A Jan. 5 letter from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources announcing that the IDNR “must respectfully decline the City of Evanston’s proposal” threw the fate of the mansion back into limbo, and the Human Services Committee offered little hope of a solution at its meeting that same night.
The IDNR offered two reasons for pulling out of the deal. First, the the IDNR’s “ability to [fund the project] severely limited by not owning, outright, both the land and the building.” The City has to date refused to sell anything but the building itself, offering to lease the land.
Second, given the change in administration in Springfield, “The current administration is unable to enter into… an agreement that commits future funding to a significant new initiative. We must defer to the new administration as they determine their priorities for state investments.”
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the IDNR’s decision heightened the City’s “quandary” over what to do with Harley Clark. “We have a building which everyone agrees needs significant repair,” he said. “My feeling is it’s going to be very difficult to find a tenant … that could meet our terms.” The community has presented numerous terms and conditions that they insist the City include in any deal regarding the mansion. Some insist the City retain ownership of the land, including Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st ward. Other conditions require deed restrictions limited transferability of the land.
Mr. Bobkiewicz asked for authority to investigate what he called the ‘most radical option,” tearing down the mansion, or “deconstruction.” “May main concern is that on June 1, 2015, the building will be empty” after the Evanston Arts Center moves out. What the City does with the building is “a policy decision of this Council.”
Speakers suggested the City give the Rauner administration an opportunity to review the IDNR proposal before completely jettisoning the Coastal Management Center concept. Diane Williams and Garry Shoemaker, the incoming and outgoing chairs of the Preservation Committee appeared and offered assistance for what Ms. Williams called “ultimately a vexing challenge.”
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th ward, said, “I’m very disappointed that the IDNR proposal looks like it’s not going to work out. The Harley Clark Mansion seems like the manner in which this community beats itself up over the last three years.” She referenced the Tawani Enterprises proposal, spearheaded by Colonel J.N. Pritzker, which the City “not so politely declined.
“We have not found a groundswell” within the community as to “what should be done,” Ald. Grover concluded.
“I suggest we have a very [thorough] heart to heart with the Rauner administration,” said Ald. Fiske. Other than that, she suggested “we need input from the community.”
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th ward, expressed frustration with the lack of progress, saying that she had been “the most vocal on this for… years.” She decried community efforts to torpedo the Tawani proposal with “some hoo hah signs everywhere, and said the City needed to “do something about this. Make a decision.” As for community input, she suggested “put[ing] out for referendum” whether or not to sell the property to a private developer.
On Ald. Grover’s motion, the matter moved on to Council without recommendations or even an idea as to how to solve what everyone agrees is a challenging, vexing problem. City Council will discuss the matter further Monday evening,January 12.