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The Harley Clarke debate may end basically where it started three years ago, with the City repairing the building, taking over operations, and running City programing from the facility. The proposal, introduced by Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, turned the long-running debate on its head at the Oct. 12 Council meeting.
Council appeared prepared to debate twin proposals offered by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, both of which sought to offer the building to a not-for-profit entity for lease. Lurking in the background of the debate was a guest essay written by the chair of the special Harley Clarke Committee, Steve Hagerty. Mr. Hagerty suggested first offering the building to nonprofits, and if no viable proposal came through, offering it to commercial enterprises, and if none of those was viable, to demolish the building.
Citizens seemed resigned to those alternatives, and in citizen comment lined up predominately behind either nonprofit uses or demolition. Most seemed supportive of the Lakehouse nonprofit seeking to raise money to create a “self-sustaining community space,” according to its website.
But after citizen comment, Ald. Wilson asked to speak first. “My motion is perhaps not totally expected,” he said. He then made a motion to include $590,000 in the 2016 capital improvement budget to bring Harley Clarke into code compliance so the City could offer programming from the renovated facility.
Although some aldermen seemed to know the proposal ahead of time, others, along with many in Council chambers, appeared stunned, almost pausing for breath.
Ald. Miller was the next to speak. “I don’t think anyone on this Council will get everything they want,” he said. Alderman should look beyond their first choice to a second choice, he said, and for that reason he supported Ald. Wilson’s proposal over even his own as the best alternative to a negotiated agreement, (“BATNA”). He quoted Wilson and Ury’s “Getting to Yes,” a negotiating primer, as the source of BATNA.
Other aldermen expressed hesitation, looking for more information as to the cost not only of repairs but operations and the programing that would be offered. Alderman Jane Grover, whose Seventh Ward includes the Harley Clarke site, said she was concerned about Lighthouse Beach improvements scheduled for 2018.
“We need to think about the facilities all together,” she said. “The existing beach facilities ought to be part of the discussion.” She also said she talked to many constituents concerned about tax burdens. “It is fair to say not all of our constituents are in the room tonight [speaking at citizen comment].” Council should listen to those who say, “Look out for me as a taxpayer,” Ald. Grover said.
Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, agreed with her call for more information. “I have not been shy about my support for commercial activity at Harley Clarke,” he said. As for leasing the building to a nonprofit, he said, “We’ve not been great landlords and we have not held our partners to very high standards. … I would like to join Alderman Wilson if I had a little more information.”
Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, both supported Ald. Wilson’s proposal, bringing the yes side of the ledger to four. Each announced support brought a cheer from the gathered crowd, a full chamber, typical of each time the mansion has been on the agenda.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, stayed silent for most of the debate until she suggested the proposal work as a referral to staff rather than a motion. “This might be worth considering, but if I have to vote tonight, I’ll vote no,” she said. “This is out of left field right now… but if staff supported it and it makes sense, then we’ll all be in.”
Mayor Tisdahl said state budget woes, and possible cuts to local government distributions, mean that $500,000 now might look a lot different than $500,000 in January. “The income tax was passed years ago with the understanding that 10% would go to local governments,” she said. “But nothing is understood in Springfield [now].”
If the measure passes as a part of the City’s capital improvement project budget, the money would likely be borrowed in the form of bonds, or “bonded out,” said Ald. Miller who spoke with the RoundTable after the meeting. Debt service on $590,000 worth of bonds would probably mean about $40,000 per year in debt service, depending on the interest rate on the bonds.
“I don’t think it’s an exorbitant amount of money, given what we spend on others,” said Ald. Fiske. She moved to hold Ald. Wilson’s motion to give staff time to provide more information, such as cost of operations, maintenance, and debt service, plus an idea of what type of programing could be offered in the mansion.
“The bottom line is I would like this to go away so we can get on with solving our budget problems,” said Ald. Tendam. He will have to wait at least two weeks – the measure will return Oct. 26, likely before another full house and full slate of public comments.