With Winnetka land swap “dormant,” Justin Ishbia offers $3M for park upgrades

“There are no strings attached,” the billionaire said

Ishbia Makes $3 Million Winnetka Peace Offering for Park Upgrades
Justin Ishbia and 261 Sheridan Road (Getty, Google Maps)

Justin Ishbia just wants to help out in Winnetka.

The billionaire currently constructing a $77.6 million lakefront mansion pledged Thursday to give $3 million to the community for upgrades to a neighboring beach, Crain’s reported.

“There are no strings attached,” Ishbia told the publication, even as he’s negotiating a contentious land swap with the Winnetka park district and village officials tighten their development regulations to potentially prevent approval for projects similar to the businessman’s.

The donation would assist Winnetka in funding beach improvements it desires but officials say the town currently can’t afford after spending $10 million on the first phase of updates for Elder Lane and Centennial parks. Phase two of these enhancements includes an ADA-accessible pathway to the beach, a dedicated dog beach area and a stone breakwater extension. The $3 million gift would expedite these upgrades.

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Ishbia, whose net worth is estimated at $2.8 billion, is well-equipped to provide this generous donation. He previously donated $10 million to Vanderbilt University’s law school and has made other philanthropic contributions. Which are small sums compared to the purchase he and his brother made when acquiring the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury for $4 billion in late 2022.

It remains unknown if Winnetka will accept Ishbia’s donation, as it comes amid a complex saga that started in 2020 when the billionaire acquired two lakefront mansions near Centennial Park for a combined $17.7 million. As part of a land swap agreement with the park district, Ishbia would have acquired a slice off the south of Centennial Park, while the district received a parcel south of Elder Lane Park. This plan, which would have allowed the park district to combine Elder and Centennial parks and given Ishbia three contiguous parcels for home construction, was met with obstacles, including a lawsuit filed early this year by Winnetka residents challenging the legality of the land exchange.

Despite the land swap, which Ishbia described to the publication as “dormant” and said that he’s not sure it will ever happen, the billionaire proceeded to demolish homes on his uncontested parcels south of Centennial and announced plans for a 68,000-square-foot mansion. It will be the expensive estate on the North Shore, with only Ken Griffin’s $58 million purchase of four unfinished floors in the condo building No. 9 Walton coming close to the cost of Ishbia’s project. 

The disputed property between the two parks, 261 Sheridan Road, remains in Ishbia’s possession.

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