Artists Book House, the nonprofit organization that in 2021 signed a 40-year lease for the Harley Clarke mansion, is asking City Council to modify some of the terms of the lease.

Council members approved the matter for introduction on Tuesday, Sept. 27, and will consider the matter at a subsequent meeting.

Harley Clarke mansion

In March 2021, the council selected Artists Book House over three other proposals to renovate the mansion at 2603 Sheridan Road and keep at least part of it open to the public. Audrey Niffenegger, author of the best-selling book The Time Traveler’s Wife, is founder and president of the organization.

Economic disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have posed difficulties in “meeting the fundraising benchmarks and construction phasing outlined in the original lease,” wrote Deputy City Manager David Stoneback in a Sept. 27 memo.

Under the current lease, the rent is to be $1 per year for the first 10 years; $1,000 per year for the next 10 years; and very low amounts for the following 20 years.

Capital investments of about $8.5 million were required by 2026. While Artists Book House still says it can complete renovations and have the mansion open to the public in 2026, it seeks changes in three of the intermediate benchmarks. It has also revised up the cost of renovations.

Fundraising deadlines

The organization has already missed the deadline of the first benchmark – $2 million by May 22 of this year – and requested it be changed to $1 million by Dec. 31, 2022. It also asked for the goal of $4 million by May 2023 to be changed to $2 million by Dec. 31, 2023, and $4 million by Dec. 31, 2024.

Artists Book House is planned as a “place where artists, writers, readers, and other thoughtful people gather to learn and create. Through education, exhibitions, publications, and events, Artists Book House expands our community. We promote the literary arts and the crafts of book making.”

In addition to spaces allocated for classes, the group proposes that it will have a Book House Cafe, space for writers in residence, a small art gallery, a local book shop, a lecture hall and classrooms.

Evanston author Audrey Niffenegger

The proposal said the organization celebrates diversity and will make its programming affordable or free to the public. 

City Staff and Seventh Ward Council Member Eleanor Revelle recommended that council approve the modifications to the lease.

Niffenegger spoke virtually at the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting, held earlier in the evening, and said the group is working to hire a deputy director. She also said the proposed amendments were “more in line with our reality and more likely for us to achieve.”

Revelle said, “Audrey and her board have just held a very successful book sale, and they are very active already despite that they need to raise a significant number of dollars.” These new benchmarks, she said, are “much more achievable.” 

By a voice vote, the committee unanimously approved the proposed amendments. The item is likely to appear for action – a Council vote – on the Oct. 10 City Council agenda. 

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...

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  1. With the current emphasis on the banning of books..😱..this might be the time for them to increase what ever actions there may have been in place regarding funding..

    ..focus on grants..

    ..one time and or continuing donations and pledges from wealthy individuals.

    ..consider engaging as a part of the Evanston districts school’s library and environmental educational programs, even expanding it to include other school districts as well as NWU.

    ..