Evanston panel rejects mansion sale plan

Evanston's Human Service Committee Monday night rejected a city staff plan to sell the city-owned lakefront Hadley-Clarke mansion and the land immediately surrounding the building.
They instead instructed City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to seek proposals for either selling just the building itself and not the surrounding land or for a long-term lease of the building.
Top: An aerial view of the mansion and its coach house, with an irregular orange line showing the approximate boundary of the parcel city staff had recommended selling.
The city has been seeking alternatives for over a year to deal with the mansion -- which the city currently leases to the Evanston Arts Center.
Neither art center nor city officials believe they have the funds to pay for long-delayed maintenance work on the property.
Norah Diedrich, the art center's executive director, told the committee the group has enjoyed having the mansion as its home for over 40 years.
But she said the center's board has concluded that it can better serve the community if it's in "a more urban setting" close to the CTA and Metra lines.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she opposed selling the property. "It's valuable lakefront land, and access to the lake is really important," Fiske said.
"If we sell it, we'll never get this property back, it would be gone forever," Fiske added.
But Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, asked, "Who's going to pay to fix the building?"
Bobkiewicz suggested that a lease of the building was unlikely to yield sufficient up-front revenue to permit the city to help fund the relocation of the arts center.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, raised the idea of selling only the building.
Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said he supported that suggestion, as well the idea of just leasing the building.
"I know it confuses the issue a bit, but I'd be interested to find out what the market interest is" in those options, Tendam said.
Bobkiewicz said the city has retained a consulting firm to get a new estimate of the cost of renovating the property and would have an appraisal of its value as well that would be available for the full city council before it decides what to do next about the mansion.

Comments

Selling off city property

With the city finances and the gifts the Council loves to make, it is clear more and more city property will have to be sold. 
This would be a good place to start.  Then the Noyes Center---put it in private hands.
We are far beyond where every pseduo-art expert [mostly the supposed upper class liberals] can have the city/state support their whims.

City hires a consultant?

Anyone know who the City hired to advise them on the cost for renovation?
They City would seem to have plenty of leverage to renovate and lease to a commercial entity.  Plus, the City doesn't know something critical about commercial leases: landlords get more than just rent.

How can you sell the parcel shown?

If you look at the parcel that has been outlined you could immediately realize the problem for any realtor trying to sell that property.

  1. They have cut off the Sheridan edges and kept part of the grass lawn for the City (Does the new owner build a fence along that line or does the City?)
  2. The access road to the building and the Coach House is on the City's road and not a private road.
  3. The Parking lot for the beach is right next to the building (wouldn't it be nice to hear that noise or to try to host an event with beach traffice?  By the way where does the new owner park his guests, etc?
  4. No access or rights to the Lake or the beach. Do you have your family or guests swim at the the LightHouse Beach or just watch from the top of the hill/
  5. The back side on the east may or may not include the fire pit and other land. How will you keep the "riff-raff" off your property? Fence off the entire perimeter?
  6. What happens to the Fog Houses? Since they appear to remain City property, how do you get to them, by tromping through the brush between the new property and the bluff overlooking the beach?
  7. What will the zoning be for this property? Residential? Commercial? Instutional?

These points are in addition to the enormous amounts of rehab needed to make the place usable. The exterior of the building is a mess and once the Art Center departs, the interior is not much better especially the basement and upper floors (most of us never get past Ground floor for shows) Even the Greenhouse attached on the south is decaying. As to the Coach House, it is, apparently, decaying on the inside because City chose not to rehab it a few years ago and collect rent. The Greenhouse at the west is also a mess.
Ald Holmes is correct: "Who will pay to fix it all?"  The City did not when they had money and Art Center has realized they will not fix up someone elses building (Why not, they barely pay rent?)
If City wants to sell it, they better sweeten the deal by going from Sheridan all the way to the Lake, shrink Lighthouse Beach ("Ahh, there's the rub") and give the purchaser more of the land to the south behind the Lighthouse (After all why not dump the Foghouses onto the buyer as well).  Otherwise, in a few years, the entire complex will look like a decaying ruin and have to be fenced off from vandals.

Old, historic buildings.....

"Even the Greenhouse attached on the south is decaying. As to the Coach House, it is, apparently, decaying on the inside because City chose not to rehab it a few years ago and collect rent. The Greenhouse at the west is also a mess."
So we see, once again, the burden of maintaining old, inefficient buildings.   Whether it is the Civic Center, Chuckie Dawes' house, 708 Church,  the "Historic" Hahn Building, or the WIllard House.....it costs money to maintain these old buildings - and, as someone once said, "Money is a scarce resource."
The City should sell this property - to someone who can either fix the building or tear it down and put something else there.  Even the City keeping the property and tearing down the building would be a better option than just letting the building bleed the City's finances for years.

Old Buildings

Ah yes, Prof. Who Knows is chiming in. Why should the city spend money on our architectural history? They should spend it on brave new art, such as Penelope. Admire it at the intersection of Green Bay, Ridge & Emerson.  
It is so awesome that no one has even dared put grafitti on it.

Wally's newest waste of money

Selling public assets when the asset has no value to taxpayers makes good sense. Wally's silly and unprofessional justification for the sale of the Mansion is highly questionable.  I can't maintain the asset therefore i must sell it. 
The lack of maintenance comes from the council not approving money for years to fix the building,   Also council members allowing the art center to enjoy a $1 rent for years is part of the problem.
 This year Ann Rainey can have hundred of thousands of dollars  approved by the council   for the lit theatre to come , raise a roof on a old buidling and have it completely renovated.  Maybe Wally can explain why we would spend all this money on a old commerical building, versus repairing a building which is clearly architectural significant, and part of a major city park?
The interesting thing is the lit theatre, made about $100,000 in income and had operating loss, the art Center in the mansion is generating close to a million dollars a year.( evanstonnow has document these facts )
Wally you need a consultant to tell you to replace the rottening wood you have not painted or broken glass?There appear to be holes in the soffits replace the wood, Wally. What an novel idea make the building water tight.
How much are you paying a consultant, why not do some repairs for the price of a consultant?
What new deal will you create to give a private interest more of our tax dollars, rather than fix the building?

40 years = $40.00!?

Is that correct?  The rent paid to the city was $1.00 a year?
So, does that imply that the city earned $40.00 in revenues from the Art's Center?
I stand corrected if this is not true, but if it is, here goes:
Who's bright idea was that? 
Alderman Fiske, I hate to say it, but unfortunately it looks like you will never see this lake access again (not that Evanston does not already have enough lake access!).
Subsidizing non profit cultural theatre groups and art centers is a civic delight.  Looks great at the ribbon cutting!
But in reality they can become a burden on the city when clearly revenues fall way short of expenditures.  Especially when you are charging $1.00 in rent!  The term Non Proift means just that, and the burden ultimately falls on the city, and residents in losing properties like this.
The city has no one to blame but it's leaders on this one.  How did this property fall into such disrepair, and how come no one recognized that perhaps the source of saving this property was to... here is a bright idea, charge market rate RENT for the space?  This shoud have been done 10 years ago, no 25 years ago... no, 40 years ago from the start! 
How many other projects and spaces, organizations and groups are currently enjoying this handout, below market rent, $1.00 rent, whatever?  When will these bubbles burst and hang us the community out to dry?
Encourage more for profit business, make Evanston a more hospitable place to open up shop rather than a haven for everyone's cultural pet projects and non profits.  Do we not already have enough of these in our city?
$1.00 for rent, unreal.
 

Evanston taxes

Evanston's real estate taxes are ever-increasing and I assume that subsidizing entities such as this one is part of where the money goes. That said, and since we're talking about "my" money in addition to "yours," I'm unclear as to why the Evanston Art Center was paying $1. while taking in one million (as stated above). Where did the million dollars go if nothing was spent on maintenance?

What...no "Performing Arts" center?

I'm really disappointed that someone has yet to suggest we turn the building into a "performing arts center,"  the usual knee-jerk, pie-in-the-sky community suggestion for white-elephant-like structures requiring millions of dollars in repairs.
I also realize the uber-redundant and second most popular suggestion, "Put a Trader Joe's in that space," is also a moot point, as city fathers have finally found (finally!) another spot for that type of business.

Keep the mansion and lease to a a year round business

Without all the facts available, I tend to agree with the Human Services Committee on this one.
The Hadley-Clarke mansion is in a prime location and is a beautiful building next to a beach and a lighthouse. I've been inside and it appears well kept and in decent condition.
I had heard that there are interested buyers. If the city could hold onto the land and lease to a year round business such as a restaurant I think that would be a good option. Maybe the city can find a business owner willing to take on some of the costs of renovating the building.
It would be a headache to sell the mansion and try and negotiate the use of the public parking next to the building with the new owners. I think the fact that the lighthouse, the beach, the park and the mansion all share the same entrance also is an important component in the decision and can be used to benefit the city in lease negotiations.
I would like to see some type of business that is year round where people can go to the lakefront during the winter. A classy restaurant with lakeviews would be nice. But then parking is always an issue.
It's a tough one but it's a great opportunity. Getting creative and thinking outside the box might produce interesting results.
The goal should be to use the mansion for the benefit of everyone in Evanston. A school or even a bed and breakfast wouldn't achieve that goal.

Restaurants require customers

"I had heard that there are interested buyers. If the city could hold onto the land and lease to a year round business such as a restaurant I think that would be a good option. Maybe the city can find a business owner willing to take on some of the costs of renovating the building."
The problem with this idea is that restaurants require customers...which means that people would have to be able to drive to the restaurant  (assuming that they aren't taking the CTA) and park there.  A restaurant - especially what you call a 'classy' restaurant - would also do dinner business.
So...what will all of the 7th ward NIMBYs have to say about this?  
Parking!  Traffic!  Preserve the peaceful lakefront, don't let out of town people come there to eat!
I think that a lakefront IHOP would be perfect....but the NIMBYs won't allow it.