The clock is ticking on the old Harley Clarke mansion, home for the last 40 years to the Evanston Art Center. The City owns the mansion, the coach house and some of the land in the Lighthouse area. Other parcels of land there have different owners, and they all offer one thing to all Evanstonians: access to the breathtaking Lighthouse Beach, Lawson Park and Lighthouse Landing Park.

The cost of repairing and rehabbing the mansion appears to be prohibitive for the City at this time, so it seems that someone else must take over the building and the Evanston Art Center must find a new home.

Selling the property and using the proceeds to finance the relocation of the art center has a certain appeal. A suggestion made earlier this week at the Human Services Committee meeting seems even more attractive: selling or leasing the buildings but retaining the land.

Selling or leasing only the buildings has several advantages: It protects our precious lakefront and park land, and it protects the community from the threat of privatizing or otherwise signing over access to part of the lakefront. It also preserves the commitment to public lake access and preserves the character of the area. Finally, it preserves, though perhaps on a smaller financial basis, the commitment to relocating the art center,

One topic of discussion at the City over the last two years has been selling the City’s assets. The Ecology Center, the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Chandler-Newberger Center and possibly other recreation centers have been at one time or another considered saleable. The City’s lease from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, the site of the Frank Govern golf course, may still be on the table for re-lease to Northwestern University, NorthShore University Health System or another entity.

We think that selling property is generally not a good idea. The City should consider creative ways of preserving assets, such as it may be doing with the Harley Clarke mansion.

Selling only the buildings and retaining the gardens and parks at the Lighthouse may not be as remunerative as selling the whole shebang. But the City can only sell the land once and the intangibles of beauty, public access and quality of life will more than make up for a loss – albeit projected and temporary – of some income from the sale of precious land.