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Evanston city officials plan  to try again to sell the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion — this time to the State of Illinois.

Aldermen at Wednesday’s Human Services Committee meeting are scheduled to review a proposal to authorized City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to negotiate terms for the sale of the mansion buildings and a lease of the grounds to the state Department of Natural Resources.

The state plans to move offices for the department’s Coastal Management Program into the building.

In previous discussions of the proposed arrangement, state and city officials had described it as a lease of the building, rather than a purchase of it.

More than three years ago city officials decided they lacked the funds to maintain the mansion, which the city has leased for $1 a year to the Evanston Art Center for several decades.

After an extensive process of seeking proposals for new uses for the site, only one formal proposal was submitted.

That plan, from Col. Jennifer Pritzker, to purchase the property — but not the adjacent beach — and expand the mansion for use as a boutique hotel was rejected by aldermen in July 2013 on a 6-3 vote after neighbors complained about commercialization of the lakefront.

A yard sign opposing the sale to Pritzker.

It was after that vote that state officials first expressed an interest in the property.

The art center, after a lengthy debate about its future, decided it couldn’t afford to maintain the building either and has announced plans to move to a vacant office building at 1717 Central St. and has launched a $2.5 million fundraising campaign to pay for it.

Under the city code, a two-thirds vote by the City Council is required to approve negotiations for the sale. Then, after terms of the deal have been agreed upon by the city manager and the buyer, the deal would require another two-thirds vote by the City Council to put it into effect.

Assuming the committee approves moving forward Wednesday night, the issue is expected to go to the full City Council for introduction next Monday. 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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16 Comments

  1. Bring back the hotel idea

    It's a shame Jennifer Pritzker wasn't allowed to develop the property. The public would still have access to the beach, property values would go up, the taxpayers would be off the hook, and out-of-town guests would have a delightful place to stay.

    1. Few agree with the Hotel concept- city has major problems
      Every time this story comes up – someone – brings up the idea of the hotel – if the council decides to some how bring this back, I think most of them would not get reelected. There were well over 400 citizens there the night this was stopped, The citizens made it clear this was to remain a public park, not to be turned into any for profit use.

      If Wally or others think they may structure the deal in a way to open the door for any private use, we will be watching.

      Frankly anyone who thinks this is wonder deal for the city, and of value, needs to take a look at the entire operation, its a total mess, running out of control, with continues misrepresentations of many items at council, a few examples in the past about 3% of employees were stealing medical benefits, a senior employee during the budget hearing claimed they could sell $900,000 in yard waste stickers they sold $175,000 who end up covering this mistake?( or was it a mistake) The recent patio being built by city workers is also very interesting for a private business. The mess at the water utility, which may drawf the police and fire pension fund – problems which the council refuses to discuss, On so many levels the city is a mess- I would like to see those who have an interest a hotel here, have something to say about any of these items., frankly NO revenue from the Hotel could come close to paying for even a tiny percentabe of the screw ups!

      1. great

        Lets see, the hotel would have created a beautiful facility that literally thousands of local citizens could have used every year for many a myriad of purposes.  Instead we get a basically commercialized office space of no use to anybody, except for a dozen or so bloated bureaucrats. 

        And whether controlled by Local, or our fiscally imcompetent State government, we taxpayers will be paying millions upon millions of dollars in repairs and upkeep.  Golly gee, a beautiful boutique hotel was such a bad idea, this solution is just so much better,  Good job.

         

      2. Pritzker deal was best

        When 400 people showed up at the Council meeting it scared the pants off the council. That is why you got 4 people to change  their votes on the issue. Given the facts and a vote by Evanston citizens the Pritzker hotel deal would pass against the " Squeaky Wheel 400" by a hefty majority.

        A hotel would bring substancil income into the City, with property tax, sales tax, and room tax.

        You know that Pritzker would correct all the problems with the building and the property. It would be a show place on the lake.

        The primary park assett is the beach. Pritzker would increase beach parking by 3 fold.

        The deal would not burden taxpayers

        The state agency does not need to move into this building. There is plenty of state buildings with empty space. Whether the state buys or leases, the taxpayer will be paying. The property will not be paying property tax, sales tax, or any other tax. A lease is risky because we will not know if or when the state will pay. A buy will be a one time income for the city. There will no increase in parking spaces for the beach.

        The state will be a bad deal no matter which way it is done. The state can not trusted. If you read the newspaper lately you see Quinn pledging tens of millions of dollars to various groups and causes, hoping that voters will vote for him and spending taxpayer dollars that he claims the state doesn't have.

        The Pritzker deal was the only deal that made sense and it makes a lot of sense to try to revisit Pritzker's offer.

        1. Pritzker’s deal was best…for the Pritzkers

          The Pritzker deal would have been great for Pritzker and his corporation, Tawani Enterprises. Not so much for hard hit taxpaying citizens of Evanston.

          At first, there were few details of Pritzker's plan but after it was shot down more details came forward. Pritzker wanted to build a 57-room hotel with huge underground parking on the existing parking lot and convert the existing park (green space) north of the mansion as a parking lot .

          Pritzker made an insulting low ball offer for the mansion.

          Don't forget that Pritzker gave campaign money to politically connected Democrat 6th Ward Aldermen Mark Tendam AFTER the election and while he had pending zoning requests and was involved in ongoing negotitations for the mansion. Pritzker also gave $13,500 to Ed Tivador in August AFTER he lost the 1st Alderman race to Judy Fiske. It appears Tivador is building his war chest for another challenge. Tivador spent $18,968.93 in the race but his campaign's debt was only a $700 loan he had made. One of those things that make you go hmmmm? 

          Don't forget the billionnaire Pritzker is powerful and well-connected politically. Her cousin is the U.S. Commerce Secretary. Democrat State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg decided not to run for another term but to step down in order to work full-time as an advisor for .J.B. and M.K. Pritzker and their family philanthropy initiative.

          Let's remember that one week after a newspaper filed an FOIA for the minutes of a meeting about Pritzker's offer, those minutes were destroyed and thus not released.

          1. better off?

            "Not so much for hard hit taxpaying citizens of Evanston."  

            We are so much better off now? Really?  One way or the other we're gonna pay millions upon millions for no reason whatsoever, for an office use that is in no way needed or beneficial to the community.

            And we're better off?   HA!  Seriously, your not joking?  HAHAHAHA  

          2. Sorry Al

            Personally I do not like J Pritzker and her politics. I usually agree with you but this time you are wrong. In the past, the mansion produced taxes for Evanstion. Then for years the city gave it away and it produced no income to the city. Only expenses, mowing the lawn and other minimum maintence. It was a drain on Evanston.

            It is time to correct the council's recent mistake and attempt to see if Pritzker is interested in talking about his prior offer. It is too bad the city manager didn't reveal the offer details before the council vote. It looked very good.

            We have a choice. The city can make money by dealing with Pritzker or we can deal with the state and Illinois taxpayers will be paying the rest of our lives, so the state can put a few people in luxury offices.

            It will be decided by the city council and I bet that they vote against the citizens of Evanston and the state. I hope they decide to vote for the Pritzker deal. It's the gift that will keep on giving for many years.

  2. Do not sell the mansion to the state

    No, no, no. Do not sell this to the state!!!

    What guarantees would we have if the state later on decides to sell the property? It would be out of control?

    I thought the agreement was to lease to the state. Since when did our city leaders consider selling it to the state, which is in one of the worst fiscal condition in the nation.

    1. Other available office space?

      Whether it is the sale of the Mansion to the State or the fate of City Hall and other government offices, I always wonder why not use the building south of Emerson from Maple to the Metra ?

      I've asked a couple of people I've seen coming out of those building—esp. the most west ones—-and apart from their small business, they don't know of many occupants.

      I see one has a North Shore Hospital sign, but surely they don't have the whole building.

      The building at the corner was torn down for apartments but for all the years it sat empty and seemingly the other buildings, why did the city not use them for needed space and even move the run-down City Hall there — there would seem to be plenty of room?

      Are these building actually fully occupied or has the city not taken advantage of available space so as not to offend the 'Preservationiists'?

  3. Selling to the state is a

    Selling to the state is a terrible idea.  This entire Coastal Management Program smells of political back scratching.  Democrats in Springfield helping out democrats in Evanston that are in a jam about what to do with this property since the hotel idea became a hot potato.  I'm sure there will be a nice ribbon cutting and speeches right before election day to remind everyone how great the involved local and state politicians are to help Evanston this way. 

    Go years forward, and at some point the other party will be in power.  They won't care about any of this, but will know they are sitting on lakefront land for a few offices that serve no real purpose and could easily be relocated to an actual office building.  They can then sell it or do whatever else they want with it.  History shows us that local zoning won’t trump the state here either. 

  4. Better Ideas – Don’t Sell the Mansion

    Don't sell the Harley Clarke to the State….for goodness sakes, that's a bad idea.

    The Harley Clarke Masnion is one of Evanston's finest historic assets.  It's a go-to place for so many thousands of people around the area.  Doesn't city council understand that?  Obviously not.  More so, it's a shame and a serious let down.

    City Council looks at Harley Clarke like a burden, and the council not only lacks creative ideas, but really don't see the bigger picture that SO MANY OF US SEE.

    Save the Harley Clarke Mansion….Turn it into a community go-to-place.  HERE ARE SOME SUGGESTIONS…use them.

    1) Secure the Mansion as a public trust so it can never be sold, just like WAGNER FARM and THE GROVE.

    2) Hire a manager of the property, someone with real business skills, pay them $150,000 per year to manage the property and keep it profitable.

    3) Make it Profitable by:

          a) Rent the entire lower level and grounds for events, weddings, ceremonies, etc…..property could easily rent for $5K to $10K per event – you do the math, it would easily rent for over 50 days a year….

         b) Turn upper floors into Hotel rooms that can be rented during those events, or on their own, depending – more income…do the math…

         c) Entertain the thought of putting somekind of restaurant inside – maybe its only open on weekends……or maybe a catering company takes over the kitchen on weekends and acts like a temporary restaurant…ESPECIALLY DO THIS IN THE SUMMER!

         d) If there's space left over, rent some office space in the basement – more income

        e) Gut the Coach house and turn it into a coffee house that serves icecream and sandwhiches….MORE INCOME.

    Who pays for all this….. Well, the city of course….and they will recoup the expense over 10 years, once the mansion becomes profitable……Rehab won't be more than 1Million.   Profit over 10 years on just property rental at $5K per rental at 75 rental days per year (which is low) totals 3.75 million over 10 years which after expenses, easily pays back the 1 million for the rehab.

    These are my two minute ideas…..I'm sure we (you and I) can do much better than SELLING the property to the state for the (YAWN) Illinois Department of Natural Resources.  Seriously – who want's that……

    City council – what's your problem….are you really so lame and out-of-touch.  You're showing your true colors.   Shame on you. 

    1. Lease it to a private business

      The city manager and Council have been pouring tons of money into private businesses so why not help finance and lease the mansion to a private business? 

    2. Wasn’t that already proposed?

      I believe virtually every single suggestion you just made was basically what Pritzker was offering to do.  And you are correct, those ideas would have been so beneficial and wonderful for this community on so many different levels. 

      She was also going to spend the many, many millions to bring the facility to a physical state that would allow all that to happen.  Anybody who doesn't think rehabbing that space, for the kind of uses you just suggested, won't cost at least 7 to 10 million at the bare bones minimum, has absolutley no idea what they are talking about.   The idea, often repeated by many, that this would require less than one million is a fools fantasy.

      At your suggestion, we the local taxpayers, would foot this enormous bill, and then go into one of the most difficult and risky businesses there is.  You talk of the top line revenue as if it were the same as bottom line cash flow.  We would probably lose money on operations every year, plus continue to be on the hook for physical maintenance and future capital improvements, more millions over time.  

      It is a real shame that the nimbys killed this proposal. Their B,S about closing the beaches, the ridiculous insinuation that a former state senator, working at one of Jennifer Pritzkers relatives non for profit agency promoting early childhood education, somehow tainted this proposal. 

      You will never see a better proposal than that from one of our very own community citizens, that lakefront hasn't been preserved, its future is now being diminished into a useless commercialized office building, at our expense.  Nice work nimbys.        

      1. Nimby Here

        I think the issue with the Pitzkers was their proposal was very large scale, they wanted to build a giant structure (hotel) over the current parking lot, build  an underground parking garage and transform the property (for better or for worse) on a massive scale.   For sure that monolithic structure would have blocked out the current beach access which we Nimby's (Not In My Backyard) love so much.   AND – It was explained poorly by city council  at the last moment – which shocked many residents ….but it's a shame Pritzker was taken off the table….

        It's also a shame everyone throws money figures around without some real facts…. 7 to 10 million sounds pretty inflated for fixing up that relatively small Mansion – (It's NOT that big).  Of course, perhaps your figures come from city council who thought spending $250,000 to pour a walkway around the (crappy, no pun intended) beach bathrooms and add a shower was a real value….  the same council that wanted to spend millions putting a new slate roof on the civic center when someone 'smart' (and not in council)  finally suggested architectural shingles at a reasonable price….. so its all perspective.

        Let's just agree though…don't sell the building to an entity that lacks charm and fun….that building should be an ASSET to Evanston – a GO-TO -PLACE ………don't make it dissapear for decades under the face of some (YAWN) business like the IDNR (Illinois Department of Natural Resources) The IDNR should move into a cubical with florescent lights…what do they want the historic mansion for anyway????   It's like putting flashy rims on a 1983 Pinto….

  5. Those who keep bringing up the Hotel deal need facts!

    Those of you who keep on saying this was a great deal – and all the revenue, please quote and use the economic document created by Twani, to justify you claims that is if you have even read it.

    The Hotel was voted down by the council, the document was posted after that for the public to see, so you if you want to keep on bringing this up, use that document in your points.

    Council members it appears did not have any economic document when they discussed this deal – in their closed door meetings, there was nothing to justify the sale on any economic basis.

    Some facts,please!

    Also I have suggest those of you who keep on saying this was great, what to you think about all the city of evanston so called economic development deals, please give us a review on how they are so profitable, anyone one with even the slightest ability to analyize the document will come away with the fact they are all a bust, with no value to us taxpayers.

  6. Will the Governor then close it ?

    Quinn brags about all the state buildings he closed—would this be next ?

    Rauner certainly has the common sense to close it and many more.

    No wonder the State and Evanston has so many financial problems—it spends like a drunken  sailor—apologies to drunken sailors who would know better.

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