Evanston aldermen Monday are scheduled to consider a 40-year lease of the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion to a non-profit group that’s pledging to raise over three years only 40 percent or less of the money estimated to be needed to fully rehabilitate the structure.

Under tems of the agreement, Evanston Lake House and Gardens would have to raise $2 million over the next three years to fund phase one improvements to the mansion. If it failed to come up with that money by the deadline, the city could cancel the lease.

But the deal sets no deadlines or requirements for ELHG to come up with funds to restore the rest of the property — work estimated to cost between an additional $3 million and $5.5 million — and gives the city no recourse against ELHG if that work is never completed.

A rendering showing a rehabbed conservatory at the mansion used as a meeting space.

The phase one rehab work is to focus on making the building code compliant and accessible to persons with disabilities.

Assuming it meets the initial fundraising goal, the Lakehouse group hopes to complete the initial rehab work and reopen the building for public use in 2023.

The group would also owe the city rent of $1 per year for the 40-year term of the agreement.

The city would continue to maintain the building and grounds until the first phase improvements are completed and then maintain the grass and trees around the building for the full term of the lease.

Other than the initial $2 million fundraising goal, the new agreement bears striking similarities to the city’s previous $1 a year, 40-year deal to lease the property to the Evanston Arts Center, which ended unhappily in 2015 amid acrimony about who was responsible for maintenance to the property.

The Lake House group hopes to operate a community center and meeting space in the building that would focus on environmental education activities.

Because it’s a long-term lease of city property, the agreement will require a two-thirds majority vote of the aldermen for approval.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Of course they will approve it
    The Council has a history of wanting to finance/give away to bad deals for things that should have been barred long ago.
    After all it is only taxpayer money and they have no duty to protect taxpayers—Oh yes I guess they do and that and help the city go forward not live in the past.
    So we will again be straddled with something that should not have been funded in the first place—like the theaters, arts center..

  2. What a deal!
    What a great deal!

    They don’t plan to fully rehab the building; just meet code.
    They won’t maintain the building. (Presumably the taxpayers will; or let it fall apart over time.)
    They won’t maintain the grounds. (Taxpayers are expected to do that.)
    They want to pay $1 per year rent. For 40 years.
    The City is left with no recourse against this group if they fail to make improvements.
    There was no mention of adding sorely needed parking.

    This is not a deal for Evanston taxpayers.
    This is a deal for ELHG.

    1. We don’t know

      … that they won’t maintain the building.

      But the city may have difficulty compelling them to do so.

      — Bill

    2. Looks like the EAC Deal
      Looks a lot like the mistake that the city made with the EAC about 40 years ago. The EAC failed to maintain Harley Clarke for 40yrs and the city received a dump from them in the end. The EAC claimed they never had the money but were able to rent out the 1st floor for a 5k for 3rd parties. At the same time the city spent nearly 2 million over 40 yrs mowing the lawn and trying to keep up with building outdoor repairs.

      I think that the city should fill the contract that the city will not use any taxpayer dollars for any use in maintaining the building or the grounds. If ELHG can not keep up the building and grounds at any time in the length of the lease, the lease should be terminated.

      Odds are this will be called the “Mistake on the Lake II”.

  3. Affordable Housing
    city should take some of the millions they have in the Affordable Housing and Parking Fund to create housing for unmarried people with children

    1. Those should be built on City
      Those should be built on City hall property. No max height or density restrictions.

  4. Harley Clarke

    Why would this look like a good decision?  The City forced out the Evanston Art Center, a viable institution, on the grounds that the building needed to be off-loaded.  Then they turned down the only viable proposal (Colonel Pritzker’s) to save the building and the property.  Now they want to go back to minus square one.  Please just tear down the building (which will continue to cost more and more tax money) and leave some open space on the lake for everyone to treasure. Common sense!

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