The long-awaited 40-year lease conveying the Harley Clarke Mansion to Evanston Lake House and Garden (ELHG) moved forward March 12, though some details and benchmarks remain to be finalized. The vote was 6-1 introduce the proposed lease, with Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, voting no.
One major sticking point and the provision most likely to be tweaked concerns the fundraising target ELHG must hit in order for the lease to remain in place. Mayor Stephen Hagerty said the group promised it could raise $5 million for rehabilitation and improvements, yet the lease requires them to raise only $2 million over the next three years. “Why doesn’t the benchmark meet the $5 million?” he asked.
Assistant City Manager Erika Storlie said the benchmarks included within the proposed lease recognized the difference between pledged support and cash in hand. The proposed lease requires actual cash in hand donations, not pledges, and as a result ELGH asked for lower and back-loaded benchmarks.
Under the lease as introduced, ELHG must raise, as cash and not pledges, $250,000 one year after lease signing, $500,000 two years after lease signing, and $2 million three years after lease signing. If they do so, they will contract for basic code compliance improvements and open the building to the public by 2023.
“If ELGH fails to meet any of the designated fundraising benchmarks, the City has the right to terminate the lease and to retake possession of the premises,” wrote City staff in the packet memo. There are no more benchmarks after year three, and no more required improvements after basic code compliance upgrades.
“What happens if they hit the $2 million,” then fundraising stalls out, asked Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward. “Do we still have a 40-year lease with a building that does not look like the pictures at all?” he added, referencing the presentation and marketing materials ELGH provided, including with renditions of the improved mansion. “My concern is it will not look like the pretty pictures,” he added later.
“There are no requirements in the lease that additional improvements be made,” answered Ms. Storlie.
“Our intent is to get it all done,” said Tom Hodgman of ELHG. “There are a lot of things inside the building we would like to do eventually.” He said the group would have a full-time development person on staff and continue to raise the money needed to realize the aspirations set forth in the marketing renditions.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she had “some serious misgivings” and “some questions” about the proposal. She asked who would maintain the building and grounds while ELGH raised money for repairs over the first three years of the lease.
“The City would continue to maintain the building and grounds over the next five years,” said Ms. Storlie. Later, responding to a follow-up question from Ald. Rainey, she added, “They will be a tenant of the space… they will have for all intents and purposes possession of the space. The City of Evanston will continue to maintain” the property.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2d Ward, joined Ald. Fiske in asking for a computation of the cost to the City of providing such maintenance.
Ald. Fiske also asked about current pledges already committed. The group has raised about $100,000, replied Ms. Storlie, roughly the same amount reported in November 2017.
“The lease agreement is really a final step in a really long public process,” said Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward. ELHG is “not asking for any City funding. … Ultimately, I do believe, they are going to raise $5 million. It is time for us to express our support for their vision and nurture the next generation of lakefront stewards.”
“I just want to make it clear,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward. “This is for introduction. Nothing is being approved tonight.”
Ald. Rainey asked for additional tweaks, such as a prohibition against subleasing and a requirement that “the minute this lease is signed, the tenant must secure tenant insurance like any other tenant,” as they would be required to do under standard commercial leases.
“This is a City asset,” said Mayor Hagerty, and “a contentious one for a long, long time… I want to see this be successful, but there is a lot of risk.”
With that, Council voted 6-1 to introduce the proposed lease. The matter returns for a second reading, and final decision, on April 9.