Yerkes sale nears completion


After more than a year of speculation, the University has reached an agreement to sell Yerkes Observatory to New York developer Mirbeau Company, which plans to develop 45 acres of land near the 109-year-old structure, creating homes and a spa.

If approved by the village of Williams Bay, Wisconsin, the agreement with Mirbeau owner Gary Dower would preserve the observatory—which houses a 40-inch refracting telescope, the largest in the world—and 30 acres surrounding it, and create a four-acre conservation zone along Geneva Lake. Mirbeau would pay $400,000 a year to support the observatory as an education and outreach institution, and $8 million to the University, supporting astronomical research. Yerkes and the surrounding land would be owned by an exposition district created by the village and directed by a board of scientists, most of whom would be appointed by the University.

Proceeds from and taxes on a 100-room Mirbeau Retreat and 72 small homes to be built on 45 acres of the property would help fund the observatory. The University, meanwhile, would continue to manage Yerkes for at least five years and provide $300,000 annually for maintenance during that time. The U of C also would provide $1 million to help create a Yerkes education and outreach organization.


June 14, 2006