Aldermen on Evanston’s Human Services Committee voted unanimously Monday to start the process of considering a proposal from a state agency to rent the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion.

The idea now goes the full City Council, where, since a majority of members are on the HSC, it’s likely to also be approved.

At the same time, the aldermen voted to continue discussions with the mansion’s current tenant — the Evanston Art Center — about its potential continued occupany of the building.

The Coastal Management Program of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has told city officials it would like to move its offices to the property.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said, “I think it would be unwise not to ask the city manager” to take the idea to the full City Council.

And Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said, “This is a good idea, to start talking with an agency that is willing to put in money to take over the site, and not be putting in our (city) tax dollars.”

Burrus went on to claim that the building is unsafe, but Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said he’d been to art school and recognized a “messy but creative” space.

“I don’t want the opinion out there that this is somehow a dangerous place,” Tendam said to applause from art center supporters in the audience.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said city inspectors don’t believe the building is dangerous, but that “there are issues that need to be addressed.”

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she was fascinated with the proposal from the state agency.

She said she’s sure the accessibility and maintenance and utility isssues with the building can be fixed.

“But that takes money, and I just don’t know how much money the art center has to put into it,” Fiske said, “and the city doesn’t have the money.”

Fiske also said she was concerned about creating equity between the art center — which has leased the mansion for decades for $1 a year — and artists at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center — where tenants pay up to $15 a square foot per year in rent.

Some art center supporters seemed to suggest the city should subidize the arts. As Diane Thodos of 2668 Orrington Ave., put it, “creativity cannot have a price tag and market value” and “we have to consider communal values over commercial values.”

But Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, “We, the city, don’t have the money to put into the renovation and ongoing maintenance of the building. That certainly will be a big factor in any decision we have to make.”

Related story

State agency seeks to lease lakefront mansion

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Good things come to those who wait
    What a much more a appropriate way to handle the situation. The property stays with the citizens and it’s occupied by an organization who will both respect it’s proximity to city resources and have the money to maintain the building. Very pleased at this development, although I wish they’d just work with the Evanston Art Center to fix their class schedule, but this is the next best option.

    1. So you think that the state

      So you think that the state of Illinois would be a great tenant. This is the same state that doesn't pay its bills, probably can't afford to pay the rent, and probably can't afford to bring the building up to minimum safty standards.

      That sounds like a great idea, NOT.

      To be honest,I thought this was a good idea until I found out who the tenant would be..

  2. Evanston doesn’t have the money
    Alderman Fiske states the City of Evanston doesn’t have the money to spend on the Harley Clarke mansion.
    Alderman Holmes states the City of Evanston doesn’t have the money to spend on the Harley Clarke mansion.
    If the City of Evanston doesn’t have the money, then why is City Council even considering the idea of lending money to FEW Spirits?
    Lending money to a private business is best handled by banks and other commercial lenders. The other day I went to Evanston First & Trust and spoke with a loan officer. He’s going to contact FEW Spirits. Let the bank make the loan to FEW. If they “won’t” make a loan to FEW, then why should Evanston taxpayers?
    I also asked my alderman about the processes, procedures, and policies for private businesses who seek loans and grants from the City. I’m still waiting for an answer.

  3. Leasing to a state agency is boneheaded

    Come on, folks. We are talking about the Coastal Management Program of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. It is a state government agency.

    Illinois is broke and has experienced several recent credit downgrades with a massive pension crisis. The state and likely the Coastal Management doesn't have the money to fix the mansion, much less pay market rent. It would be risky to allow a state agency to rent the building. What happens when the inevitable budget cuts come?

    Why in the world doesn't the city advertise nationwide to try and find a renter? Another option would be a restaurant so the public would have access to the lakefront building year round.

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