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City moves forward with lakefront mansion sale plans

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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.

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