Harley Clarke mansion (Photo by Adina Keeling)

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Artists Book House, led by Evanston Township High School alum and award-winning author Audrey Niffenegger, received City Council approval earlier this month to lease the Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road, for 40 years.

Terms of the Lease

Rent: The lease is effective May 10 of this year, and, through May 10, 2031, the annual rent will be $1. From June 10, 2031 to May 10, 2041, the annual rent will be $1,000 and will increase by $1,000 each decade through May 10, 2061.

Fund-Raising and Improvements: In the next two years, Artists Book House must raise $4 million, which will be used for code-related improvements to the mansion and the coach house. After that, Artists Book House must continue to raise $2 million each year and must complete the work to open the mansion to the public in 2026.

Renovations: Artists Book House contemplates renovating the mansion in three phases: project design and construction bids, phase 1, through May 2023; essential improvements such as window restoration, masonry repair, roofing repairs, construction of lower terrace with sunroom access, entry drive and entry walk with ADA ramp, conservatory rehabilitation, elevator installation, first and second-floor rehab, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing improvements to entire house, phase 2, May 2023 to May 2025; completion pending third-floor rehab; kitchen improvements as required for the café; construction of exterior ramps, terraces, planters, and complete landscape restoration and rehabilitation of the coach house, phase 3, May 2025-May 2026. Artists Book House must obtain general liability insurance for the renovations.

The estimated cost of renovating the main house is between $6,536,495 and $8,571,915. Artists Book House proposes to support day-to-day operations through programming fees.

Reverter Provision: Should Artists Book House fail to meet any of the funding benchmarks, it will have 14 days to meet with City officials to discuss a reasonable extension of the deadline. The City will have the right to terminate the lease should Artists Book House fail to meet a funding deadline and also fails to meet and confer with the City about the failure the City has the right to terminate the lease and retake the premises.

City Obligations: Until Artists Book House begins phase 3, the City will continue to maintain the buildings and grounds. Obligations of the City: The City will maintain the heating and other building systems, monitor the alarm, and maintain exterior trees and landscapes.  

The Coach House: Artists Book House plans to sublease the coach house to Jens Jensen Gardens in Evanston. Artists Book House will be responsible for ensuring the renovations to the coach house are completed.

After years of passionate discussion and wrangling, the Council members unanimously and without comment approved the lease on the May 10 consent agenda.