The city has leased the Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road, to the Artists Book House nonprofit for 40 years, but the group has struggled to raise funds for renovations required to fully reopen the mansion.

Editor’s note: The originally posted story has been corrected to clarify what vote was taken and the results. The RoundTable regrets the error. Also, this is one of multiple stories from the Oct. 10 City Council meeting.

In what could be a minor setback for Artists Book House, the nonprofit that holds a 40-year lease on the Harley Clarke mansion, the City Council during its Oct. 10 meeting asked for the Administration and Public Works Committee to draw up two separate leases for the mansion and its historic gardens.  

The original lease between the City and Artists Book House, signed in May 2021, called for Artists Book House to meet several fund-raising and construction milestones before opening the mansion at 2603 Sheridan Road to the public. 

Several weeks ago, Artists Book House notified city officials that it was requesting the 40-year lease be amended. Due to COVID-19, the war in Ukraine and subsequent economic disruptions, the House has not met the first fundraising goals.

During public comment, Charles Smith, president of Jens Jensen Gardens in Evanston, asked Council to table the issue until the next meeting. Noted landscaper Jens Jensen designed the gardens around the mansion, and his group has been working to clean up and clear out the gardens.

He requested the hold because there are still some unresolved issues between Artists Book House and Jens Jensen Gardens in Evanston. He said, though, that he supports Artists Book House and wishes them “phenomenal success.”

Audrey Niffenegger, president of Artist Book House, said, “On your agenda tonight is a revision of our lease that changes our fundraising benchmarks and seasons of construction for the renovation of the house. We were asked to create these revisions by city staff. And I spent the summer doing this with our project manager and architect. 

“We think that this is a realistic and useful revision. I’m asking you not to postpone it or link it to anything else, but just please vote on it tonight.”

“It’s essentially you all agreeing to put in our lease language what we can actually accomplish. And if you can do that for us tonight, I would be extremely appreciative.”

During Council discussion, Council member Clare Kelly, 1st Ward, praised Smith’s work on the gardens. She said she felt the city should have separate leases with Artists Book House and Jens Jensen Gardens in Evanston and moved to hold the proposed amendments to the lease in Council until its next meeting.

“The Jens Jensen Gardens are integral to Artists Book House,” said Kelly.

Council member Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, where the property lies, said she agreed with Kelly’s idea to have separate leases but said that was such a small part of the proposed amendments under consideration.

Noting that Council can do what it wants, Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings said he thought the more prudent route would be to send the proposed amendments back to the Administration and Public Works Committee, where separate leases for the two organizations could be crafted.

Kelly’s motion to return the proposed lease amendments to the Administration and Public Works Committee carried 5-2, with Revelle and Ninth Ward Council member Juan Geracaris voting no; Council members Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, and Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, were absent.

Mandates and modifications

Some of the mandates and modifications are listed below:

  • Tenant irrevocably commits to raising the necessary funds to complete the Project Improvements, as set forth herein. The Project improvements will take place in four phases, depending on the pace of fundraising.
  • Phase 0 is the design of the entire project and construction bids.
  • Phase I is the first portion of construction which, includes the renovation and essential improvements of the main house exterior elements (roofing, windows, and masonry) of buildings as required.
  • Phase II is essential improvements to MEP systems, infrastructure, the basement, first floor and exterior terraces, etc., to cause them to be in compliance with the City of Evanston Code of Building Regulations and to allow for use and occupancy.
  • As funds become available, Tenant will also complete Phase ill which will be the final phase of construction, which will include additional property

Financial benchmarks

  • Benchmark 1: By Dec. 31, 2022, tenant must demonstrate that it has a minimum of $1 million in cash and pledges dedicated for the project and can execute Phase I of the project;
  • Benchmark 2: By Dec. 31, 2023, tenant must demonstrate that it has a minimum of $2 million in cash and pledges dedicated for the project;
  • Benchmark 3: By Dec. 31, 2024, tenant must demonstrate that it has a minimum of $4 million in cash and pledges dedicated for the project and can execute Phase II of the project. Tenant will continue to raise $3 million dollars per year following December 2024 and will complete work and open to the public in 2026. The estimated cost of renovating the main house is between $8 million and $10 million.

Phases for design and construction

  • Phase 0 – Project design and budgeting documents: May 2021 to May 2023
  • Phase 1 – Exterior restoration and improvement: June 2023 to June 2024
  • Phase 2 – Essential mechanical, infrastructure, basement and 1st floor, terrace: June 2025 to December 2026. Open the main floor and basement to the public.
  • Phase 3 – Second floor and higher; and all remaining construction items completed by December, 2027.

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. Would suspect that the disagreement between the two parties is over what percent of the allocated and raised monies goes to the structural property and what percent goes to the grounds, but there is no mention of this.

  2. I am not surprised that the Artists Bookhouse didn’t meet their commitment. They will never raise the money. Think about it, if you are a donor who wants to support artists in the book arts, It makes no sense to donate 8-10 million to renovate a building that has no direct impact on the book arts, none of that money goes to artists or training people in the book arts. The artists book house could rent any of the open spaces in Evanston for a tiny, tiny fraction of the renovations and put any money they raise into supporting the book arts, which is after all their mission.

  3. This article has completely misrepresented the action taken by city council in regard to the Artist Book House lease. Council voted 5-2 to to send this back to A P & W to work out the details of the lease with Artist Book House.
    Please go back and watch the video and note there was A LOT of discussion by council members about this item last evening. Please update this article. Thank you.

    1. Dear Trisha, The original article has been corrected and a note added at the top of the page reflecting the action. Thank you for your pointing this out. Susy Schultz, editor

  4. I’m confused. I watched the recording of last night’s meeting and it appeared that council debated the proposed lease amendment (agenda item A15 in the consent agenda) and sent it back to Administration and Public Works Committee to separate the Artists Book House lease from the Jens Jensen garden group lease. So I don’t see how council approved the amendments when it appears that they actually sent the lease back to committee for more work before they approve any changes via an ordinance.

    1. The original article has been corrected and a note added at the top of the page reflecting the action. Thank you for your pointing this out. Susy Schultz, editor

  5. Can someone please explain the mission and objectives of the Artists Book House? How will it benefit the city of Evanston and its residents?
    Alan Factor

    1. Dear Alan, I can quote the first page of the group’s proposal: Artists Book House is a new educational and cultural organization devoted to the Book Arts: writing, reading, printing, bookbinding, papermaking, typography, calligraphy, poetry, fiction, memoir, artist’s books, comics, zines, publishing, conservation, history, and more. Here is the full proposal as submitted to the City Council. It also includes the mission statement and benefits. Susy Schultz, editor