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Evanston aldermen Monday will consider whether to move toward tearing down the city-owned lakefront Harley Clarke mansion.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz plans to tell the Human Services Committee that efforts to reach an agreement with the state Department of Natural Resources to convert the building into offices for its Coastal Management Program have failed and that he sees little chance of finding another prospective tenant who would meet the council’s goals for having only “low impact” uses at the site.

With the building’s current tenant, the Evanston Art Center, scheduled to leave by mid-year for its own renovated building on Central Street, Bobkiewicz says it’s important that the city not allow the deteriorating building to stand empty.

So he is asking aldermen to authorize him to seek estimates for “deconstruction” of the building — dismantling it in a way that would preserve as much as possible of its parts for possible reuse.

The city has been seeking a new use — and a deep-pocketed new user — for the mansion since mid-2011, when officials concluded it needed more expensive maintenance and rehabilitation work than the city could afford.

Aldermen rejected the only firm proposal for a new use — Col. Jennifer Pritzker’s offer to expand the mansion and turn it into a 57-room boutique hotel — 18 months ago, after neighbors organized a campaign opposing the deal. 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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20 Comments

  1. Great Idea!
    No one will complain about the greatly improved view of Lake Michigan from Sheridan Road, along with the additional opportunity to expand the dunes.

    1. Harley Clarke mansion
      I will complain! This exquisite, historically protected building is a jewel. It is a Local Landmark, as determined by the Department of the Interior. The Evanston Preservation Commission will certainly have a great deal to say about this ridiculous proposal. Let’s bring the Colonel back or renegotiate with the State of Illinois.

      1. Demolition and Preservation

        At minimum, there must be a plan in place on how the site will be used before a demoltion permit can be issued.  Another building or a plan for the open space.  What we don't need is a vacant lot. 

        The cost of demolition, planning for a park and installing a park are not free.  If/before the building goes (which would be a shame), we need to know what will replace it and how much it will cost. 

      2. They would declare a ham sandwich a Landmark

        You said " Local Landmark, as determined by the Department of the Interior. " ============== As they say about Grand Juries that they would indict a ham sandwich. That the Dept. or other state/local groups would declare something a landmark, means nothing. Remember the city declared the NU Foster-Walker dorm [app. 1978] as a historical building. All the designation is that some group wants their view protected, don't want a new building by them, or they are still living in the 18th Century.

  2. Something to Nothing
    Wow, so we go from getting money offered for it to just tearing it down for nothing. What a joke of a government in this city.

    1. Typlical—Assume ‘Nothing’ is better Money Earning Business

      Typlical of Evanston government.  The city needs money—taxpayers tired of paying more and more for less—and so the city wants to tear down a building that as a hotel could bring in revenue.

      It reminds me of Woody Allen's 'Bananas.'  Next the Council will want us to all speak Swedish and wear underwear on the outside.  All logic is out the window.

    2. easy solution

      The NIMBYs opposed Col Pritzker's hotel, and they opposed every other development project in the City.  The only idea they ever have for revenue is "Northwestern should give us some of its endowment."

      If they tear down the building, they should make it a park – and impose a special tax on the NIMBYs who live nearby, to make up the lost revenue that Pritzker's hotel isn't paying the City.

  3. It’s about time the city

    It's about time the city considers this proposal. We have the opportunity to make a special beach even better with more lakefront land. Tear it down!!!!

  4. idiots

    All I can say is wow! We had a great deal with the Colonel and we blew it. Jobs, sales and property tax and the deal was blown! If Wally put as much effort as he does in redevloping Howard St., we could've have had a great bed and breaksfast that brings in taxes and jobs. We don't need more parkland – we need jobs! 

  5. Tear it down? Then why is the Arts Center still in the mansion?

    Folks, if this brick MANSION needs to be torn down why is the Arts Center still operating in it? 

    Any thought of a teardown is asinine and against the public's best interest.

    My gut tells me this is a ploy by the city manager and political insiders to get people to think this building is worthless and hope a new deal with the billionnaire Pritzker can be revived. Pritzker low balled the city for the mansion and wants to add onto the building, using the entire parking lot. Pritzker while negotiating for the mansion donated to 6th Ward Aldermen Mark Tendam. After a local newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act for the minutes of behind closed door meetings with Pritzker and city officials, the minutes of the meetings mysteriously disappeared.

    Why can't the city go out for more bids and try and lease the building? It could make for an upscale restaurant/city events center.

    Remember, the Lighthouse is next door and offers Evanston a tourist destination.

    Do not sell the building or land because then the city loses control of its best real estate asset and the best beach in the city.

    1. City Management Failure

      First of all, the Pritzker offer did not include the best beach in Evanston or the land directly above it. It did included increased access to the beach by increasing available beach parking.

      Pritzker's offer was a 1st offer and was not negotiated. It was a very good offer and would have been even better after negotiations. The city never revealed the offer to the citizens, probably out of fear but they did cave in to a minority of four to five hundred squealing citizens.

      If a vote by the community was taken then or now, with all the facts laid on the table, the hotel would be in business today. Evanston would have substancial money to reduce debt, over 500k per year in their coffers, and a "better" best beach in town.

      When the head of the IDNR came to town and said that money was not a problem, we have plenty to buy the mansion and fix it, everybody should have known that it was an election year lie. Our mayor and council should have walked away from the worst credit worthy state in the union. It would have generated negative income for Evanston. The state would not pay any taxes.

      Considering the mansions poor state of repair, the land it sits on is worth more than the building. The cheapest way for the city to deal with the building is to build a tall fence around it or try to revive the Pritzker offer.

       

      1. City management failure of transparency

        Pritzker in May 2013 offered $1.2 million for the lakefront mansion and 2.5 acres around it, less than half the value assigned the property in an appraisal the previous year. 

        How do you know there was no negotiation between Pritzker and city officials? The two parties met several times in executive session. A local newspaper filed an FOI for the minutes and audiotapes of those meetings. The city did release the minutes but said it had lost the more detailed audiotapes – a violation of the Open Records Act.

        I doubt Evanstonians would approve the sale of the mansion and the land around it to build a huge hotel with massive underground parking and an additional 57 rooms that would take up all of the existing parking lot. Such a plan would wholly redefine the pristine Lighthouse Beach.

        It's interesting that no one seems to comment as to why the Evanston Arts Center for $1 a year is still operating in the building that the city wants to tear down. If the mansion is so decrepit why is the Arts Center still there? The obvious answer is just like the Dawes Mansion, the needed repairs to the Harley Clarke Mansion is overblown. Therein lies the real question – why?

        The city manager and aldermen need to go out for more bids to lease the building or get creative and find a use for it. What about an Evanston historical landmark museum that would complement the Lighthouse next door? 

        1. enough

          Enough with your conspiracy theories, and enough with your misrepresentation of the Pritzker proposal. The City was not going to lose control of our "best beach", nor did the City give up access to that beach, or public parking, no matter how many times you claim otherwise. Constant misrepresentation.

          So you don't like building on the parking lot and claim that a degradation, that's a simple, unqualified opinion, nothing more. Ms Pritzker not only had the financial ability to build a beautiful building without taxpayer dollars, she has proven her ability and willingness to restore significant historical properties with extraordinary care and sensitivity. I'm of the opinion that her rehabilitation and construction would have been a beautiful community asset, and Ms Pritzker has established precedent to support that opinion.

          And your current statements of putting out request for proposals to house a restaurant and event space. That was already done, other than Ms Pritzkers, there were ZERO submissions, and with good reason. 

          It's a shame the position you and the other NIMBY's have put this community into, and the expense we must now incur.  We could have had a beautiful facility, capable of holding the events and weddings, the cafe that you now claim should be installed there. A place that thousands of local citizens could have enjoyed on many different levels for many different occasions. We had the opportunity, you helped blow it for us all. Thanks for nothing.

          1. Once again

            Again, under Pritzker's plan, that wasn't revealed to the public while a lowball offer was made to the city for the lakefront mansion and land, the existing parking lot would have been used for the 57 room addition. The current park north of the building then would have been converted into a parking lot. In other words, the lakefront mansion and 2.5 acres around it that borders the beach would be OWNED by Pritzker, OUT OF THE CITY'S CONTROL for PRIVATE USE!!!!!!!! Let's not forget about the underground parking lot.

            Those are facts that most Evanstonians do NOT like, including people like us who live in northwest Evanston and choose to take our family to the Lighthouse Beach on a regular basis in the summer. One other thing, the fire pit and picnic shelter that many folks rent would be gone under Pritzker's plan. 

            Maybe you're not a beachgoer or don't bring your kids, nieces, nephews to the Lighthouse park playground. Maybe you have no interest using the fire pit or picnic shelter for family outings. There are many in Evanston who do. If you go to the Lighthouse Beach you will see them.

            Maybe you have no problem that a billionaire with national political connections wants OUR lakefront mansion and 2.5 acres bordering the best beach in town for private use NOT public use. Heck, why not sell Pritzker the Lighthouse as well to be used as another bed and breakfast? Don't forget Pritzker offered half of what the mansion and land was appraised at. Pritzker does not have the best interest of Evanston but the best interest of Tawani Enterprises.

            BTW – isn't interesting that our elected officials have done nothing to change an ethics rule that would prevent anyone donating to an elected official while asking for a zoning change or negotiating for a lakefront mansion and 2.5 acres of waterfront property? Pritzker gave 6th Ward Alderman Mark Tendam a campaign donation after Tendam won the election while Pritzker was requesting a zoning change for a bed and breakfast and negotiating for the mansion and the surrounding 2.5 acres. Anyone have a problem with that? I do.

            Just because the city did not get many proposals when it went out for bids doesn't mean there isn't interest in leasing the mansion. It takes time and there's no reason why the city can't go out for more bids (The Arts Center moves out in June). And there's no reason why the city can't put together a deal to find a leasee as it did with the Peckish Pig and Ward Eight Bar on Howard Street.

            If the city can allow the Arts Center to operate in the mansion for $1 a year for decades and even now as the city talks about tearing down the building I am sure it can find someone else to lease the building or use it as an events center like Oak Park's Elizabeth Cheney Mansion.

            The bottom line is Pritzker's plan would wholly redefine the Lighthouse Beach. There would be no park, playground, picnic shelter and fire pit. Pritzker's hotel guests would have free access to the beach while Evanstonians pay to use it. How insulting is that? 

            BTW – We are not NIMBY's. We live a mile west from the lakefront mansion. But we do pay taxes and we vote.

          2. We All Lose if Sold to Private

            You are right – selling our community property to a private entity is not the right answer.  Ultimately this property and mansion belongs to the city – the community of Evanston.  It should stay that way so we all can continue to enjoy this property, it's beautiful beach and the lighthouse next door.

            The best idea I've heard was to rehab the building – and make it available for weddings, parties, etc.  Or, perhaps the city can maintain ownership of the building and lease it?  The city needs to come up with a creative plan to rehab the building – and find a way for the property to generate enough income to maintain itself.  Selling it to a private entity – or demoliting the building – or both failures to come up with a plan that preserves the property and benefits the community of Evanston.  Selling it to private, or demolition is essentally giving up.  We need to hold our government officials to a higher standard.  It's their job to do what's best for the community.

             

  6. The result of poor management

    Clearly this is the result of absolutely poor City management and zealot public protest without understanding the unintended consequences.

    Sure, knock it down.  Great.  Nice result City of Evanston and NIMBY residents.  You've done a fine job.

    Oh, and keep supporting those non profits, keep paying their way, let them squat in whatever space they want for $1.00, hold none of them accountable for a damn thing.  

  7. Obama Presidential Library

    It would be a home run for Evanston and Northwestern if the city proposed it as the Obama presidential library.

    1. It’s Here

      The library is already here, in Evanston but the location is unknown because it is transparent.

      Ironicly, the liberal press is saying that it is the only thing transparent about Obama or his adminstration.

       

  8. Failure of Government
    This building and surrounding land has endless potential to be a restaurant, at hotel, a bed and breakfast – all kinds of possibilities. Our government lacks creativity and negotiating skills that could make wonderful use of prime real estate and a beautiful, historical building that should be enjoyed by all the residents of Evanston. Just deciding to “tear it down” reveals a lack of skill and vision of our leaders – and rather than tear down this building – maybe residence should look into replacing these “leaders” that make decisions that make no sense for anyone. This building belongs to community – and all possibilities of restoration – so that it can be enjoyed by everyone – should be re-explored. Selling it to the state is also a boring non-solution. Try again! You blew it!

  9. Very Dissapointing
    This is so disappointing and not in the best interests of Evanston at all.

    I do see how tearing down the house and planting grass may be appealing to some lakefront area land owners that want to minimize access and commercial activities near their homes. These folks generally want things quiet and empty on the lakefront. Although they usually won’t come out and say it, they see this area as “theirs”. To their credit they are very organized and have mostly succeeded in keeping out things they don’t like for the past 30 years. The sad truth is that this group is very influential, and our council and mayor listen to them. I don’t think that will change anytime soon.

    I think many of us who live in the rest of Evanston would like to see a restaurant or bed and breakfast on this site. Maybe not exactly what was proposed the first time, but certainly something could be worked out and done very well there. I believe it would be very popular with almost all residents and also contribute to the cities finances instead of just raising taxes again.

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