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.

Related stories

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. The city should sell the mansion

    Let's face it, this building has not been maintained, is deteriorated and it will take many millions to get it into even decent shape to last decades more.

    If the City did invest the millions that is would take, who would pay the high rent that would justify the risk of our investment? But, the larger question is: Why should the City be a landlord/developer anyway? It just doesn't make any sense.

    The current proposal, while not ideal, makes the most sense given the overwhelming financial issues necessary to make any proposal even remotely viable. If the City does go forward with this, I hope that the City crafts the sales agreement to ensure that the public parking garage is always a free public garage and that it be maintained forever by the developer, or their successor, with a provision for what happens if/when it is not maintained to our (hopefully high) standards that we would set both for physical, and critically, aesthetic concerns.

    Building maintenance programs cost money — a lot of money.  That concept seems to elude the people who want to "save the mansion" with no apparent plan for how to come up with the necessary money.

    1. Donate money.

      Have people donate to rehab,lets say $100 gets your name carved on the brick of the building.$1000 you get the front brick and a comment,and twenty million gets the front door.I like to have one brick on the north side please.

      1. You’d have to sell a lot of bricks

        to cover the millions needed for restoration in addition to future upkeep and loss of tax revenue.

        1. Yes, there would need to be a

          Yes, there would need to be a lot of bricks sold.  I, for one, love the idea and am signing up to purchase one right next to the creative person who suggested such.

          Future upkeep IS an issue.  That said, the city probably should not have rented the facility for $1/year.  Neither should the council have brought up the topic of salary increases.  The City should not have approved tens of thousands on fireworks this year.  

          Who will benefit from the tax revenue?  Will the community centers be improved with expanded, free of charge, classes?  Will the Forestry division of the City be provided with funding to plant more trees?  Will there be enhanced programs in our public schools?  

          Several Anonymous reponses have said the community will benefit from the Pritzker sale.  I've yet to see details.  Those who've written such do so in a wide sweeping generalization.   The comments are without merit.

  2. Save the Mansion

    This is one more example of the city choosing to get rid of a city landmark in favor of supporting… I'm not sure what. Our tax money seems to go to causes that  serve the few as opposed to the most.

    As a lifelong Evanstonian, I say enough is enough. While I am also a lifelong Democrat, I have had enough of this city sacrificing the needs of  most residents to meet the needs, they say, of the few.

    The lakefront is what enriches, both figuratively and fiscally,our city. What is wrong with these people? Of course we should own the lakefront—it is our greatest financial asset. And yes, of course we should not only save,but also invest in a  landmark  mansion on the original north shore.

    To those who disagree– re-read your history and look at those basic notes from your economy classes. To give up this type of prime real estate is madness. The very fact that's Pritzker is interested should tell you that to sell means to lose a gem.  So–where do I get a sign for my lawn?

    1. Hysteria

      Relax, the sky isn't falling, nothing is being lost in this proposal.  The beaches are still open to the public, the park is still open to the public.  The old mansion will now be preserved and turned into something useful that will be a benefit the community.

      The community has not used the mansion in any real or meaningful way and preserving it will simply continue that status.  Only difference is it will require millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars to preserve an empty shell.  Even the current art tenants really want nothing to do with the space and have been wanting to move from there for years now.

      All the angst is uncalled for.  Not a single alternative proposal has made any sense nor has a single criticism been justified, just empty or outright false accusations.  Everyone can still use the park, the beach, and now they will also be able to have a lunch on a terrace overlooking the lake or take a nice weekend "staycation" at the beach right here in Evanston.  Something nobody in the community can currently do. 

      Sell the thing to Pritzker, enough with the hysteria.

      1. Hyphenated hysteria

        I noticed that the lawnsigns that are popping up on the lawns of NIMBY households say 

        "Say NO to the Harley-Clarke Deal"

        Harley-Clarke? The man's name was Harley L. Clarke. It is not a hyphenated last name combination, like  'Hewlett-Packard' , or  'Mercedes-Benz' or 'Harley-Davidson'.

        Perhaps these NIMBYs are not true lifelong purebred Evanstonians, and they are unaware of the history and culture and uniqueness of Mr. Harley L Clarke's mansion.

        Since one of the people who distributing these signs also attempted to get Dr. Tivador thrown off the ballot on a phony trumped up technicality, we should consider all of these lawnsigns and petitions to be illegitimate and invalid because they fail to correctly identifiy the name of the property in question.

    2. Needs of the few

      "While I am also a lifelong Democrat, I have had enough of this city sacrificing the needs of  most residents to meet the needs, they say, of the few."

      Um….I don't get it.   You are a lifelong Democrat, so you want the City to pander to the few rich people who live next to the beach, at the expense of the rest of the residents?

       If you really object to the City  sacrificing the needs of most residents to meet the needs of the few, you should object to the noisy NIMBYs who always get their way at the expense of the City's general revenue. 

      Empty lot at Kendall….money pit at Harley Clarke's house….all of this means less money for schools, police, and pensions.

      1. I agree with that lifelong Democrat

        I agree with that lifelong Democrat.  I can't imagine the 'rest of the residents' of Evanston trekking over to a hotel to sip an expensive glass of wine.

        Yes.  Leave the beach and the park to the residents.  

  3. Keep the park for the neighborhood residents

    Please Please demolish this old house and get rid of the parking lot next to the beach as well.  Then we will have a lovely larger park for all in the area to walk to. 

    1. Pritzker Park

      The city can pay  for the demolition, and Col Pritzker can put some of his money into making one of the most beautiful parks on the North Shore,and name it Pritzker park.Col Pritzker what do you think about having a park named after you?

    2. Our private little park

      Yes, "for the neighborhood residents"…

      Even better…only those who can walk to it…we wouldn't want any old people in our park either.  

      Let's also make sure that no Northwestern students sneak in.

      I'm sure that the rest of Evanston – those who do not live within walking distance…will be happy to subsidize your little neighborhood park.

      Will dogs be allowed at the beach?

  4. Harley Clarke Mansion

    Lighthouse Beach and near-by Lawson Park, with its beautiful wooded setting and very creative playground, are treasured assets for Evanston families and their friends. Please do not allow a hotel to be built at the Harley Clarke Mansion. Hotels and B&B's, with complete strangers coming and going at all hours, should never be allowed near parks and playgrounds where our children, their family, and their friends enjoy happy playtimes and companionship.

    1. “Complete strangers”

      … are free to come to the park and for a fee, the beach currently.

    2. More hysteria

      Oh dear me, complete strangers coming in and out at all hours of the day and night.  We need to keep those bad B&B people out of Evanston at all cost.  Think of our children at the playground.  Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!  The sky is gonna fall, a complete end to our happy playtimes and companionship.   

      More hysteria.

    3. Harley Clarke Mansion

      Gosh, reading Anonymous, I now find that when I stay at a hotel or B&B I'm a "complete stranger, coming and going at all hours, and should never be allowed near parks and playgrounds where … children, their family, and their friends enjoy happy playtimes and companionship."  This certainly bodes the worst for Evanston as an unwelcome place to come.  Might have to have family reunions in "other" places.

  5. Harley L Clarke Mansion

    Lets get th facts straight

    1.  Judy Fiske in person approached Colonel Pritzker to ask him to buy the Mansion

    2.  The parcel has been openly on the market for a couple of years with NO bidders but Col Pritzker after being solicited to do so

    3.  The city loses absolutely no grass area of the parcel.

    4.  The budget to restore this treasure is $27 million. Know anyone that can raise that much money?

    5.  The word profit is used on the yard signs. Who that has any  good business sense thinks that there will ever be a profit?

    I know that it's hard for the nay sayers of Evanston to believe this,  but Col Pritzker does this for the pure love of preservation and to leave a legacy. And two of our alderpeople do every thing they can to make sure this doesn't happen. Amazing!

    1. Know anyone that can raise that much money?

      "4.  The budget to restore this treasure is $27 million. Know anyone that can raise that much money?"

      If you go over to Evanston Roundtable, you will see that people are already suggesting that Northwestern University, of course, should just fork over the money.

    2. What business sense is that?

      A heir of the Hyatt hotel chain not trying to make a profit by building a hotel.

      and santa claus is real.

      1. Obviously the person who

        Obviously the person who wrote under "what business sense is that". 

        Doesnt know how to do math. You spend $27 million dollars to restore a building so that it lasts hundreds of years and you have 50 rooms at say $175 a room. How many years do you think it would take to break even?

        Plus the costs of running it. There are some people who do things for the love of their passion and in this case preservation. Just because Col Pritzger is a Pritzger doesn't define him. There are good people in this world that do good things. Evanston should be so grateful!

        1. not that long

          $175 nightX 50 rooms= $8750    at 300 nights per year of full occupancy- $2,625,000/year    Plus revenue from events  and potentially a  restaurant,  maybe more fees from parking?       As you said, he wants to spend millions to make the hotel last hundreds of years.    COnsidering it'd be the only B & B on the lake in the north shore region, this is a great long term investment for Pritzker that will one day return a handsome profit to his family.    and good for Pritzker. Good businessmen turn profits and create jobs.     But public land is not about making a profit.  If anything, the city should lease him the land.  If Pritzker's passion really is preservation, let him restore the building, and lease the land from the city.  

      2. Santa Claus can be real.

        The family has made billions and will continue to make billions and the family has donated and will continue to donate millions upon millions to a wide variety of causes.  This particular Pritzker cause is preservation. 

        His goal is obviously preservation, anybody with the tiniest of business sense can see that.  For the NIMBYS and their yard signs to characterize his motifs as profit making is an outright lie and therefore every NIMBY who post that yardsign is also nothing less than an outright liar.  

        Yes, Santa Claus can be real.

        1. and when pritzker passes on or the hotel is sold?

          What will the interests be of the next owner?    Or the owner after that? The thinking here is just very short sighted. Why can the land not be leased?

      3. Wish Pritzker would restore the building and donate it to city

        "…  and Santa Claus is real."  Good for you!  Great response! 

        Truth be told, if Mr. Pritzker really wanted to do something good for Evanston, he would restore the building and donate it back to the City.   

        This whole concept of a hotel is silly.  

        I suspect the anonymous contributor who, willy nilly, spews the acronym NIMBY is a plant.   I, for one, have had a few laughs reading the bland, unsupported, and borderline hostile comments from Mr./Ms. Anonymous   

  6. The Status Quo is not Tenable

    I like Lighthouse beach as much as anyone. I like the mini-dune elevating to the west of the beach. And I like the nature path, especially in the Spring, when there are clusters of celandine poppy and May Apple. The area is one of the reasons I like Evanston.

    But not every blade of grass is holy, nor is the Harley Clarke mansion which I visited yesterday, one of only two visitors at the time.  Been there lately?  The exterior still looks impressive from a distance and the interior staircase is wonderful, but the place is no longer an architectural gem.  It’s a wreck. When I wasn’t having trouble breathing on the stuffy second floor, I saw problems from a scary electrical system to peeling paint. I can only imagine how bad the hidden deferred maintenance really is.

    Harley Clarke mansion has become unsuitable for the Evanston Arts Center which wants to leave the premises. Moreover, it has become a drain on limited public funds which could be used for a host of other Evanston services, some of which I enjoy and some of which serve people in greater need. More often than not, I applaud Evanston for its allocation of resources. That it strives to create an interesting community and function as a compassionate one is another reason I like it here.

    The status quo is not tenable.  Some hard choices need to be made. If the mansion is to be saved, it needs work – a lot of expensive work and Evanston does not have the funds to pay for the work unless it takes money, and therefore services, away from others. Apparently someone is willing to invest his own money to renovate the old mansion, provide a unique attraction to visitors and a restaurant amenity for all to enjoy. Moreover, there are rumors of an underground facility that presumably would provide more people with near beach parking than is currently the case.

    Evanston is not Detroit, and there is no reason to combat the scare mongering about fear of hotels and strangers with scare mongering about impending financial doom. But those who oppose a change to the mansion have no credibility unless and until they present a viable alternative to the current plan. At present, there are only two:  (1) Spend more City money, renovate the mansion and then what?  (2) Spend more City money to tear down the mansion, forego the promised amenities and additional parking, and gain more grass?  Both harm other programs. Neither seems very wise.

    The precise nature of key elements of the proposed development plan remain fuzzy and need to be clarified. But I would not reject out of hand an opportunity to use someone else’s money to renovate Harley Clarke, provide an amenity like a good restaurant, and improve beach access by improving nearby parking. We ought to be able to secure those benefits and preserve the beach, enhance the lawn to the west of the mansion and even provide for reversion to the City after a period of years or in the event certain income metrics are not met.  Let’s embrace this opportunity. Let’s figure out how to make this a winner for everyone.


Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *