Both aldermen on the Harley Clarke Committee said Monday night they believe any new use for the city-owned Evanston lakefront mansion needs to be self-supporting — not requiring an operating subsidy from the city.
But it was not clear from the discussion during the committee meeting whether the two — Jane Grover, 7th Ward, and Ann Rainey, 8th Ward — believe the new use also needs to cover the capital cost of renovating the property.
Most of the other mayoral appointees to the committee backed the self-supporting concept, although Linda Damashek raised concerns that such a requirement might rule out the option of continued city ownership and management of the property.
While backers of that option have claimed a city-run mansion could be self-sustaining, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department overall now spends $10.8 million a year, while generating only $5.8 million in operating revenue. And the department also will cost taxpayers an additional $5.5 million in capital expenses this year.
Both aldermen also suggested they would be open to exploring a long-term lease of the mansion property, rather than the outright sale contemplated in several of the options the committee has been exploring.
“Leasing the land under a building is not uncommon,” Rainey said. The Drake Hotel in downtown Chicago is on leased land, she added, “and every five years or so they have to renegotiate the lease payment” based on changes in the value of the property.
Grover said a 99-year lease could be an option — noting that Illinois law prevents lease terms longer than that.
A lease — assuming a potential new operator was willing to agree to it — could be one way to let the city retain a measure of control over the property whether the new entity operating the facility was a for-profit hospitality venture or a non-profit entity.
Members of the committee at the meeting appeared to reach consensus that they don’t much like the option of selling the land for redevelopment as private homes or an assisted living facility.
Committee Chair Steve Hagerty said he’d heard a lot of negative feedback about that, because it would provide no public access to the land.
Alderman Grover said it was her least-favorite option, and Rainey said it was her second-least-favorite — with demolition being at the bottom of her list.
Most comittee members seemed to agree that demolition ranked low on their lists — but Amina DiMarco, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board, said it was close to the top of her list.
“We don’t have enough open park land in the city,” DiMarco said, “and demolition would restore the view of the beach.”
“The cost is minimal and it doesn’t stop the city from doing anything else with the parcel in the future,” she added.
The committee is scheduled to make its final report to the City Council next Monday night.