Anyone who is reading this paper straight through now knows that Colonel James (“Jay”) Pritzker’s Tawani Enterprises, Inc. has bid $1.2 million for the Harley Clarke mansion, which now houses the Evanston Art Center, and about 2.5 acres of land surrounding it. Last year the mansion was appraised at about $2 million and the entire parcel at about $3 million.
The City Manager and at least some aldermen have been hoping for a couple of years to sell the property. The mansion needs a lot of maintenance work, which the City may not be in a financial position to perform at present; and some alderman have said they think the City should not be a landlord.
Much has come to light over the past few weeks, and we think it is time for the City to halt negotiations with Col. Pritzker, send out new requests for proposals and rethink its position on leasing the mansion.
We have three reasons for this: First, the Pritzker bid is unreasonably low. Several City Council members have said this – including Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who said in a closed-session City Council meeting a few weeks ago that the City should ask for more money.
Second, the City appears to have shed its reluctance to be a landlord. At the other end of town, on Howard Street, the City is happily a landlord to a wine bar and an apartment and is likely soon to be a landlord to another restaurant and to a theatre troupe.
But most of all, the City should not sell its precious assets.
Selling a City asset is like dipping into a retirement fund – a nest egg or safety net that we as residents of Evanston all share. The Lakefront Master Plan, adopted in 2008, calls for passive, public enjoyment of the lakefront, with a few temporary but not-commercial events, such as the art festivals.
We have been through this a few times before – the panic of trying to sell City property – and the City Council has always come to its senses. We did not sell the Chandler Center, the Ecology Center, the Civic Center or the building that houses the North Branch Library. The City and its residents are better off for having retained them.
Mayor Tisdahl said a few years ago that “not one blade of grass” around the mansion should be sold. We agree. The City Council should be stewards of the City’s assets – not cashiers.
It is reasonable, though, for the City to contemplate leasing the Harley Clarke mansion for a short period of time, with optional renewals, to a not-for-profit with a small footprint.
Council members and City Manager: Lease the mansion or fix it up and put it to City use. Scrap the Tawani bid and, in the words of Ted White and Aretha Franklin, “Think, think, think about what you’re doing.”
Evanston can do better. Evanston deserves better.