On April 26, Seventh Ward Alderman Eleanor Revelle presided over a community meeting about the future of the Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road. The mansion, leased for 40 years by the Evanston Art Center, has been vacant since June 2015, and City staff and Council members have been debating its future for several years. Last fall, the City Council directed the Parks, Recreation and Communities Services Board and the Lighthouse Landing Complex Committee to develop a plan for the future operation of the Harley Clarke property.
The focus of the April 26 meeting was a proposal by Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens to restore and repurpose the mansion as a venue for environmental education, outdoor recreation, and community gatherings and events.
Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens, a 501(c) (3) corporation, was formed in 2015 to protect and preserve the mansion and its historic Jens Jensen gardens from demolition or private sale and to create a plan for long-term financial sustainability.
Tom Hodgman, a board member of the Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens and a Director of Conservation Transactions at The Nature Conservancy, described various potential uses of the property. The unique location with four separate ecosystems, as well as its proximity to Northwestern University, offers an opportunity for experiential learning. Outdoor recreation uses, he said, would include the present Ecology Center camps and the City’s summer aquatics program, a waterfront trail, and possible uses by other not-for-profit organizations. The mansion and environs could be used for community meetings and rented for outdoor concerts, charity events, and celebrations such as birthdays, weddings, bridal showers or bar/bat mitzvahs.
Rent from these events would help financially. The group also sees potential economic development from tourism and possibly a café on the site.
Speaking on behalf of the Lakeshore Sustainability Education Partnership (lakeshore-education.org), Aaron Packman, Director of the Northwestern Center for Water Research, said he supported the proposal.
The education aspect of the Lakehouse & Gardens proposal earned the support of Clare Tallon Ruen of LakeDance, who facilitates school-based ecology units in Evanston public schools, and Jennifer Lewin, who works with EvanSTEM,
The Lakehouse group estimates it would need about $5.25 million to restore and renovate the mansion, coach house, and gardens; that amount would include other hard costs and start-up operational costs.
The next steps include evaluating feedback from the April 26 meeting to refine the proposal and business plan. The group hopes to secure a recommendation from the Parks/Recreation and Community Services Board and the Lighthouse Landing Committee and make a presentation to City Council next month.