With Evanston aldermen slated to take another look Monday at what to do with the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion, a new group has emerged to suggest the best solution is to tear it down.

Nicole Kustok of Evanston Lighthouse Dunes, says the only proposal the city has received to restore the building, from the Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens group, appears to be financially unrealistic.

Kustok, a 7th Ward resident, says it would be far less expensive and carry much less risk for the city to demolish the mansion and restore the dunes and garden that surround it.

What the same scene looked like in a 2011 image from Google Maps.

She uses as an example of a dunes-restoration project the Elmwood Dunes Preserve in Wilmette, an 80-foot wide strip of village-owned lakefront land at the foot of Elmwood Avenue that was turned into a nature preserve two years ago largely through volunteer efforts.

But Tom Hodgman, president of the Lakehouse group, says he’s confident his group’s response to the city’s request for proposals for reusing the mansion will get a favorable reception from aldermen Monday.

The group so far has just over $100,000 in pledges to fund what’s estimated to be a $5 million restoration of the mansion, but he says once the group has a commitment from the city to move forward, he’s confident the needed funds can be raised.

The group is asking for a 40-year lease of the mansion from the city, but Hodgman says he anticipates any final agreement will include fundraising benchmarks the group will have to achieve.

The Lakehouse plan calls for holding programs on the property that would focus on experiential environmental education and history.

The Lakehouse group’s plan relies largely on revenue from hosting private events to fund its operation, and Kustok calls that a “soft privatization” of the city-owned property.

She argues that fundraising for the mansion could divert charitable donations from other, higher-priority projects in the community, and that the planned programs could compete with ones already run at the city’s Ecology Center.

She also suggests that costs for the restoration would could easily exceed current estimates, based on the costs for similar projects around the country.

But she concedes that the idea of tearing down the local landmark is likely to be anathama to preservationists in town.

The city has been trying do decide what to do with the mansion for several years, after deciding it lacked the funds to restore the building itself.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Yes. Let’s tear it down.

    Then we can charge for seasonal admission just like at the beach. We can have special tags so that we can still have added charges for beach access. I’m surprised someone hasn’t already thought of this.

    We might just as well tear it down since so many other references to national and now local history are being razed. Maybe then, we can eliminate “historic” neighborhoods and homes that have been listed as “landmark” buildings. That way we can have an opening to condemn and then tear down anything of historic significance and build even more high rises. But it surely will stop once this begins to encroach on the university campus. Because they contribute so greatly to the financial well being of the town.

    1. Hi Lateblum

      Hi Lateblum

      You seem to have a lot to say about development and preservation in Evanston, which is awesome!

      I only got a little confused while I was reading your second paragraph in which you seemed to insinuate that local (Evanston?) landmarks are being demolished to make way for high rise developments. Off the top of my head, the sites of the most recent developments have been: A parking lot, a vacant research park office building/ a vacant lot, and another parking lot. I can’t think of any project, built or proposed that would tear down a building on any type of local or national landmark registry. I could totally be missing a development, but either way I’m still confused as to what you are referring to with that line.

      And while I’d like to end this question here, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by your first two lines too. You suggested (maybe sarcastically?) that Evanston could/should charge a seasonal admission fee to this hypothetical park and dune area, like the city currently does with its 5 swimming beaches. You event went on to say that special “tags” should be devised so that visitors would have to pay the beach fee too should they want to go there. If this idea seems weird to readers, resident and non resident alike, it should. Charging for a park and charging for a seasonal beach are two different animals.

      To make my bias clear: I think beach admission makes sense but park admission does not. Here’s why: 5 beaches require constant and costly maintenance. The type of beaches we have in Evanston are not natural features at all, they are breakwall beaches that were formed way way back when Northshore communities began erecting breakwalls and rockwalls to try and catch sand to form beaches. In the 21st century these beaches are maintained in a very crude and expensive way: sand is shipped from sand pits in northern Illinois (at least that’s where Evanston sources) and dumped on our beaches if they have eroded too much. On a daily basis they are sand raked in the morning using an expensive machine which is driven by a human being who needs to get paid and eat. On top of basic maintenance there is safety: like it or not, open water swimming of any type is an inherently dangerous activity. While Evanston is home to a good amount of competent swimmers, it is also home to a large communtiy of adults and children who have never swam and have no swimming training. As a local government, Evanston has the responsibility to keep the waterfront safe at its peak time of usage and danger: the summer season in the daytime hours of 10-7. This means employing a lifeguard staff to do that and they are expensive.

      Adding all that up, Evanston’s 5 beaches is pretty inherently expensive. That all has to be paid for somehow, so like any government service there are two options: taxation or use fee. While taxation seems like the obvious choice (this is how Chicago runs their beaches with no admission) consider the costs I just outlined and Evanston’s barely 75,000 population. That is not a pretty tax and if you are a cash strapped Evanston taxpayer who hates and never uses the beach, that’s a pretty ridiculous tax burden. So Evanston instead charges an ala carte fee for beach admission or allows you to buy a season pass, and given that the beaches are still there, I assume its working.

      The point of that long tangent was none of that goes into maintaining a green space, so again I’m confused on what rationale went into the first two lines of your comment.

      Well that actually leaves 0 lines of your comment that I’m not confused by. I guess at this point I just would like to know what your whole comment meant?

      1. Soaring sand prices

        I’ll also add that sand prices continue to soar. Those lobbyists from Big Sand have politicians in their back pocket. Europeans don’t pay hardly anything for their sand! 

    2.  Blame

      Blame it on the University.  How original.  I’m not going to present any evidence to support my case, since the cognitive dissonance just means you’ll reply with some more nonsense.

  2. RFP Process

    The City of Evanston provided a RFP which was open to any and all proposals.  Why didn’t “Evanston Lighthouse Dunes” submit this grand plan of eliminating a local landmark?  We have a process, for good or bad, in Evanston which “Evanston Lighthouse & Gardens” has followed.  It is time for the City Council to consider what has been submitted and move forward.

    1. RFP process

      Hi Rez,

      The RFP specified the city was looking for proposals to renovate the mansion.

      Tearing it down doesn’t quite fit within that concept, eh?

      But the aldermen are free to consider other options now that they’ve seen what the RFP has turned up — or to negotiate with the one respondent to the RFP.

      — Bill

          1. No surprise
            Bill said “Only not-for-profits were invited to submit proposals.”
            On the one hand I’m not surprised since the Council does not seem to understand what ‘profit’, ‘business’ or ‘useful’ means.
            On the other hand of course they will only want non-profit ‘businesses’—I’m just surprised they did not ask a theater group to bid.

  3. Don’t waste this opportunity to do good

    May I suggest the following:  1.) Sell the building to Ms. Prtizker for her original plan (if she is still interested) for $1.00.  2.) Turn it into a homeless shelter so that we can take care of our less fortunate as our Maker would want.  3.)  Have our fellow Northshore suburbs contribute enough money (since their land is so expensive) to allow them to show their compassion for poor single mothers with children to give them a chance to live a better life in a nice Northshore suburb.  

    I blush with pride knowing how much my fellow Evanstonians will accept one of these proposals!

  4. Affordable housing for everyone on the lake

    What did our City Council and mayor expect when it only accepted RFPs from non-profits? That decision was asinine, myopic, unrealistic or perhaps intentional. For profit businesses have the money and expertise to use the building as a restaurant on the lake. 

    There is so much potential for this mansion but talk of tearing it down is also asinine and myopic.

    I know what would perk the ears of this tax hungry anti-business liberal council – donate it to anyone of the numerous affordable housing non profits and turn the two buildings into affordable housing for the poor. If the organized neighborhood groups keep opposing the mansion to be used as a for profit  business then let’s use it for affordable housing. 

    I’d love to live on the lake and everyone has the right to live on the lake. Right liberals?  Let’s get to it! 

  5. Saving Harley Clarke

    I feel the Evanston Lighthouse Dunes proposal needs more light shed on it. TRANSPARENCY PLEASE. Offering money to “deconstruct” (nice euphemism ) the mansion doesn’t include the additional funds for the landscaping and “could easily exceed current estimates” to borrow their phrase.

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