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City to explore state lease of mansion

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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."

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