The question of what to do with two shuttered city-owned properties still dogs Evanston aldermen years after the buildings first went vacant. And they’ll be back on the City Council’s agenda later this month.
Faced with recurring budget deficits, city officials are trying to reduce operating and capital costs. But they’ve had a hard time finding economically viable solutions for doing that faced with competing demands from residents about how to best repurpose the properties.
First up, next Monday, is the question of whether the city should seek proposals for demolishing the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion and try to re-establish the natural dunes area on that piece of the lakefront adjacent to the Grosse Point lighthouse.
Organizers of a group called Evanston Lighthouse Dunes told aldermen late last month that they’ve raised sufficient funds to pay the cost of demolition.
But leaders of the Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens group, who failed to convince aldermen in April that they could raise the estimated $5 million or more needed to rehab the building and use it as an environmental education center, are expected to turn out to again ask for reconsideration of that decision.
The mansion has been vacant since the end of 2014 after aldermen voted to terminate the long-term lease of the Evanston Art Center in a dispute over funding for repairs.
Then on Monday, June 25, the aldermen are scheduled to approve a request for proposals seeking new uses for the city’s former recycling center at 2222 Oakton St.
The center hasn’t been used for its original purpose since mid-2010 when drop-off recycling was eliminated with the switch to curbside recycling.
After considering, and ultimately rejecting, proposals from non-profits to turn it into a recreation facility, aldermen also turned back a proposal from trash hauler Groot Industries to buy it for transfer station use.
Eventually the city leased the building to Smylie Brothers for a brewery and beer garden operation. But Smylie is now seeking to back out of that deal after buying a different brewery building in Chicago. And aldermen are seeking to impose penalties on the company for breaking the lease.
At least three new potential bidders for the recycling center have emerged — the owners of the Peckish Pig restaurant on Howard Street, who envision a restaurant and event space, the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse, which would like to move there from its existing warehouse on Dempster Street, and First Ascent Climbing and Fitness, which says the high ceilings at the recycling center would be ideal for its rock climbing exercise program.
The Rebuilding Warehouse has launched a petition drive claiming tax revenue generated from sale or lease to a for-profit business would be trivial in addressing the city’s budget problems.
The petition cites $50,000 as the potential annual property tax revenue. That’s half the estimate contained in a city report on the property six years ago.