Gridlock reigns in Illinois. The optimist in me believes we can do better regarding the fate of the Harley Clarke Mansion. Certainly issues such as the safety of our citizens and the financial stability of our community must take precedence over a prolonged dispute over one dilapidated building. 

Having spent four months leading the Harley Clark Citizen Advisory Committee, I offer the following path forward. Like any good compromise, it requires each of the vested parties to give a little to reach a resolution.

I propose at the next City Council meeting, the following resolution be voted upon in its entirety:

The City shall issue an RFP to gift the Harley Clarke Mansion to a PNP/Foundation who has the financial means and experience to renovate, manage, and maintain the mansion. If no satisfactory proposals are presented to the Council, the City shall issue an RFP to the private sector. If no satisfactory proposals are presented to the Council, the City shall proceed with demolishing the mansion, after salvaging as many parts as possible.

The RFP(s) issued shall include the following evaluation factors:

the bidder’s financial capacity to renovate the building,

the bidder’s qualifications and proven experience conducting such work,

the benefit(s) afforded to the community by the function,

the appropriateness of the function for the location,

the financial viability of the ongoing operation,

 the parking solution offered and its impact on other visitors to Lighthouse Beach,

 the direct impact on nearby neighbors,

 the financial cost to the City related to the gift,

 the comprehensiveness of the renovation proposed (i.e., interior, exterior, gardens), and

 whether the proposal is limited to the existing structure or includes an addition(s) to the facility.

The first RFP to the PNP/Foundation community shall not be due until June 30, 2016, thereby giving sufficient time to the Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens Community Group to organize and raise funds to put forward a realistic investment plan to renovate and operate the Mansion. A land lease, up to 99 years, will be considered for all bidders, whether PNP/Foundation or Private. All bidders shall receive sufficient time to have their technical specialist(s) assess the mansion in order to prepare their scope of work and cost estimates. 

If this resolution is approved, this sets in motion a process whereby the course is clear, the public gets the opportunity to provide input to the Council on the actual proposed solution(s), and the Council retains the vote on the actual adopted solution. This approach also gives assurances to the private sector, should the Council not feel that there’s a viable PNP/Foundation solution, that the City is committed to awarding this if an acceptable proposal is submitted. This confidence is necessary given the Council’s previous rejection of the Pritzker proposal, otherwise no private enterprises would likely respond.

This path offers several benefits. First and foremost, it seeks to preserve the building. It seeks to have the building remain “public” through a non-profit entity. Private bidders are considered only if a non-profit entity does not submit a viable proposal. Even with private bidders the land remains publicly owned under a land lease, up to 99 years. And lastly, if there are no acceptable bids, then the City salvages materials, demolishes the mansion, and expands the parkland.

In the end, this process may lead to a PNP/Foundation renovating and managing the Mansion, a private entity doing so, or the building being demolished. While none of these solutions will satisfy everyone, any of these solutions will end the incessant debate. Let’s maintain our civic pride of being a City that can solve problems.

Last spring, Mr. Hagerty chaired  Mayoral-appointed  Harley Clark Citizens Advisory Committee.