Scott Stevenson surveyed the 1,500 slips to the east over Lake Michigan at North Point Marina.
“Pretty awesome,” he said in a borrowed office, an overhead view art of North Point behind his left shoulder.
The largest marina on the Great Lakes is awesome. And a hot mess.
North Point, 51 miles north of Chicago on the Wisconsin border at Winthrop Harbor, ran near capacity, peaking at nearly 1,400 early in this millennium, until slip usage tanked in 2008 and never recovered. North Point was down to nearly a third-filled last year. The lack of an Illinois budget meant basic maintenance also tanked.
In part, that led to bidding to run the marina for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Westrec Marinas won the 25-year lease and began work in March. Westrec has run the Chicago harbors for nearly two decades on a different, short-term management basis.
“We are not going after Chicago boaters,” Stevenson said.
In the sights are former slip holders and those in nearby marinas in Waukegan and across the Wisconsin line in Kenosha and Racine.
“This is a quiet natural environment, far away from the hustle and bustle of the Chicago lakefront,’’ Stevenson said. “If that is the experience you want, this is it.”
The experience of Chicago harbors and North Point are different worlds. In Chicago, boaters can walk to the Art Institute or dinner at Shaw’s Crab House. North Point boaters are can walk to one of the great natural areas in Illinois. I’ve seen deer almost every time I’ve driven to North Point.
“Let the place speak for itself,” Stevenson said. “It’s beautiful, serene, not industrial, in a natural area, great views, beaches, bike path, and a whole lot of things to do. We are adding more with the pool. More reasons to spend weeks here.”
There will be a pool, open to public (fees undecided), southwest of the administrative building.
One change will be a $10 launch fee. Part of that will go to maintain the beach, north of the launch, for the public and slip holders alike.
That’s part of the public being welcomed. A fishermen targeted smallmouth bass by the riprap after asking permission while we walked the marina.
Stevenson knows North Point as more than business.
“I actually loved this place,” Stevenson said. “I brought my family here 20 years ago and visited.”
With his career in marina management, Stevenson understands how much is to be done.
Workers are assessing all the systems, including electrical and docks. There are such basic maintenance issues as the half-spud poles.
“We are going through the core infrastructure, what a responsible operator does,” Stevenson said. “We are catching up on delayed maintenance.”
Painters worked on the administrative building when I visited. Roofs are being caulked. Landscapers are beautifying.
“If you had been here three weeks ago, you would have seen grass in the riprap and junipers spilling out everywhere,” Stevenson said.
A store with boating basics is being added to the administrative building.
The manager will be a familiar name to Chicago-area boaters, Mark Stevens, who used to be commander for the Coast Guard at Calumet Park.
Westrec expects to put $2 million into the marina this year.
“It is good for absolutely everyone for this place to succeed,” Stevenson said.
Things are very much in flux as operations begin. Even the web site, npmonline.com, is being updated and changed.