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Aldermen to discuss mansion sale Monday

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Evanston aldermen Monday are scheduled to try to come up with clear terms for a possible sale of the Harley Clarke mansion on the lakefront.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says Col. James N. Pritzker's Tawani Enterprises, which has been negotiating with the city about a possible purchase of the property for several months, now wants the city to provide "a formal counter proposal and/or negotiating terms in writing."

The city has been exploring options for unloading the mansion for two years, after it was identified in a review of city properties as requiring substantial repairs that the city lacked the money to pay for. A request for proposals drew responses from four possible buyers, but Pritzker's group was the only one that made a formal offer.

The building, used as the national headquarters for a fraternity before it was purchased by the city, has leased since the 1960s to the Evanston Art Center for $1 a year — an arrangement that fails to generate funds for maintenance.

The art center says it has outgrown the space and is seeking to relocate to an as-yet-undetermined new site in the city.

Pritzker, a billionnaire heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, has proposed renovating and expanding the mansion for use as a 57-room boutique hotel with a 200-car underground garage.

The proposed sale has drawn opposition from a group of residents who are urging each other to speak against it at Monday's meeting.

The opponents generally oppose the sale of any park land and oppose any commercial development along the lakefront. They also frequently claim that the city is proposing to also sell the adjoining lighthouse beach, which city officials have denied.

Backers of the sale argue that the hotel could generate substantial new tax revenue for the city as well as provide new amenities — including a restaurant — for beachgoers.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, recently told readers of her message board that she's supports the hotel project and "will do everything possible to make certain the redevelopment is done in a way that the best interests of residents are upheld."

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, says he has mixed sentiments about the project. "Public sentiment seems to be very strongly opposed," he told Evanston Now this morning. "But Pritzker is proposing to spend $22 million to $24 million in the project and create both construction and permanent jobs."

Tendam said that because the Pritzker proposal varies substantially from the city' original request, aldermen might decide to do a new request for proposals for the property and that he doubts they'll reach a decision about how to proceed Monday night.

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