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Aldermen on Evanston’s Human Services Committee voted 5-1 Monday night to end the Evanston Art Center’s lease at the lakefront Harley Clarke Mansion.

The art center’s executive director, Norah Diedrich, had asked city officials for at least another two years for the center to find a new location.

EAC Executive Director Norah Diedrich.

But Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said the center had already been looking for new quarters for at least the past two years.

She said other non-profit groups — including the Music Institute of Chicago and Beacon Academy — have moved to Evanston recently and “have not required a long space of time to find and adapt space to their specific and rather unique needs.”

Under terms of the city’s current $1 a year lease with the art center, it can terminate the agreement with 240 days notice.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he feared that if the city didn’t act now to have the building available for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which has proposed relocating its Coastal Management Program to the mansion, the agency could lose out on funding opportunities.

He said the state legislature may approve a capital projects bill this spring — something that only happens once every few years.

“I think a project like this might be eligible for something like that, and if we’re not able to move forward, we may miss some of those windows,” Bobkiewicz said.

The art center has concluded that it doesn’t have the funds to spend an estimated $5 million to upgrade the mansion.

The IDNR has said it has the funds to both upgrade the building and pay the city a market-rate rent for the space.

Aldeman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward.

Only Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, voted against terminating the lease.

He said the city had sent a lot of mixed messages to the art center.

“I don’t know that much about the IDNR proposal,” Tendam said. “It sounds interesting, kind of sexy. But I wouldn’t risk losing the art center for a prospect that we don’t know all that much about.”

Tendam, a graphic designer, said the two year transition the art center was asking for “is too much.” But the eight months required by the lease is “far too little” because of all the specialized equipment the center would need to move.

While some residents at the meeting and others signing an online petition urged giving the art center more time, others said the city should move to lock in the IDNR deal.

Mike Vasilko.

Architect Mike Vasilko said the IDNR plan “is the best and most appropriate use I’ve heard of for the mansion.’

“The mansion is not an appropriate building for the art center’s use,” Vasilko added, “Surely they can find a better building.”

Grover and other aldermen encouraged the city manager to still “work with the art center” to seek a “smooth transition to a better space.”

The decision to terminate the lease still requires action, expected next week, by the full City Council. But with five of the nine aldermen now on record as favoring the move, it is likely to win full council approval.

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Art center may be ousted from mansion

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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10 Comments

  1. Art Center to Dempster/Dodge Plaza

    Over a year ago the city created a TIF to support a single property owner at Dempster & Dodge which is projected to funnel $20,000,000 dollars into the site and the only significant thing  we've seen there  is a major tenant leave.

    Bonnie Management has rejected ideas to make the site more integrated into the neighborhood; so it is pretty clear they are not interested in improving the community, per se.

    Nevertheless, the city should use the pressure it has to have Bonnie work out something for the Art Center at Dempster Dodge.  It would help revive that area of town; there is plenty of space; the Dance Center shows how you can repurpose strip mall interiors into spaces that can accommodate the arts.

    This seems like a natural solution for the Art Center. The proximity to the HIgh School can create natural outreach opportunities for the center as well.  Plus with the Dance Center  and Art Center in the same locale there could be a burgeoning "Arts Plaza" that would help revitalize that part of the city.

  2. Move Forward
    This is a no-brainer. IDNR is offering to both restore and preserve the mansion and lakefront property while paying the city a fair-market rent. Let’s not lose this opportunity. I hope the City Council votes the same way. For decades, the Art Center has not paid rent, has not maintained the property and has been looking to leave for several years citing the poor condition of the building. Why is the city even considering catering to them?

    1. What is IDNR offering?

      Are we certain that IDNR is offering to restore and preserve the mansion or are they offering to lease the building?  somehow I doubt the State will spend any of their money (if they have any these days) to restore someone elses property. do not forget we are not selling the building to them only offering to rent.

      My guess is that Evanston will be obligated to repair the building, bring it into compliance with all codes and then, quite possibly, also make any alterations needed by IDNR for their specific use. this is much like any landlord-tenant arrangement.

      As to restoration and repairs, consider that the evaluation report that indicated $5 million needed costs was based on use by the Evanston Art Center and not IDNR. Thus, many items listed might not be required since they related to such items as kilns and other activities and equipment that might never exist if the building becomes an office building, which would generate very different needs in the way of air-conditioning, electricity, lighting, power, etc. 

      On the other hand, I suspect that restoraton could result in added costs since repair means a very different type of upgrade or work than might (historic) restoration, e.g., is Evanston to restore the greenhouse, put in new glass roof and wall and the now-missing fountains on the inside? What about the missing stone decorations at top of greenhouse corner and end walls that now lay alongside the building and are broken or cracked?

      However, IDNR will probably use more than one-floor and that means elevator for handicapped, etc. Also, do they rent the coach-house as part of this deal and as two paprtemtnws or as more offices?

      So many questions and so few answers. Have the council members asked them and received answers or is everyone so excited by the prospect of a potential tenant that they forgot?

      1. Clarification

        To clarify, I meant to say "upgrade" the mansion rather than "restore".  So long as it is brought up to code for its intended use, that is fine. That has been the issue all along when the city and/or art center began complaining that there were safety issues related to running kilns and the like in there.  As far as preserving, I imagine the Dept of Natural Resources would not spoil the site the way a hotel would.  And they are offering to pay market rent to boot?  The state may be broke, but that doesn't mean it won't continue to spend.  IDNR is as solid as it gets.  Don't miss the boat, Evanston!

  3. Art Center is likely to close! Unless the taxpayers pay rent
    The Evanston Art Center, does not seem to understand the costs to operate a facility.

    They have been claiming they need new space. OK, so what is the rent for new space in Evanston?

    Looking at commerical rents on line, as cheap as $6 a sq ft for warehouse to $20 to $30 for office a sq ft for yearly rent. Lets say they could rent a space for $10 sq ft – they currently have 18,000 sq ft at Harley Clarke -thats $180,000. a year, they now pay $1 in rent. Anyone see a problem? Looks to me they need to raise more revenue to operate or shrink programs.

    The city for years as given them a nice rent subsize that amounts to $10-$15 million dollars of taxpayer money – for 40 years.

    The council can continue this – that is give them $200,000 a year in our money – maybe they will. who knows what Wally and friends will do? TIF money looks like free rent to me, or another economic developement scheme like the $500,000 they gave away of our money to build the famous Wine and Cheese Bar on Howard Street. While the city is at they can give them a million or two – to help them build the space out. Wally may use the justification its only TIF money.

    Anything is possible, if the Art Center has enough friends and political supporters the council will no doubt spend our money, Wally will work up a scheme some how.

    Its not about selling our Lake Front Parks for Hotels- it about running the city in a professional manner which may never happen.

    1. Taxes and Nothing

      So you are willing to have the same amount of money taken out for taxes and no art center. At least the community gets something for their money, close the art center and you pay the same and get less servcies. Really bright.

      It is not uncommon for non-profit community centers to have $1 rent agreements from local entities. The Art Institute of Chicago pays $1 to the City of Chicago. There is a long documented history of cheap rents to non-profit community service organizations. Evanston is not original here, it was very fashionable years ago to give non-profits incentives to grow and thrive. The idea being that art centers enrich communities and make them better through their community events, education programs, and services. I guess that thinking has gone out of style today. Most cities are begging for amazing art centers and arts organizations to come to their areas while Evanston seeks to destroy their own. 

      Enjoy paying more and more taxes and having zero to show for it.

      1. More Taxes?
        I am not clear what you are saying – If the city choose to rent the Harley Clarke to a new tenant, for more than $1, capital improvements will be done, it will adjust the rent for the amount of capital spent and if the city spends it or the new tenant.

        If the City chooses to subsidze the Art Center to a new location – assuming the subsidy will cost about $400,000 a year – rent and build out costs – thats a 1% property tax increase add to our bills on top of the yearly 3% typically added.

        I really do not understand you logic about taxes, if the council wants to raise our tax bills to keep the Art Center in business – OK – if not it appears to me it will close or shrink in size dramatically.

        1. The taxpayer is going to pay

          The taxpayer is going to pay for every single penny of both all the rent and all the building rehab and all the building upkeep, if the state becomes our tenant.  Every single penny, period.  How can you not understand such a simple fact.  

          We the taxpayer pays one way or the other, either directly to the city or directly to the state or fed.

          Everything just gets buried and is less transparent when the State & fed takes your money instead of the city.  It's part of a shell game, you blinked, you missed it, and now your money is gone, spent, simple fact.   

          Irresponsible government on both local, state and federal levels with this boondogle "deal".  

  4. Moving in the Right Direction

    It would seem that Wally is being responsible this time around and making the best decision for the city.  I would speculate that some of the alderman had been promising The Evanston Art Center (EAC) assistance with moving costs if they would just go quietly and help smooth the way for Tawani last summer.  I'm not sure why else they would be so concerned about EAC over and above the concerns of the city, especially since EAC has had a sweetheart deal for decades and has failed to uphold it's part of the lease, which was to maintain the interior of the property (even the EAC director has admitted as much).  As for enriching the community, EAC may have some interesting sculpture exhibits on the lawn, but is otherwise inaccessible. The classes are exhorbinantly expensive, and they do not allow visitors.  I personally wanted to see the interior of the building last summer, but vistors from the tax-paying community are not allowed in unless you are registered for a class. On the other hand, IDNR may have some very interesting education/conservation programs that would serve the community as well as draw in outside visitors and partner organizations without spoiling the park and beach.  What more could we ask for? And it's not as though Evanston is lacking arts organizations. 

    1. 1 visual art center

      A vote for the 240 Day evication clause will be the end of the Evanston Art Center period.

      Just to clarify, Evanston has other ARTS organizations (dance, theater, and music), but it only has 1 visual art center and that is what is at stake here. If the EAC is so inaccessable and so pricey, why is that they have 800 people signing up for art classes every 10 weeks year round? How do you explain 150 people passing through one of their Sunday art exhibition openings? How can you explain the 5,000 people who want to be on their email list? For a pricey in accessable place they sure do touch a lot of lives.

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