Harley Clarke ideas are listed at the Feb 28 brainstorming session. RoundTable photo

Organizers devoted their first Harley Clarke conversation session on Jan. 24 to brainstorm future uses for the lakefront building.

At the second session, Feb. 28, organizers encouraged participants to tie the ideas to uses that are financially sustainable.  

At this latest session, held at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, the nearly 60 participants were encouraged to plot their ideas on a worksheet divided into four areas: “Inclusive,” “Exclusive,” “Financially-sustainable” and “Financially-impractical.”

Members of the sponsoring groups – the Harley Clarke Community group and Evanston Lake House and Gardens – urged participants to find the “sweet spot’ – where “inclusivity,  making the site a place for all and financially-sustainable activities meet.”

Resident John Kennedy, reporting on his group’s work, said members’ suggestions included a popup restaurant for the lakefront property, located at 2603 Sheridan Rd., adjacent to the Grosse Point Lighthouse.

The group also proposed Ward Nights, local college cooking demonstrations and opening up the stone-and-glass conservatory on the grounds as early as this summer.

 “All our ideas were upper-right quadrant,” said Mr. Kennedy proudly: “Inclusive and money-making.”

Other groups landed in that area too.

Gary Sherman’s group proposed outdoor family movie screenings, concerts inside Harley Clarke, a holiday bazaar or fair, and even as a new spot for the City’s First Night celebration.

Mr. Sherman said he took the outdoor movie screening idea from summer trips to Pentwater, a small town in Michigan.

“You rent the movies, which are really inexpensive, and you give free screenings, but you sell popcorn,” he said. “We also had containers that said ‘Pentwater’ on the bucket, and once you buy a bucket you can have as much popcorn as you want.”

He said the movie nights draw 3,000 to 4,000 people over the course of a summer, five to six times the town’s population. “It pays for itself and generates revenue which we put into a fund doing events in Pentwater,” he said.

Organizers and participants also stressed the need for inclusivity –seeking to attract all residents – including many who have not traditionally accessed the northeast lakefront part of Evanston.

Longtime resident Carlis Sutton said his group would like to see a library established on a permanent basis at the lakefront spot, hosting activities ranging “from children’s reading centers, poetry slams for teenagers and other writing events.”

Mr. Sutton said two local museums – the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian and the Shorefront Legacy Center, which has done research on African American history on the North Shore – could have permanent rotating exhibits at Harley Clarke.

Harley Clarke could also bring in other museums in the area, “adding to the importance” of Harley Clarke, he said, tapping the rich diversity of the area.

Another speaker, Erika Castro, said her group would like to see a Latino community center established at Harley Clarke. The center could offer programs such as GED, English as a Second Language and computer classes.

Those programs “would benefit not only the Latino community, but also other communities,” she said.

Katherine Egan, representing another group, spoke of restoring the Jens Jensen-designed garden and growing edible and medicinal plants in that space. The use would harken back to the site’s early history as a Potawatomi village.

Ms. Egan said the spot could also be a place for workplace development, offering opportunities similar to Curt’s Cafe, where young adults could work as hosts at a cafe and weddings and other special events held on the grounds.

She said the aim should be “not just having people using this space,” but “having a key feeling of ownership.”

The two sessions are the first major meetings on Harley Clarke since an advisory referendum in November where voters resoundingly voted to saving the mansion from demolition.

Organizers  have scheduled a third session for April 4, at which the focus will be to tie the ideas to funding mechanisms, including grants, to finance  the ventures, said Bennett Johnson, one of the speakers at the event.

Though invitations went to the City Council for both events, no officials have attended. At a town hall meeting, Mayor Stephen Hagerty said that Council members, as stewards of the property, will soon have a discussion focusing on how they want to proceed on the issue.

 From the gatherings, the groups plan to submit a report to the City Council, helping officials prioritize plans and proposals for future use of Harley Clarke, group leaders said.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.