The Harley Clarke Mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road, is currently home to the Evanston Art Center. RoundTable photo

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In partial response to the RoundTable’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the City of Evanston provided copies of minutes of two closed-session meetings of the Human Services Committee – Dec. 17, 2012, and Feb. 4, 2013 – and one closed-session meeting of City Council, held on Feb. 25. The development of the Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road, was discussed behind closed doors at those meetings. 

The audio tapes of both Human Services Committee meetings have been destroyed.

The minutes reflect discussion of a proposal by Colonel Jay Pritzker of Tawani Enterprises Inc. (TEI) to build a 57-room “boutique-style” hotel on the property. Other topics included the Col. Pritzker proposal to purchase the property, public and private beach access and parking.

The Dec. 17 Closed-Session Meeting

The minutes of the Dec. 17 closed session of the Human Services Committee reflect that First Ward Alderman Judy Fiske, Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes, Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Tendam, Seventh Ward Alderman Jane Grover, Assistant City Manager Joseph McRae, Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons, Parks/Forestry Supervisor Paul D’Agostino, City Chief Financial Officer Martin Lyons, Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar and Health Department secretary Nicola Whyte attended the meeting.

Mr. McRae said Tawani Enterprises has bid $1.2 million for the mansion, the greenhouse, the coach house and two-and-one-half acres of public property. In April of 2012 the mansion alone was appraised at $2.1 million, and with 3,700 square feet of land the entire site was appraised at $3 million.

The proposal is to develop the property with a 57-room “boutique-style” hotel with meeting rooms and a ballroom for events such as weddings. The hotel would be “open to the public with limited access to the beach; the public beach house would remain.” A proposed annex would replace the current parking space, and there would be a 25-space underground parking garage.

At that meeting, Committee members expressed concerns about several items, listed as bullet points in the minutes, such as “cannot promise liquor license, public access to their garage, would the surface of the property be kept serene, property tax concessions, zoning, potential revenue to the City and implication of proposed plan for the Lighthouse Park District.”

The Committee agreed “that the bid was too low for consideration,” the minutes stated, and the direction to staff was “to meet with TEI [and] do some more fact-finding on their proposal.”

The Feb. 4 Closed-Session Meeting

The minutes of the Feb. 4, 2013, closed-session meeting show the following persons in attendance: Alds. Grover, Tendam, Holmes and Fiske; Mr. McRae, Ms. Whyte, Henry Ford and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz.

The minutes state, “City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz met with Colonel Pritzker of Tawani Enterprises Incorporated (TEI) and his representatives approximately two weeks ago. The Colonel is committed to moving forward with this project.

“City Manager Bobkiewicz updated the committee on their concerns from the last executive session of Dec. 17.

Price Bid: There is room for negotiating. Mr. Pritzker [reiterated that] he is prepared to make a substantial investment at no cost to the City.

Beach access will continue: There will be a path from Sheridan Road to the beach front, which will be an improvement.

Parking: Mr. Pritzker felt confident an underground parking [garage] could be accomplished and space would be 10 short of what is currently available. City Manager Bobkiewicz suggested [that], going forward, [there could be a] 35-space installation rather than their proposed 25. The above-ground parking structure would be available to the public free of charge; however, the underground parking would be [for] the primary use of the hotel.

“The financial impact of the facility to the City’s General Fund and the significant amount of time needed to inform the community about the sale of the property was also discussed. TEI is prepared to take whatever path is appropriate to advise the community and would follow the City’s lead. [Mr.] Bobkiewicz stated TEI [was] agreeable to hold off further negotiations until after April …

“Conversations also covered the financial impact that the facility would have on the City’s General Fund, [something that] was not touch[ed] on to any great extent in their proposal. The value of the hotel and liquor tax to the community was explained to TEI.

“Ald. Grover has begun talking to residents around the Lighthouse beach to gauge their response to the project. She has been talking to people she believes is invested in the neighborhood and has set up meetings to start a discussion.

“Ald. Fiske asked what will happen when TEI is no longer in need of the building. Will it revert back to the City’s ownership? Are they going to acquire other lakefront property? City Manager Bobkiewicz replied that was not discussed.

“The City Manager is concerned other quid-pro-quo [considerations] will come up that [are] not on the table at this time, and [he] felt it is worth having another conversation after the full Council has had a discussion.

“There has been discussion about a property on the west side which would house a technology research stem project that Northwestern University currently owns.

“The one-time purchase vs. the property taxes is something that has to be considered. The estimation [sic]of property taxes has not been analyzed. Hopefully, it will be discussed at the March 2013 City Council executive session.

“Assistant City Attorney Michelle Masoncup has completed a memo that will be shared when appropriate, which examines the appraisal and the square footage, along with TEI’s desire to have additional space.

“The Committee asked about the cost of demolition and the timeframe to begin construction. The City Manager will also reiterate to TEI that a liquor license is not promised. …

“The Committee agreed to forward to City Council for Executive Session.”

The Feb. 25 Meeting

At the Feb. 25 closed-session City Council meeting, the minutes show, Mr. Bobkiewicz said the Human Services Committee “sent the proposal back to Council” and he was looking for direction about what the next steps would be. Mayor Tisdahl suggested asking Col. Pritzker for more money. Mr. Bobkiewicz said he would bring the issue to the next City Council meeting.

Next Steps

The RoundTable opines in its editorial that the City should reject the Pritzker bid and rethink its position on the Clarke mansion.