Evanston’s city manager tonight will ask aldermen to terminate the Evanston Art Center’s lease at the Harley Clarke mansion so the city can pursue plans to have a state agency take over the building.

Consultants to the art center have concluded that the mansion needs more than $5 million in improvements to bring it up to code and make it more suitable for the center’s continued use.

Leaders of the center, which operates with a roughly $1 million annual budget, have concluded that they don’t have the resources to pay for those improvements.

They’ve looked, so far unsuccessfully, for an alternative space for at least the last two years, and are asking the city for at least two more years at the mansion to be able to continue that search.

Under terms of the lease, the city is only required to give the center 240 days notice to move out.

Officials of the Coastal Management Program of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, after a community meeting last month, reaffirmed to city officials last week that they are interested in moving into the mansion 

They’re hoping to reach an agreement with the city by this spring that would let them move into the building this fall or winter.

The art center has leased the mansion from the city for decades for $1 a year, plus taking responsibility for upkeep of the building.

The state officials have said they have the resources to make needed improvements to the building and pay the city a market-rate rent for its use.

If aldermen on the Human Services Committee recommend terminating the lease tonight, the issue could be on the agenda for next week’s meeting of the full City Council.

Related document

Human Services Committee meeting packet (.pdf)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. End the rip-off

    Sounds like a good plan to me. The "lease" (or giveaway) that we had with the art center was outrageous, especially for an organization that has a "$1 million budget".

    The state is willing to do the repairs necessary, presumably pay a reasonable / market rate rent, and maintain the property as is which seems to be important to some people.

    Of course if we had taken Col. Pritzker's proposal….. ah, let's not go there. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

    1. Still getting ripped off

      Oh, don't be so naive, you're still getting ripped off.  You and I, the taxpayers, are paying for every single penny of this so called deal.

      The overspending State of Illinois has no magic money tree, they are just going to pick your pocket. One way or another, your gonna pay every single dime for this overbloated waste.

      You can thank your alderperson for the millions upon millions of dollars you are now going to be required to pay.

      1. taxpayer

        When the IDNR came to us and said that they had plenty of money to fix the place up and to pay market rent for a showy address, it was the clue that someting wasn't right. They can spend their rent money at a lot cheaper address. The state is broke. They could certainly use this money to pay state bills. Where is this coming from. It is beginning to look like Illinois is a mini Washington DC.

        Spend it even if you haven't got it.

    2. $1 rents are not new

      It is not uncommon for non-profit community centers to get $1 rent agreements from local governments.

      Evanston is not original in brokering that deal. It was very fashionable years ago to give non-profits incentives to grow and operate.

      This is just like how they give TIF funds to corporations today, non-profits would get rent breaks back then. The idea being that art centers enrich communities and make them better through their community work, education programs, and services.

      I guess that thinking has gone out of style today in favor of corporate welfare and privatization. Most cities this size are begging for amazing art centers and arts organizations right now as we try to destroy ours.

      1. Evanston Golf Course basically pays free rent

        This is true.  The "Canal Shores" golf course–which defaulted on its water bills a couple of years ago–also pays basically no rent to the Water Reclamation District–a taxpayer agency.

      2. $1 rent, not new, not sustainable either.
        Big difference between a TIF and a $1 annual rental fee.

        If you look at TIFs in Evanston, you call it, “corporate welfare”, you will see that those TIFs have returned real definable value to the taxpayer. Nothing welfare about it when you invest x number of dollars and then receive multiple times x in return. Thats not welfare, thats an investment with real return.

        Yes, an argument can be made how arts enrich a community in ways beyond a buck and I would totally agree with you. But, at some point, when the return on our investment isn’t so easily quantified, when the cost of that investment becomes millions of dollars, it is also responsible to question the “return” the art center investment truly makes and whether it is worth, in this case demands, millions in taxpayer subsidy.

        I also disagree with your last line, that we are trying to destroy our arts centers. I think a lot of thought is being put into how we can, I’ll call it responsibly, create and sustain an art center that would have much greater use and return to the community than the current one on the lake.

        It will take time and planning, but that is part of what makes it a “responsible” discussion. I think it’s an overstatement to say anybody is trying to destroy anything. I know plenty of organizations that can funtion on a million dollar budget, if the arts center cannot, nobodys fault but their own.

  2. Clarke mansion

    Whether the Art Center is worthwhile or not is really beside the point.

    So is whether the Art Center has been working on a "sweetheart deal." That's the past.

    The only thing that matters now is finding money to fix up this historic dump. The Art Center doesn't have it. The city doesn't have it. Apparently, the state does. The NIMBYs who drove out Pritzker apparently want Evanston to go forward as a living museum, even if it banrkrupts the city and its taxpayers. I love the Art Center,too. But it's time to go. Nothing lasts forever. It's incumbent upon the Art Center to find another home. If the city can help facilitate that, so be it. But not if it means writing a great big check to sustain them.


    1. Who “really” has the money ?

      You wrote "…Apparently, the state does…."


      Some day someone will address where the city, county, state, federal government "gets the money."

      People seem to think if their smallest governmental/civic/etc. body does not have the money to do something, that if some higher governmental body gives them the money, everything is fine.

      Well it is not.  It comes from taxes ! Do you expect someone in Robbins to pay taxes for our Arts Center ?  Evanston taxpayers to pay for the "Road to No Where" or any of the other "pork" government comes up with ? or do you think "they get theirs, so we should get ours"—a great way to wreck the economy and plunge more into lower income brackets.

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