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City eyes new uses for three properties

A subject of hot community speculation in recent weeks finally comes up for debate at the City Council Monday.

Aldermen will get a report from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz suggesting they authorize him to look for possible new uses and less expensive solutions for operating three city facilities.

A subject of hot community speculation in recent weeks finally comes up for debate at the City Council Monday.

Aldermen will get a report from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz suggesting they authorize him to look for possible new uses and less expensive solutions for operating three city facilities.

On the list for review are the Chandler-Newberger Community Center, the Noyes Cultural Arts Center and the Harley Clarke Mansion, now leased to the Evanston Arts Center.

In a memo to aldermen, Bobkiewicz notes that the city owns 20 major buildings in town as well as dozens of parks, playgrounds and other open spaces.

The memo says "there are very few instances" where the sale of city-owned property makes economic sense. But it suggests that in under some circumstances leasing city facilities to other entities could be appropriate.

He says the Chandler-Newberger Center, now 31 years old, provides an array of recreation programs — which generally are also available at the city's two other recreation centers. He said he's concerned about the city's ability to financially support programs at all three.

Chandler, he says, because of its location next to the CTA station, could be appealing to arts groups and "is of a good size for a theater use."

Or, he said, it could be leased to a non-profit that might provide recreation programs similar to those already in place at the center.

He said that because of its location, he believes it is the only community center that has viable options for alternate uses.

Bobkiewicz says he sees potential for the city to reduce its role at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center and let its tenants "take leadership in the facility's future."

He said the city last month received a letter from leaders of four groups that use the center — the Piven Theater Workshop, Next Theater Company, Actors Gymnasium and the Evanston Arts Center — expressing interest in possibly acquiring the center as their permantent home.

Unlike Chandler, the Noyes building has substantial capital improvement needs — estimated at over $500,000 — that the city has been unable to fund in recent years.

Also facing deferred maintenance issues is the lakefront mansion leased to the Evanston Arts Center. Bobkiewicz says the arts center has expressed an interest in re-examining its relationship with the city and that in addition there could be other parties interested in using the facility.

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