A suggestion by an alderman at the May 7 Human Services Committee meeting pared off even more from the potential sale of the Harley Clarke mansion on Sheridan Road that has housed the Evanston Art Center for four decades. Seventh Ward alderman Jane Grover asked whether the City had considered selling only the mansion and the coach house and not the land on which they sit.
“It’s a dilapidated treasure,” Ald. Grover said, as she acknowledged the need to sell the mansion. “Let’s look at trying to minimize the size of the asset [to be sold].”
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, appeared to like that idea. “I have not changed my mind that we should not be selling this property. … It’s a lovely landmark … and we would [never] get the property back. … It’s our responsibility to future generations to keep the property. It’s really important that we think creatively.” She added, “Northwestern [University] has really managed its property well. Roycemore School had a 90-year lease on the property but owned their building.” The school recently relocated to Ridge Avenue. Similarly, the University recently purchased the buildings of WEHAT Seminary, which had leased the property but owned the buildings.
The mansion and the coach house are adjacent to the Grosse Pointe Light Station (the tower and two fog houses), Lighthouse Landing, and Lawson Park, where Noah’s Playground is located. Several parcels of property with different owners comprise the area that many simply call “Lighthouse Beach” or “Lighthouse Park.”
City staff and City Council members have for the past several months been discussing the potential sale of the mansion. Although there is no firm estimate of the cost of needed repairs, there is apparent agreement among many or most aldermen that the wisest course is to sell rather than rehab the building and use the proceeds to help the Evanston Art Center relocate. In a May 2 memo to the members of the Human Services Committee, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said potential uses envisioned by the City included “residential, office, educational, institutional, hotel or bed and breakfast.”
The City would like to issue a “request for interest” (RFI) from qualified purchasers, and the “selected purchaser must have the financial capabilities to complete this project,” according to the memo.
Leasing the mansion and the coach house, or selling only those buildings and not the underlying property would likely decrease the amount of money the City would see from that transaction and thus likely decrease the amount available to help relocated the Evanston Art Center. Although Ald. Fiske suggested that the art center remain in the mansion and pursue aggressive fund-raising to pay for renovations, Evanston Art Center director Nora Diderich CHECK NAME told the Human Services Committee members, “We have enjoyed being in that home for over 40 years, [but] to better serve the needs [of artists and members], there is a need for us to be in a more urban setting.” She said the new location should be near a CTA or Metra station.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said he planned to present information to the City Council about the appraised value of the building and the costs of renovation. Because it relates to the sale of City property, he will present that information in executive session.