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
- 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.