At the inaugural meeting of the Harley Clarke Mansion Committee, chair Steve Hagerty led the seven other members present through a process that defined the committee’s mission, assessment criteria and internal-governance policies and set the agenda for its next two meetings.  Alderman Jane Grover, City Community Development Director Mark Muenzer, City Economic Development Specialist Cindy Plante, Garry Shumaker, Linda Damashak, Dawn Davis-Zeinemann and Amina DiMarco, a member of the City’s Parks and Recreation Board attended the meeting; the only absent member was Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward.

The mansion is located at 2603 Sheridan Road, just north of the Grosse Point Light Station and just south of the City-owned Lawson Park. Lighthouse Landing Park District also owns some of the property adjacent to the mansion; it is a park district separate from the City of Evanston’s parks.

Should the committee recommend that the property be sold, any sale will also be complicated by the intertwined ownership of land there.

Background

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz gave a history of the activities and discussion concerning the mansion since 2011, when he first recommended to City Council that it reconsider the use of certain City buildings – the Ecology Center, the Chandler-Newberger Center and the Harley Clarke mansion, home to the Evanston Art Center for more than 40 years. The Council, he said, declined his advice on all but the mansion.

In response to the City’s request for proposals to develop the property, only one, from Colonel Jennifer Pritzker’s Tawani Enterprises, seemed acceptable to the City Council. Col. Pritzker’s proposal, however, involved purchasing the mansion and some of the property, constructing a boutique hotel and installing underground parking. In July of 2013, the City Council voted 6-3 to reject the proposal.

A brief affair with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources followed, with IDNR saying it wished to house its Coastal Management Program in the mansion. As negotiations progressed, IDNR said it wished to purchase the mansion and the property beneath it – something Council had been reluctant to approve. After the November elections brought a new governor and many new staff to Springfield, IDNR notified the City that the project was no longer feasible.

In the meantime, the Evanston Art Center, the tenant in the building, purchased the property at 1717 Central St., with a move contemplated this spring.

Everything on the Table

All this has left the City with an aging, beautiful but ill-maintained lakefront mansion, no prospect of a tenant and the likelihood of several hundred thousand dollars – if not $1 million or more – in repair and rehab costs. The smaller estimate is to bring the mansion into compliance with City codes and the larger, to restore the mansion.

Whether the property should be maintained for the public or sold to a developer and whether the building should be rehabbed or demolished are some of the threshold questions for the Clarke Mansion Committee to consider.

Mr. Bobkiewicz also noted that there is a small number of parking spaces available at the mansion and said, “I think this committee will be challenged finding a use that is compatible [with the requirements of] no additional parking and no sale of property.”

Mr. Shumaker suggested that the committee request information from several City departments and boards, among these the Parks and Recreation Board. Mr. Bobkiewicz said it was not necessary to request a formal statement from them, “because they will tell you that Evanston does not have enough parkland,” proportionally to its size and population density.

The committee members agreed that the mission would be “to identify, develop and evaluate the viability of options in the context of the criteria developed by the committee.”

Citizen comment will be allowed at the beginning of the next meeting, 7 p.m. on Feb. 26 in the Civic Center, and possibly at the beginning of the following meeting. At other meetings, citizen comment may be taken at the end.

Much information about the Harley Clarke mansion is available on the City’s website. The City has also set up an email address for interested parties to communicate ideas to the Harley Clarke Citizens Committee at harleyclarkemansion@cityofevanston.org.