any comment on the sale and referred us to the YWCA's lawyer.

We contacted Mr. David Lynch of Rudnick & Wolfe, who, in lieu of a statement by telephone, faxed us a one-page press release relating to the court case. Subsequently we attempted to speak with Ms. Spellman twice by telephone, the last time just a few days before our story was published. She told us "There's nothing to talk about." That same day we made one more attempt to elicit a comment from the YWCA and were told by Ms. Peeples that no comments would be forthcoming because the case was still in litigation. In every other newspaper story on the case we have checked, it has been noted that board members declined to comment. Obviously, in the case of our report, the board had ample opportunity to detail its side of the story--but chose not to. In spite of this we made every attempt to give an impartial explanation of the issues involved in the sale.

As for the remaining issues raised by Ms. Bruce in her letter, we believe a more careful reading of our article would show that we presented precisely those points in our story. There are, however, opposing interpretations of those issues, which we also addressed. Obviously, in order to help readers understand why the sale has raised so much controversy, one must present all sides.

It is, indeed, unfortunate that, as Ms. Bruce notes, the sale of Forest Beach Camp seems to have created a rupture in goodwill between the YWCA and some of its members. That rupture began, however, long before our article was published. Mrs. H. Earl Hoover, for example, the longtime supporter of the YWCA referred to in our story, decided to sever her relationship with the international service board of the YWCA before we ever spoke with her. We earnestly hope that the YWCA will be able to mend this rift; this can only happen when all the facts of the sale are known.

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