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Swallow Cliffs wonderland another political illusion

Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Phil Kadner Columnist

As a professional magician Ron Urban performed feats of levitation, but said he was astonished last week when his plan for a forest preserve winter wonderland was "lifted" by Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman (R-Orland Park).
During three meetings with Gorman from July 2005 to December 2006, Urban said he described in detail a scheme to turn the Cook County Swallow Cliffs toboggan run into a privatized year-round entertainment extravaganza for the south suburbs.
There would be a family ice skating rink open from November to March, a Swiss chalet-style concession stand and an outdoor roller rink in the summer.
As for the toboggan slides, there would be snow-blowing equipment to maximize their potential during the winter, but also an artificial surface featuring bobsleds on rollers for the summer months.
Sitting in my office last week, Urban, of Palos Heights, showed me a portfolio he had put together to sell his plan to Gorman, whose county district includes the dilapidated Swallow Cliff toboggan slides, which have not been in use since 2003.
"Imagine my surprise when I picked up the Daily Southtown and read about this plan being presented to the county," Urban said.
The plan was presented by a fellow named Shawn Temple to the Cook County Forest Preserve District Recreation Committee, which Gorman chairs.
Temple, it turns out, used to work for auto dealerships owned by Gorman. He was finance chairman of Gorman's campaign in 2002.
Temple is now president of All-Seasons Extreme, and his plan for Swallow Cliffs includes making it a year-round attraction of winter-style sports.
He said he has the exclusive U.S. rights to an artificial snow-like surface called Snowflex.
For more than 40 years Urban, 70, has been staging ice shows in hotels, casinos and at the Texas State Fair where temperatures often hovered around 90 degrees.
It all began with his magic act, which he frequently performed while wearing ice skates.
He proudly displays photographs of one of his most famous illusions, where a beautiful woman and a tiger exchange places in a cage.
He also has articles from a NASA publication touting his use of space-age flexible tubing to transport manufactured ice over hundreds of yards outdoors from a refrigeration unit to a portable ice rink.
In short, although Urban has never created a "winter wonderland" like the one he envisions for Swallow Cliff, there is evidence that he has experience creating ice, staging large productions and a history of creative thinking.
You can see how he got from point "A" to point "B."
Temple, on the other hand, worked as a sales manager and later chief financial officer for the Gormans' two automobile dealerships.
According to a court deposition filed as part of the Gormans' court battle with DaimlerChrysler, the dealership paid mortgages on both Temple's primary residence in LaGrange and a vacation home in Michigan.
The dealership also allegedly shifted $400,000 into Gorman's campaign fund.
Yet, when Temple showed up at the county board meeting last week, Gorman hailed his plan for Swallow Cliffs but never mentioned she knew the man.
In fact, Gorman told Daily Southtown staff writer Jonathan Lipman that she had no idea Temple planned to present his Swallow Cliffs scheme at the meeting.
"I'm really not friends with him," Gorman told Lipman. "I'm not.
"I never came to him (on this project).
"He contacted our office."
Gorman told Lipman that she was not required by county rules to reveal her connection to Temple because "he's not getting paid."
Lipman noted that Temple is listed as president of All-Seasons.
"I don't know that,' Gorman said. "I don't know if he's getting paid."
She implied she believes his financial reimbursement depends on winning the Swallow Cliffs project.
As for Urban, he said he first met with Gorman to explain his plan at a Baker's Square in Palos Heights on July 27, 2005, again in August 2005 at her Orland office, and finally on Dec. 11, 2006, at Baker's Square in Orland Park.
He said he contacted the forest preserve district superintendent about his plan at Gorman's suggestion.
Gorman told Lipman she remembers meeting with Urban.
"I was never invited to make a presentation to the county," Urban said.
Minutes after Lipman called Gorman to ask why Urban had not been invited to pitch the recreation committee, Urban said he received a call from the county commissioner's office inviting him to bid on the project.
"It was like magic," the old magician said.
Or just a political illusion.


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