With the future of the Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road, still uncertain, Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, is working toward a resolution that could give a new local not-for-profit a shot at refurbishing the mansion and creating an educational center and limited event space.

The mansion was home to the Evanston Art Center for more than 40 years but has been shuttered since last May, when the Art Center moved to its new quarters at 1717 Central St.

Since then, a mayoral-appointed committee presented several options, none of which appeared palatable to the majority – or supermajority, depending on the proposed use – of the City Council members needed for a favorable vote.

Over the summer, a group of residents who oppose the privatization of the property formed the group Evanston Lakehouse, a not-for-profit entity that is seeking federal tax-exempt status. (See letter, page 8.) 

At the Sept. 21 City Council meeting, at which the future of the mansion was an agenda item, Ald. Miller asked that the matter be tabled until the Oct. 12 Council meeting, saying he believed a compromise could be worked out. He has drafted a resolution that would authorize the City Manager to “enter into a lease with a qualified not-for-profit organization for a term not to exceed two years for the use of the Harley Clarke Mansion.”

“I don’t believe we should sell any of our parks,” Ald. Miller told the RoundTable. His was the sole “no” vote when the Council decided authorize the City Manager negotiate with  Smylie Brothers brewing company to “lease or sell” the former recycling center to Smylie.

Under the proposed lease, which would run two years, from Jan. 1, 2016 until Dec. 31, 2017, the qualified not-for-profit would make capital improvements to the mansion in lieu of rent – $41,666,67 per month, a total of $500,000 each year. These funds would be deposited into an escrow account, and the City Manager or his designee would meet every six months with representatives of the organization “for the authorization of repairs.”

“The proposed lease has capital contributions instead of rent,” Ald. Miller told the RoundTable. “Two years is a good trial period. Every six months [the organization] has to sit down and show it has done something.” He also said he believes this proposed lease “creates opportunity and accountability.”

Five votes – a majority of the aldermen – would be needed to approve such a resolution, Ald. Miller told the RoundTable. A supermajority – six votes – would be needed to approve a lease of more than two years, he said. 

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...