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Lakefront path reopens by once-controversial visitor center

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A section of the lakefront path through the Northwestern University campus reopened last week.

On a walk down the path as landscaping crews were adding native grasses and other plantings to the area, a visitor could see the dramatic pattern of the lake-facing sunscreens on the visitor center and parking garage structure, which seem to suggest boat sails.

And boats on the beach next to the new sailing center framed a view of the beach and skyline.

Plans for construction of the visitor center, announced two-and-a-half years ago had drawn protests from some Evanston residents who claimed it stood too close to Sheridan Road and would encroach on public park land. Others claimed it would cut off access to the lakefront.

The city's Preservation Commission voted to deny approval for the project and three local residents unsuccessfully sued to block construction.

The university initially proposed to lease a half-acre of city-owned land to provide a fire lane around the new building.

But the City Council overturned the Preservation Commission vote and approved a deal that avoided the need for a lease, but had the university pay for construction and maintenance of the walkway that would also serve as the required fire lane.

The $32 million project provides parking for 435 cars.

An additional section of the lakefront path through campus, which has been closed for construction of Northwestern's new music building, is scheduled to reopen next spring.

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