Recap: City Council

A view of the Harley Clarke mansion and the Grosse Point Lighthouse.

Here's a recap of our live coverage of tonight's Evanston City Council meeting. A proposal to lease the Harley Clarke mansion is on the agenda as a special order of business.

However, because two of the aldermen are out of town attending a meeting of the National League of Cities, it's possible action on the proposed mansion lease to the  Evanston Lake House and Gardens group will be postponed to the council's meeting on April 9.

Also because of those absences the Adminstration and Public Works Committee did not have a quorum to meet tonight -- so all of its agenda items will be reviewed by the full Council without a committee recommendation.

A packet with information on tonight's agenda items is available online. The meeting is scheduled to begin shortly after the Planning and Development Committee meeting wraps up.

Meeting called to order at 8:02 p.m.

Aldermen Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, and Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, are absent, attending the National League of Cities meeting in Washington.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz thanks Grant Farrar for his service as the city's corporation counsel. Farrar is leaving to take a new job. Bobkiewicz says he's helped save millions in legal costs over the eight plus years he's been with the city. Notes various accomplishments -- including the abolition of the township.

Farrar thanks aldermen and mayor for their support.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, says he appreciates that Farrar has well represented the city. Says he's been a model public servant.

City Clerk Devon Reid says more than 1,600 people have already early voted at the Civic Center.

Public Comment

Jackie Prince objects to proposed revisions to city's panhandling ordinance. Says it violates state law protecting the homeless.

Adrian Willoughby asks about prices for ice time at the new Robert Crown Center.

Carlis Sutton says he supports Harley Clarke lease and the pilot landlord rehab assistance program. Opposes planned increase in taxi coupon fees.

Tom Hodgman, president of Evanston Lake House and Gardens, says the group has sought RFPs for architects and fundraising consultants. Says hopes to far exceed fundraising goals.

Special Order of Business

SP 1 - Harley Clarke mansion 40-year lease to Evanston Lake House and Gardens

Erika Storlie, assistant city manager, says she's has been working with the group since last November. Says group has pledged to raise $2 million to do initial rehab to make the property code compliant and handicap accessible.

Mayor Hagerty says the response to the RFP says they would raise $5 million -- but the contract only requires them to raise $2 million.

Storlie says they believe they can raise the $5 million but weren't comfortable setting benchmarks for that.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, says the lease agreement is the final step in a very long process that probably would have discouraged anybody else.

Says she's confident they ultimately will raise the $5 million.

Says it will become an exciting space for hands-on experiential learning.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, says this is for introduction tonight -- not actually approving it tonight.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, says she has serious misgivings about the project. Asks who does the maintenance for the first five years. Storlie says the city would. Fiske says she'd like a cost estimate for that work. Storlie says she can have that for the next meeting.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asks whether the group will have occupancy of the space during the five years and control. Storlie says yes they will.

Fiske asks about pledges ... is told it's still about $100K ... what they'd had several months ago.

Says she feels really uncomfortable about it -- says would love to see the program go forward -- but are already taking a leap of faith on Robert Crown. Not comfortable that this will work out. Worried city will ultimately end up having to ask them to leave.

Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, asks what happens if the project stalls out after the $2 million is raised. Is told the group would still have the 40-year lease.

Hodgman says intent is to get it all done in one phase --but wanted to make sure could get to code complaint first.

Rainey asks whether there's a sublease provision. Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar says yes, subject to city approval. Rainey says they need to have insurance from the start.

Fiske says if they don't keep operating the programs the lease should revert to the city.

Hagerty says he's concerned that the proposal was put forward at $5 million ... and now have a proposal for $2 million. This is a city asset -- it's been a contentious one for a long long time. Says wants to see the project be successful.

Approved for introduction with a 6-1 vote. Rainey votes no.

Consent agenda

Items taken off consent agenda ....

A 11 -- Senior taxicab program. On consent for introduction, but then to be sent back to committee for review.

A 14 - New liquor license class (for Binny's). Off consent.

A 15 - New class X liquor license. Off consent.

P 2 - Front porches ... for introduction then returned to committee

Consent agenda approved.

A 14 - New liquor license class (for Binny's)

Rainey says wants to have further discussion at committee -- wants to make some changes.

A 15 - Class X liquor license

Rainey moves in to send it back to committee for discussion. "We have a little problem with that," she says.

Council votes to return the issue to committee.

Call of the Wards

Braithwaite ... March 22 ... NU hosting free career fair at Hilton Garden Inn 1-4p

Wilson ... thanks everyone involved in producing the summer job fair.

Suffredin ... requests Rules Committee discussion about more efficiently scheduling committee meetings.

City manager notes start of next week's meeting on city budget at 6 p.m. on Monday night, March 19.

No executive session.

Meeting adjourned at 9:18 p.m.



Raise funds first !

How about any Council decision delay any decision or contract until the private donors raise [put in bank not just promise] until the $5 million is raised, the groups who want to lease it get a bank loan or put up funds [in bank] to cover any loss or failure to perform.
Taxpayers will eat a lot of the cost of this 'money pit' but don't start putting taxpayers behind the 'eight ball.'

What government debt is for

In any economics [policy] course or discussion they will say debt is not [all] bad---if it is used for long term financing of valid projects like roads, school. But NOT for things like arts centers, 'mansions' and such, esp. when terms are really a give-a-way like our Council seems to love to do, or things for special groups. Esp. when those groups can/should raise their own money to support their own pet projects.

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