Evanston’s Harley Clarke problem may be solved in a way no one saw coming – a minor league baseball team. Tentatively to be called the Evanston Harleys, the team’s organizers have approached the City with an innovative idea right out of left field: a minor league baseball stadium on the site on which the mansion now sits.
Plans obtained by the RoundTable reveal an infield retaining some aspects of the current Jens Jensen gardens – though only through hints and landscaping details. The outfield would stretch toward the lakefront making, for the possibility of spectacular home runs actually landing in Lake Michigan, an effect reminiscent of the San Francisco Giant’s stadium. It is possible kayakers could bob in the water hoping to snatch a powerful shot.
The City’s director of corporate largesse Grafton Grant called the proposal “a win for all sides. Rarely does such an opportunity come along that checks all the boxes we are looking to have checked,” he said. ‘The City will have a team it can believe in, and the Harley site will be put to its highest and best use – a facility celebrating America’s pastime.”
Preservationists expressed alarm and dismay, however, and pushed their own plans for a starkly different future for the mansion. “How could this possibly even be under consideration in this formerly great City of ours?” wailed Felicia Forest, a frequent City critic who recently and successfully protested building single family homes on vacant lots in northwest Evanston. “We have enough homes already,” she said at the time. “We like green space, even if it is private property.”
On this occasion, criticism was more pointed. “Harley Clarke has been in the City’s crosshairs for years. And now this monstrosity, right when we had plans in place that would have preserved the mansion for our residents,” she added, speaking of the proposal that would have permitted the mansion to slowly decay and crumble of its own accord.
“The educational value we could have obtained watching the decades-long process of a structure returning to nature – we stand to miss that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – even if it would have taken maybe two lifetimes to complete.”
The matter now sits in Council’s lap, with the Crumble Mumble, as some call the “return to nature” proposal, facing off against minor league baseball.
“The City could certainly use the economic jolt a semi-professional sports team would bring,” said Pearl LeBlanc, interim head of the City’s newly formed pro sports division of the Economic Development department. “And there’s no greater place than the Lighthouse District. The City’s symbol, that wonderful lighthouse, blends right in to the stadium’s plans. In fact, most ticket sales would take place in the lighthouse itself!”
The mansion would have to be razed to make way for viewing stands, but “we expect some of the facade could be retained, much like they managed with the new Soldier Field,” said Ms. LeBlanc. Parking would not be a problem, she said, as the Harleys expect most fans to arrive by boat via a newly constructed pier stretching out into the lake.
Council took up the dueling proposals in a closed session on April 1.