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Council to vote on leasing Harley Clarke

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Evanston aldermen Monday are scheduled to vote on a proposal to direct the city manager to negotiate a long-term lease of the city-owned lakefront Harley Clarke mansion to the non-profit Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens group.

The group is proposing paying the city $1 a year for the lease — the same fee paid by the former long-term tenant of the property, the Evanston Art Center.

However, in a 20-page business plan, the group pledges to raise from private donors and grants more than $5 million to renovate the property.

The group proposes to operate the building as a self-sustaining “environmental education, outdoor recreation and community gathering space.”

The proposal envisions that a new city lease for the property would contain fundraising and operational performance standards for the group to meet, and that the group’s board would be expanded to include several representatives from the city.

Under the city’s lease agreement with the art center, maintenance responsibilities for the property were split between the city and the center, and the property gradually fell into a state of disrepair.

After determining that the city lacked the funds to restore the building, city officials invited proposals from private developers for the property, but then — in the face of a wave of opposition to the sale — abruptly rejected the only proposal that was submitted, which called for expanding the mansion into a boutique hotel.

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