Dear Evanston Community,
On behalf of my fellow board members and our hundreds of supporters, I am writing to express the continued enthusiasm of Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens (ELHG) to reach a lease agreement with the City for Harley Clarke so that ELHG can fulfill its mission to maximize its use for the benefit of the public, and to oppose demolition of this irreplaceable public asset. We hope that by working together we can find a resolution that protects and encourages public access for all to this historical landmark, now and for future generations.
It is important to clarify a few specific points where the City and community may not have a full understanding of our proposal, and report on an offer we have recently made to address the City’s goals:
1. ELHG is not asking the City for a single cent of taxpayer money: The funds for restoration and ongoing maintenance of the building would be raised by ELHG from philanthropic sources including grants, foundations and individuals, plus revenue from operations. The project will not result in any increase in taxes. On the contrary it will reduce City expenditures on the building, as ELHG would take on maintenance expenses.
2. Current maintenance costs to the City are only $15,000 per year and ELHG’s plan is to address these costs: The building does not currently pose any meaningful economic hardship to the City. The City Manager has indicated that annual costs to maintain the building are $15,000 per year. While our City budget is tight, this is certainly not a meaningful economic hardship relative to the City’s $300+ million annual budget. That being said, to try and be as responsive as we can to the City’s goals, we propose to pay the City of Evanston $15,000 cash in exchange for a 1-year option agreement for ELHG to secure $1 million in pledges towards the project. The $15,000 would offset the City’s annual maintenance costs on Harley Clarke during the 1-year option agreement. If ELHG is successful, then as part of the option agreement, ELHG would be granted a long-term lease for the building. New donations and pledges are coming in every day as we have begun advancing our campaign – the broad support is very encouraging.
3. ELHG’s plan is consistent with prior City policy and process: Everything that ELHG has proposed for Harley Clarke is consistent with the Lakefront Master Plan. The 2015 Citizens Committee chaired by Steve Hagerty conducted a survey in which 67% of people preferred saving the building for public or non-profit use, while only 12% of people preferred demolition. Our plan received detailed review through the Harley Clarke Planning Committee chaired by Eleanor Revelle and a Request for Proposal process. As part of that Committee, the City’s Parks and Recreation Board and Lighthouse Landing Committee endorsed our plan.
4. Demolition has not been vetted publicly and is not consistent with City policy: On the contrary, demolition is not contemplated in the Lakefront Master Plan, has not been supported by the community, has not been subjected to any public process and review – including processes proscribed by the City Ordinances, has not received the recommendation of any City Committee, is not supported by the 7th Ward Alderman where the building resides, and is not consistent with the intent and purpose of the City’s designation of the building as a Local Landmark or the City’s Preservation Ordinance.
5. The building is in good condition and can be used with reasonable investment: It has been suggested that the building requires tremendous investment to be used by the public. This is simply not true. The Evanston Art Center operated in the building in its current condition until the day they left. Certainly, upgrades are required and there is deferred maintenance, but the building is well constructed. Historic preservation experts Wiss, Janney, Elstner provided the City with an assessment – available on the City’s website – that described $250,000 of repairs necessary to make the building operational. In a Nov. 22, 2016 budget memo, the City prepared its own estimate of $660,000 to open the building for City Parks and Recreation programs – also on the City’s website. ELHG has a vision that goes well beyond these repairs, and we are committed to the $5 million budget we have presented, but a lot can be accomplished for reasonable sums of money to get started.
It is our sincere hope that the City Council will not support demolition, but rather will proactively support ELHG’s positive vision for preservation – an idea that is broadly supported by the community. We hope the Council adopts Alderman Revelle’s motion, as initially suggested by Mayor Stephen Hagerty, to allow ELHG one year to raise $1 million in pledges. Further, we hope that the offer of an option payment to the City helps to secure a true opportunity for ELHG to fundraise for this project.
With Respect and Gratitude,
Mr. Hodgman is president of Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens board.