Council Chambers was packed, the anteroom was packed and two other rooms were made available for the crowds of residents to see and hear the July 22 City Council meeting.
Sixty-five residents had signed up to speak at Citizen Comment – the 45-minutes allocated to the public to address the Council before aldermen begin the regular agenda.
Most, it appeared, wished to express their concern, objections consternation, anger or other emotion about a proposal before the City Council from Colonel James Pritzker’s Taiwani Enterprises to purchase about three acres of public park land, Lighthouse Landing Park, adjacent to Lighthouse Beach and renovate the mansion there into a 57-room “boutique” hotel with underground parking.
But a speech by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and two subsequent motions by Fourth Ward Alderman Donald Wilson may have allayed many concerns.
“I do not believe we should sell park land,” the Mayor said. “The simple fact of the matter is ‘Blame me that there is a proposal before [City Council].’” She said that when the City was looking for adaptive re-use possibilities for the Harley Clarke mansion – the building at Lighthouse Landing Park now occupied by the Evanston Art Center – she asked Col. Pritzker to propose a bed-and-breakfast establishment there. The Colonel, she said, “was responding to what his Mayor asked him to do.” She said, though, that the resulting proposal for the hotel was not what she had requested nor envisioned.
Mayor Tisdahl thanked the residents for their support and said, “I love the yard signs.”
Ald., Wilson thanked Taiwani and others who responded to the City’s request for proposals for the mansion and said, “We make progress through ideas.” He said the park is important to him and to his family, but “the threshold [issue] is one of preserving a community asset. I move that we decline this proposal”
His motion passed 6-3 with Aldermen Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, Ann Rainey, 8th Ward and Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward voting no.
A second motion by Ald. Wilson passed unanimously: to direct City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz “to reopen the process for finding a use for the property that does not include the sale of park land.”
Mr. Bobkiewicz said City staff would “come back in 60 days with an evaluation of the building.”