Evanston residents who turned out to brainstorm new uses for the Harley Clarke mansion Wednesday night learned the mansion’s current tenant may want to stay.

Norah Diedrich, executive director of the Evanston Art Center, said the center’s board has worked “very, very diligently for the past two years” to identify another, larger building for its use, but so far has found nothing feasible.

Remaining in the lakefront mansion may be the best option at this point, Diedrich said.

She said she didn’t see until Friday a report City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz presented to the Human Services Committee Monday that says the mansion needs $170,000 in immediate life-safety improvements and up to another $100,000 for an extensive study of further repairs needed to the building.

“We would have been happy to work with the city if we had known about this,” Diedrich said.

“And if we have to put a lot of money into that buiding to make it code compliant,” she added, “it may be foolish for us to leave.” 

The center has a $1 a year lease with the city on the roughly 16,000 square foot building which calls for the arts group to maintain the interior while the city handles exterior maintenance.

If the center were instead charged a rent equivalent to what arts groups at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center pay, that would generate more than $200,000 a year that could go toward maintenance of the building.

The current lease, which runs through 2021, is subject to early termination by either party with sufficient notice.

The center operates on an annual budget of just over $1 million with most of its revenue generated from fees for classes it offers.

Wednesday night’s meeting was organized by three groups that opposed a plan to convert the mansion into a privately-owned boutique hotel — a plan the City Council rejected earlier this year on a 6-3 vote.

Leaders of NoParkSale.org, the Central Street Neighbors Association and the Southeast Evanston Association told the more than 60 people at the meeting in the Civic Center’s Parasol Room that they only wanted to hear ideas for new uses for the mansion that would keep the property publicly owned and open to public use.

Some speakers said they wanted to preserve the building while others advocated tearing it down. Some were in favor of the EAC remaining in the mansion while others questioned the parameters of the group’s current lease.

Asked by residents what it would cost to rehab the mansion, Mary Rosinski of NoParkSale.org ventured a guess of $700,000 to $800,000 — which would work out to about $50 a square foot.

Roula Alakiotou, a Chicago-based architect who worked on the rehabilitation of the city’s Navy Pier, was invited by organizers to speak to the group. She waged a nine-year fight to save two historical properties in her Edgewater neighborhood offered the residents some advice.

“You make a plan and you are persistent and there is no room for failure in our experience,” she said.

Organizers have scheduled another meeting for Oct. 23.

Related stories

Panel balks at spending more on mansion (Sept. 18, 2013)

Evanston Art Center wants to move (July 15, 2013)

Evanston Art Center looks for new home (Aug. 4, 2011)

Join the Conversation


  1. Who missed what?

    "We would have been happy to work with the city if we had known about this," Diedrich said.

    Who is supposed to communicate with the EAC or any other city tenant? And why was this (apparently) not communicated? At best, this is a significant (safety concerns) communications issue. Did the city miss the fact that the EAC might have been willing to fund some repairs?

    1. EAC not aware? Oh, really!

      Your renting a property. have been renting it for $1.00 for years. You're not aware the property is falling down around you. Why were they looking to move then?

      1. I agree.

        If you read the third article linked above, from 2011 (!), it states that EAC was asked to move by the city council who decided they wanted to sell the building.

        It also states:

        City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says the city, facing revenue shortfalls, lacks the funds to make capital improvements needed on the building, which has suffered from decades of deferred maintenance.

        Ms. Diedrich commented on that article stating:

        Just to clarify, the Art Center is legally responsible for maintaining the building interior and spends well over $60,000 a year to fulfill this part of our lease; funding for this comes directly from our operating budget. Additionally, we have added mechanical upgrades to the facility over the years.

        So, it seems difficult to believe that they did not know of all the code violations since she read the above article and the EAC were already doing repairs. I would also think that some of the issues would have been raised by whichever company was doing the "mechanical upgrades."

        However, who knows how these things are communicated.  Perhaps she did not see the full listing of what needs to be fixed.  I just find it hard to believe EAC did not know the full extent of what needed to be done.

  2. Who is to blame and who should be paying?

    There appear to be at least three issues in this matter:

    First, how is it that the landlord did not inspect the premises to ensure that the property was being maintained by the tenant?  Most responsible landlords do this on a regular basis and, in this instance it would seem that after so many years someone should have made an effort to ensure compliance with the lease.

    Secondly, since the City has inspectors that are required to inspect all commercial propoertiesw as well as  large apartment buildings and other structures, how is it that they never inspected this building over the years and identified all the code violations that were "discovered" in 2012?  This is, of course, in addition to the due diligence of the "landlord".

    Next, since the EAC admits that they are repsonsible for maintaining the building interior, how is it that they never made the proper repairs or required changes over these many years?  The issues raised appear to be the result, in most instances, of the use of the building, the art class activities and other such matters which should always have been done by the EAC.  What is it that they have been doing for $60,000 per year? Does the City have an accounting since these could be alterations that affect the City's property if and whn the tenant moves out. Most landlords even hold onto a security deposit for repairs to dmaamge caused by the tenant, but in this instance it appears EAC may have made alterations or other work for their $60,000 per year that the City does not know about let alone, work done without permits or owner approval.

    Somewhere along the way both the City and the EAC have been extremely lax in both enforcing the lease provisions and enforcing building codes, regulations and other procedures. As someone else has already noted, why is it that EAC never knew they were in violation all these years. Should they not have ensured that their facility was in compliance especially given their specific activities? If they were blissfully going along and never worrying about such issues but waiting for the City to drop the hammer, what then were they maintaning with their funds?

    The scary part is that, if we are to believe the 2012 report, there are major fire and safety issues that should have been flagged by the fire marshall or fire prevention inspectors, let alone other inspectors that should probably have been the owner's responsiblity since, as most people realize, you have no business renting a building that contains violations. apparently, what might apply to those in the private sector did not apply to the public sector? This is an issue that does affect who should pay for these repairs, whether or not the EAC stays.

  3. Rehab Cost

    Will Mary Rosinski and her organization cover all the expenditures over $ 800,000? Seems the City Council estimated it would be $5 million to $10-million a few months ago.

    1. Check your data before quoting rehab cost

      There has never been a cost as high as $5 to 10 million for the Art Center repairs ever quoted or discussed. City staff has estimated costs independently of this 2012 report now being discussed and that never came close to such a number even though it included such items as the fog houses east of the lighthouse, the greenhouse to the west of the coach house, the interior and exterior of the main building and probably, for all we know, logs and masonry for the Jens Jensen fire pit. 

      This reminds me of the controversy surrounding the Civic Center several years ago where costs for staying or leaving and for repairs varied from year to year, from alderperson to alderperson, staff member to staff member, and from those who were pro to those who were anti.

      All that the Civic Center debate accomplished, at that time, was to delay or defer repairs and other work to the extent that costs went up and what we got was an asphalt shigle roof versus slate for the same cost and now toilets at 2 or 3 times the cost estimated ten years ago.

      Based on the report contents now under discussion, most of these items would have cost very little if the EAC had addressed them when they made internal changes or had the City enforced the lease and codes. Now everyone is crying poor.

      Gosh this reads like the debate about pensions in Illinois and in Evanston. Once more, had goverment paid when bills were due, no crisis now. At the Art Center, had either EAC or Evanston done their respective jobs, now dollar crisis.

      1. And the source …

        Here's the source from an Evanston Now article:

        The three aldermen who wanted to consider Pritzker's plan argued that the city can't afford to maintain the building. Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, suggested it could cost $10 million to repair.

        She also lashed out at opponents, who she said had knowingly misrepresented the project — saying it involved selling off the beach.

        Aldermen Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, were the others who sided with Burrus.

        1. Why not ask Ald Burrus where she got her cost estimates.

          Evanston Now simply quoted her comment, but sadly neither Bill or you or any others ever sought out her source.  Given that she was for Pritzker buying the place, her data might have been skewed a bit.

  4. The annual operating budget

    The annual operating budget for the City of Evanston is somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 million.

    This is small change to save an iconic lakefront property that was originally purchased with monies from the Shoreland Protection Fund for the purpose of obtaining more parkland for the city.

    Repairs can be financed or bartered. Grants can be obtained, fundraising done. If absolutely necessary, the mansion could be demolished, but mansions in other suburbs are self-sustaining.

    The city needs to stop this short-term thinking. Please, look at the city budget and become informed. Plenty of money is wasted ($500k on a wine and cheese bar). This parkland adds to our property values.

    And why did the city let this go? Why didn't the city and EAC hold up their end of the lease as far as maintenance goes? Why wasn't the city concerned about the liability of allowing kilns to run in a building that was not up to code as far as fire safety, esp. when the city is self-insured?

    Why is this all of the sudden coming to light? What is the city's agenda here? These are the questions people should be asking their alderman, their mayor and their city manager. Something about this whole matter really stinks.

  5. What is the truth and reality?

    The Art Center knows it has alot more to repair than the amount of the city's number,  anyone can read the lease and understand they are responsible to upgrade and maintain the building.  My reading of the lease would require the Art Center to repair the exterior of the building, upgrade the electrical as stated clearly in the lease and the mechanical ventilaiton. 

    Both the senior management of the city and art center are clearly aware of these issues.  The Art Center should not have full use of this expensive city asset it has refused to take responsibiltiy for its maintenance and long term capital life.

    The Art Center if not responsible for any of these work needs to start paying the city a FULL market rate rent of over $200,000 for the 18,000 sq ft of space.

    Wally should not be allowed to cut a deal with them in closed door meetings, letting them out of the lease.

    As some are pointing out this whole mess stinks of the city's mismanagement and staff not doing their jobs.

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