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.
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)