The election of a Republican as the next Illinois governor has thrown the proposed Illinois Department of Natural Resources plan to convert the Harley Clarke mansion into a coastal management education center into peril according to a memo from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. He confirmed on Dec. 1 that his key contact with the IDNR, Chief of Staff Todd Maine, will be leaving the IDNR in January.
With the new administration sweeping into office and new political appointees ascending to top ranks, said Mr. Bobkiewicz, it is “unclear what the agency’s priority would be.” Adding to the uncertainty is a perceived shift in the requirements of the IDNR.
Initially, the City hoped to enter into a long-term lease with the IDNR for the Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road. More recently, according to Mr. Bobkiewicz’s memo, “IDNR has indicated that they would require the purchase of the building and the land to move forward with the transaction.”
At the recommendation of Mr. Bobkiewicz himself, the Human Services Committee directed the City Manager to write the IDNR and seek a written statement as to the agency’s intentions in the wake of the change in administrations. “My sense is that we’ll get a response that says, ‘We don’t know.’ … If they don’t know, that’s important to know as well,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz.
“I will be so disappointed” if the IDNR proposal does not go through, said Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward. “It seems to check all my boxes.” The IDNR proposal’s falling through would result in “opening the Pandora’s Box of Harley Clarke,” said Ald. Grover, complicating what to do with the deteriorating and soon to be empty building.
Nevertheless, given the new and growing uncertainty surrounding the IDNR plan, the City Manager said that if his request for written confirmation fails to instill confidence it is “prudent to think about other options.”
Much may rest in the hands of new Governor Bruce Rauner and his budgetary priorities. If the IDNR plan is indeed off the table, then Council has important decisions to make.