A plan to sell the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion to the state split the Evanston City Councl’s Human Services Committee Wednesday night.

The proposal carried by just a  3 to 2 margin with one committee member absent and will be presented to the full nine-member City Council next Monday.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that while the state’s Department of Natural Resources had originally considered just leasing the mansion from the city for its Coastal Management Program, further research on the cost of restoring the aging building made that appear impractical.

Bobkiewicz said that as cost estimates rose from around $2 million to between $5 million and $6 million, state officials concluded that they would have to own the property to be able to qualify for sufficient federal funding to complete the project.

Bobkiewicz said he made clear to the state officials that the city was not interested in selling the property around the mansion buildings.

So he’s now seeking approval from aldermen to negotiate a sale of the buildings themselves with a long-term, likely 100-year, lease on the land beneath the buildings.

Alderman Judy Fiske.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, who voted against the sale, said she could only support a lease, and that if that wasn’t possible she’d prefer to have the city deconstruct the mansion in a way that might allow reuse of the materials someday and turn the lakefront property into open park land.

But Bobkiewicz said preliminary cost estimates for deconstructing the building ranged widely — from $400,000 to $2 million — and that he didn’t believe it would be safe to leave the building vacant after the scheduled departure in January of the current tenant, the Evanston Art Center.

Bobkiewicz said that after years of trying to come up with a new use for the building, and the rejection by aldermen of sale of the property for private development, “I don’t know that there’s another public entity out there that would take it over.”

“My recommendation is that if we don’t move forward with the IDNR, we need to move forward to determine what it would cost to demolish the building and include money for that in the 2015 city budget,” Bobkiewicz added.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said “I’m comfortable with the sale of the buildng — but not the land — if we can put in the kinds of covenants that would ensure the return of the property if the use changed.”

Bobkiewicz said, “The practical reality is that after the state invests significant money in the building, it is probably not going to want to give it back — at least not initially — although perhaps there might be an opportunity to re-acquire it after the improvements had been ammortized.”

A handful of speakers from among the crowd that had turned out last year to oppose the sale of the mansion to Col. Jennifer Pritzker for redevelopment as a boutique hotel, also appeared Wednesday to object to a sale to the state, unless the agreement would return the building to the city if the Coastal Management Program was not longer using the facility.

Alderman Mark Tendam.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said he was concerned about whether the state would actually be able to get the funds to complete the project.

“With so many things up in the air politically, this deal really could go down badly,” Tendam said. “I have a lot of reservations about selling,” Tendam said, “but I think that’s a way of taking this liability off of our backs.”

In what appeared to be an allusion to the gubernatorial election campaign, Bobkiewicz said, “the state is also keenly aware of the timing issue, and would like to conclude the agreement in the next few months to make sure it can move forward.”

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, raised questions about whether educational programs that might be offered by the state at the property would include subsidies so low an moderate income people could participate.

“Will these just be fore the wealthy, or will we subsidize them through the IDNR?” Burrus asked, saying she “gests alarmed about just keeping the lakefront for the wealthy in the community and not all of the community.”

Burrus ultimately joined Fiske in voting against the proposal, while Tendam, Holmes and Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, voted for it.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, was absent from the meeting.

If the full City Council approves moving forward with negotiations for a potential sale, any agreement ultimately reached would require another council vote to put into effect.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. 75-year lease for Pritzker?

    I would urge City Council to revisit the Pritzker overture…perhaps a 75-100 year lease would satisfy all parties. 

  2. More sillness out of a council member

    Burrus -stated "Will these just be fore the wealthy, or will we subsidize them through the IDNR?" Burrus asked, saying she "gests alarmed about just keeping the lakefront for the wealthy in the community and not all of the community."

    If she had bother to look at the IDNR proposal, they stated they would have displays and other educational items, hardly for the wealthy. Its a state agency, other than the private offices of the employees, I suspect the public would have free access to the building. Its a state building!

    Maybe Alderperson Burrus can explain to us, why she and her council member friends would have allow Wally to move the public TV station to the service building on the second floor which happen to be locked down building and there is NO handicap access to the second floor? Who are we kidding here?

    She also was claiming the cost of this had gone up, there were many estimates, again, she is misstating information, Twani – even in there estimate had a $5 million figure to renovate the original building only, the Art Center work was also in that range. The building and coach house are around 20,000 square feet- a $200 to $250 is reality – as I recall Burrus was stating a 10 million dollar price tag for this work and also claiming major environmental problems, which was not the case. There are environmental issues but the are minor and typical for a building of that age.


  3. Lakefront mansion repair is an excuse to sell

    How is it possible that the Evanston Arts Center was able to operate in this building for as long as it did without having to make the necessary repairs? Anyone notice that once the Arts Center long term lease was about to expire the city suddenly decided that it would cost millions to repair?

    Anyone wonder why the city didn't CLOSE DOWN the Evanston Arts Center years ago when it used a kiln in the basement?  All these years the Evanston Arts Center was open with the current electrical and ventilation system in place. The deadline to upgrade those was eight years ago!!!

    The exact same thing happened with the Dawes House. When the Evanston History Center's lease was about to expire the city fire department declared that there were numerous fire and code violations and a report was made public that indicated it would cost $4 million to bring the Dawes House up to code. We all know EHC could never afford that.

    At the time, Northwestern was eyeing the property and didn't want EHC to continue operation in the building. But after threats of a lawsuit, NU backed down and transferred ownership to EHC. When that happened the fire department magically limited the scope of the violations and allowed EHC to make AFFORDABLE repairs in which the costs came no where close to the $4 million estimate.

    Fellow Evanstonians, the Lighthouse is next door to the mansion and is a tourist attraction. The Lighthouse Beach is by far the best beach in town. The mansion is LAKEFRONT PROPERTY owned by you and me. Selling it to ANYONE is not necessary and is a rash decision. City Manager Wally B. is out of control and not doing due diligence.

    Clearly, the best option is to create a committee of community members to come up with viable alternatives on how to use the building. If the Arts Center can operate RIGHT NOW in the mansion then so can some other organization.  Worst case scenario would be the city borrowing $1-2 in capital that would be an annual cost of $60,000-120,000 and make the repair and then go out for more bids to find someone to lease it. The mansion, on the lake next to a tourist attraction, the lighthouse, can be a money maker for the city. Wally B. doesn't seem to share that vision. His idea is to sell just as he tried to sell the Chandler Rec Center.  

    The state said it would lease the building, knowing other estimates to repair were made public. Now suddenly the state says it can't lease the building because the cost to repair rose as if something was overlooked by the city, Pritzker and the state inspections. Uh huh, sure.

    To add salt to the wound, Wally B. and some council members are talking about razing the lakefront mansion!!!!  This caveat – building repair – is used to discourage any idea other than to sell. 

    Come on people, get creative. Speak up!!

    1. A great training program for ETHS students

      Why not let ETHS students who want to go into the construction skills (carpenter, electrician, plumber, HVAC, etc…)  be able to learn these trades for high school credit by working on the mansion?  I believe they constructed a home on the ETHS campus this past year.  The mansion would be an excellent opportunity for them to learn a skilled trade.  I'm sure that the City and District 202 could figure out the financal aspects of this win win opportunity!

      1. Great idea!

        Love the ETHS idea, and this shows the type of creative thinking our community can come up with if we're allowed to have input. Wally's hot to sell lakefront property, while also acquiring property on Howard Street and building patios for private businesses using overtime City employees. What Wally wants, Wally typically gets, but usually after "floating the idea with the Council" — Don't be fooled by the idea of tearing down the mansion, it's a ruse to get people up in arms and ok with selling. Anonymous Al is right. How about we get the repairs done and then use the space for private events like Cafe Brauer in Chicago? There's no place similar to host weddings and events, other than the Michigan Shores club, and that's private. Think of what a beautiful wedding space it could be, and what a price it could demand. Maybe if you make a donation towards repairs you could get a voucher for hosting a future event? In between events, we let IDNR use the upstairs office space they need. Let's get creative. Wally works for us and he shouldn't continue to bully the residents like he does. Looks who's at the top of the chart, the Citizens. Look who's just below that. Wally. 

        1. Not very creative

          Think about the following facts:

          • We would not be losing the lake front. The lighthouse and the beach, with the property they are on and leading upto would still belong to the city.
          • The house has been in need of major repairs for at least 25 years. If the city didn't own it, it would have been fined for major building code violations and would not be allowed to lease it.
          • The city can not afford to spend millions to repair the mansion and it is a continuing drain on the city's taxpayers.
          • The  city should never lease or sell to the IDNR. The cost, selling or leasing, and the repairs would still be paid by the taxpayers. Also, it will never create any tax income for the city.
          • The city should not be in the party business. That is why the  Grove House was sold to a private company who assumes the risk of leasing it for weddings and other events.
          • If a city referendum were held, the Evanston Citizens, given all the facts, would vote to take the deal offered by Pritzker. The squeeky wheel group that shouted very loud would not have been able to scare the council out of it.
          • A Pritzker deal would have produced millions in tax dollars (properiety, sales, and room tax) for years to come. Maybe the city would not be nickle and diming the citizens for more revenue every year.

          It is time for the elected officials and the citizens to start using their heads.

          1. Wrong, wrong, wrong

            • A 57 room hotel will provide hundreds of guests free beach access to the Lighthouse beach on a daily basis. We pay for our beach passes. And the hotel would take away the sense of privacy Evanstonians enjoy. This is a beach for Evanstonians not hotel guests. That's not to mention that Pritzker's proposal would take up the existing parking lot for the hotel addition and convert the GREEN SPACE on the north end to a parking lot (ALL FOR HIS PRIVATE BUSINESS THAT BENEFITS HIS CUSTOMERS!!!!!)
            • Major repairs or code updates? Most Evanston homes built before WW11 have outdated electrical and ventilation systems. Many homes have cloth insulation for their electrical wiring. Are all these homeowners required by code to update these systems?  The city never enforced or made a big deal when the Arts Center for decades operated in that building. Based on your logic, because the city owns the building no fines against the Arts Center was necessary. In other words, you imply it's OK for government to own and operate a building with code violations but not private businesses or non-profits.
            • Can the city afford to build a patio for a private business, providing materials and labor with city employees working overtime? Can the city afford to gobble up properties , rehab them and lease them out to private businesses? We are talking about am invaluable lakefront mansion the city owns. There is so much potential but council members are going along with Wally B. and the fire department without asking questions or even considering other options. Why not provide an avenue for residents to find alternatives rather than selling it and the property to a billionnaire with powerful political connections? Taking out a $1 million capital improvement bond to repair the mansion would cost the city about $60,000 a year. We can handle that.
            • The city should not sell the mansion period. Leasing it is the best option, even to IDNR, providing there are contractual assurances the state will make the repairs at no cost to the city.
            •  The city should not be in the party business? Maybe the city can lease the mansion to a company that can. 
            • If a city referendum were held and the city honestly gave estimates to repair the mansion (I believe they are grossly overblown) then I am confident citizens would oppose the Pritzker plan outright. 
            • Yes the 57 room Pritzker hotel would have generated a lot of tax revenue but there has to be a red line when it comes to transforming Evanston's best private beach and park to the monstrosity of underground parking and no green space for the benefit of hotel guests and a billionnaire with ambitions to take control of a rare and prized lakefront mansion on North Shore's prestigous beach. And who is naive enough to think such a hotel would reduce taxes? Since when does government ever reduce taxes? Even during the great recession many homeowners saw their property taxesrise as values plunged. Democrats even raised income taxes 67 percent in 2011.  
          2.  A 57 room hotel will provide

            •  A 57 room hotel will provide hundreds of guests free beach access to the Lighthouse beach. —-    Not true, the hotel would sell beach passes to guests and pay the city what they take in.
            • I believe that the city asked the Arts Center to correct the code safety violations but the Arts Center made little effort do comply. The Arts Center leased some of the main floor rooms for private parties or events. The finance group at my company had 2 Christmas parties at the mansion. It wasn't cheap. It was far more than a dollar.
            • Why a capital improvement bond? 60k here, 50k there, etc., and pretty soon we are talking real money. How many capital improvement bonds is the city paying off right now? How are they ever going to bring the city pensions up to snuff?
            • Why should we dumb enough to lease or sell the mansion to the state. I do not think the state can be trusted to pay their bills. Remember when the head of the INDR said that money is no problem and Quinn was saying that the schools would have to accept less money from the state. If the city deals with the INDR, they would be helping the state screw the taxpayers. Guess what, we are the taxpayers.
            • Why not, the Arts Center leased the mansion.
            • I disagree about the results of a referendum.
          3. Stop worrying about the Hotel at Harley clarke

            Take a look at todays council agenda- the item on little bean – which is seeking a tax saving – whose behind it, that is who are the council members Burrus and Rainey – they are happy to give our taxes away – and pretend this Hotel is a great deal – so go look at how much they are going to give this group – then come back and tell us – how these people look out for our interests.

            Sounds just like the patio at the peckish pig – giving away our money.

          4. little bean

            Evanston's city council has created a reputation as one that easily passes out money to anybody that wants to open a business. The free wheeling gifts of the taxpayers money has become a much bigger problem since our mayor and city manager have settled into their current jobs.

            Lowering taxes and fees, would be the succcessful way of retaining current businesses and drawing new bussinesses.

          5. Annual disclosures

            Perhaps one way to assure voters if not clean-up messes before they occur, is to require the Council, Mayor, Manager and other people in decision making, to disclose any financial ties [loans, family involved, part ownership], campaign contributions, fund raiser, etc. in annual statements available to the public—online.  At least make the disclosure when it relates to any funding, tax breaks [including TIFs], permit variances [liquor, building, etc.], payments for things like awnings/fences, and so on that will be done by them, commissions,  boards [including school].

            They don't have a very good reputation for uses of the taxpayer money but this might help.

  4. Be Smart

    Do not sell or lease the mansion to the state. This is an election year ploy. Quinn has been dumping millions of dollars around the state in a power play to gain votes with taxpayer money. The INDR can move into several state owned building that do not have the glamour of being on the lake and save the state millions of dollars. The INDR can not offer Evanston any special educational services without offering the same services to any other group in the state.

    Any deal with the state would just be foolish.

    Revisit the Pritzker offer. Maybe Evanston can squeeze more out of the billionaire. The city would continue to control the primary assets of the location, the beach and the lighthouse. Pritzker will spend millions fixing the mansion and building a jewel on the lake. Evanston would reap long term benefits for years to come.

    Be smart and fix your previous mistake.

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