Rejecting calls from some residents to give the building away for a dollar in return for a strong reverter clause, Evanston aldermen have authorized the city manager to negotiate the sale of the Harley Clarke mansion to the state.

The residents calling for the token sale price were among those who previously most vigorously opposed sale of the building for a boutique hotel that would have generated substantial tax revenue for the city.

But they argued that without the token sale price, the city might not be able to afford to buy the building back if the state ever chose to stop using the property for its currently intended use as headquarters for the Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Management Program.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the city faced a choice on the reversion clause.

“If the council is looking to get a fair market value on the sale, then demanding a no-cost reversion is not realistic,” he said. “But if you’re willing to sell it for $1, then reversion at no cost would be more feasible.”

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, suggested the $1 sale price would be reasonable.

But Alderman Jane Grover, whose 7th Ward includes the mansion site, said she was “not interested in hamstringing ourselves” and wanted to give the city manager flexibility in negotiating the sale terms.

“I think he’s acutely aware of the community interest in not having any owner of the building other than the city or the IDNR,” Grover said.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said setting the sale price in advance “looks like negotiating against ourselves,” because the city doesn’t have a specific offer from the state on the table. “I want to see an offer first,” Wilson said.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, noted that a final vote to sell the mansion will require a two-thirds vote by aldermen for approval. And he voiced reservations about whether the state should be spending as much as $8 million to rehabilitate a mansion on the lake.

The ordinance the aldermen adopted on a 7-1 vote calls for negotiating the sale of the mansion and coach house buildings, but only a long-term lease on the land under the buildings and no lease or sale of the property surrounding the buildings.

It also calls for imposing limits on the use of the buildings by the state and giving the city “first right to ownership of the buildings” if the state wished to vacate them in the future.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, cast the only no vote. Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, was absent from the meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Lack of Financial Sense

    "Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, suggested the $1 sale price would be reasonable."


    No wonder the city is in such bad shape.  They don't know the difference between $1 and several million dollars.  But I guess we see that all the time like the Trader Joes deal.

    The Council needs to get out of making any financial decisions about who can buy what and for what price and let all transactions be at market rates between the buyer/seller.

    Even if the state buys and keeps the mansion [I hope Rauner will get rid of it ASAP] why do we need another government building/agency.  We need to be getting rid of both !

    1. Our current governor is

      Our current governor is running television ads spouting how his administration has sold off government buildings… now the state is going to buy this pile of rubble…. and I'm voting for him because?

      1. I’m not voting for Quinn because:

        I was a loyal Democrat who usually followed the party candidates, but then i woke up to:

        – Mike Madigan in office 40 years later and being King of Illinois

        – A state with the worst debt ratings in our country – yes, we are #50 out of 50

        – A state with one of the highest unemployment rates in our country

        – A state with the worse pension fund crisis in our country

        – A governor who does not lead

        I will NOT vote for Governor Quinn.

  2. I bid $2 for this beauty

    If the city will sell me the mansion for my bid of $2, I will donate the property in its entirety to Evanston Township High School for the sole purpose of renovating the mansion by using school students who want to learn a construction trade to do the renovation work.  ETHS must provide all building materials and licensed instructors for the renovation.  After the building is finished,  the net profit from the sale (sale price less cost to renovate) will go to the teachers pension fund. 

    Do I hear another bid?

  3. Mansion

    I'm not sure how this benefits the City or its residents.  If the main concern over the sale of the mansion to Col. Pritzker was the loss of beach access and parking (the concern over development is a non-issue unless we want Evanston to remain in a time capsule), surely something could have been negotiated to allow for more than what the meager parking lot offers right now and of course access to the beach.  And as I understood, the beach was not going to be affected anyway.  As of now, if the City sells to the state, the public will lose all access to the house.  The state will most likely gut the mansion and throw away forever the remaining architectural details that distinguish the inside and  as a remarkable and historic building.  After maintaining mimimal code compliance for whatever length of time, any subsequent sale back to the City (yeah, right), will be for a shell of a building, void of original character and most likely not in great shape.  At least with the sale to Col. Pritzker, the house would be slavaged, restored and turned into a revenue generating building with integrity and purpose, still available to the public as a venue and hotel.

    Let's not cut off our nose to spite our face just because we wish we could maintain the status quo.

    1. Renovation

      The state officials have expressed interest in doing a sensitive, historically appropriate restoration of the mansion. Of course all such promises are subject to the availability of funds.

      — Bill

      1. Which state?

        Are we talking about the state that has millions of dollars to buy and fix the mansion or are we talking about the state that has no money for schools?

        Are we talking about the same state that has been ridding itself of unneeded property? Has admitted that they are looking at leasing office space in their buildings in chicago? Is looking at acquiring property in Evanston that they really don't need.

        Is this the same state that will purchase the mansion with Evanston taxpayers money?

        Is this the same state that will be fixing the mansion with Evanston taxpayers money?

        Is this the same state that said they will offer presentations to Evanston school children or will be offering the same presentations to any school in the state?

        Is this the same state that will not be paying any property taxes plus be using about 50% of the parking spaces that will limit park and beach access? vs. A Pretzker hotel that will returning $ 500k per year in tax revenue to Evanston while increasing parking for the beach access.

        Selling the mansion to the state is shear madness. There is no positive reason reason to do so. The Evanston council should be hiding their heads in the sand for encouraging the state to spend our tax dollars in a wasteful manner.

    2. mistake

      The Pritzker plan was going to add beach parking for both cars and bikes. It was going to increase access to the beach. I do not know where you got your information. The Pritzker plan was going to provide more than 500k in tax revenues per year. The current plan adds ZERO tax revenue because the mansion will be owned by the state.

  4. Unintended consequences

    Ahh, the fun term used so often for bad policy and outcomes. Well… we have it here. Thanks to those local activists who pressured the Council to reject the Pritzker deal. Happy now? The current prospective buyer is the bankrupt State of IL. Think they will make good on any financial commitments? Probably not. How about making good on anything at all? Probably not. So nice work activists. Your work has gotten us here – to a WORSE option for such a beautiful property.

    1. Take a closer look

      Let's take a closer more detailed look at some of the citizens' proposals.

      1. We should all be able to agree that the parkland and  building should always remain in the public domain  for public use. Having the coastal Management program with its ecology clases, housed along Evanston's lakefront will be a benefit to anyone who cares about our lake and our environment. They plan to partner with the Ecology Center to offer classes open to all.

      2. The negotiated contact must require that IDNR rehabilitate the building. They have given the city assurances on this issue.

      3. In line with keeping the building and land in the public domain foreveer. it is vital that if IDNR ever decides to leave the building, it will  automatically revert to the city for public use. If the city demands "fair market price" for the building, then it is all too possible that the city may not have that much cash on hand to rebuy the building if IDNR leaves. If the city sells the building for a dollar and IDNR rehabs the building, then it makes sense that the building reverts at no cost to the city. The city benefits because they now have a revitalized building at a maximum cost of one or five dollars. One speaker offered to donate that amount to the city.

      4. Sounds like a win- win-win. IDNR gets a wonderful location for its Coastal Management program. Evanston residents get easy access to valuable classes and programs and use of the building's public spaces and potentially  the city gets a rehabilitated building for its public use.

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