A committee reviewing options for the city-owned Harley Clarke mansion tried to agree on the merits of three radically different future uses for the property Wednesday night while also listening to residents advance a bunch of other proposals.

Up for committee review were ideas to:

  • Sell the property to a governmental agency for use primarily as office space — a concept typified by the currently dead proposal from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to turn it into a home for the department’s Coastal Management Program.
  • Sell the property to a private developer who would renovate and expand the mansion building for use as a boutique hotel — a concept typified by the proposal from Jennifer Pritzker that Evanston aldermen rejected nearly two years ago.
  • Sell the property to a private developer who would redevelop it by renovating the mansion and building some number of new single-family homes on the the property’s expansive yard facing Sheridan Road — a concept typified by the redevelopment of the Dryden mansion, the former District 65 administration building at Dempster Street and Ridge Avenue.

All the plans the committee is considering involve continued public ownership of and access to the beach at the eastern edge of the property.

After well over an hour of discussion, it appeared that the conclusions reached could be summed up as shown in this chart:

Trouble reading the chart? Here’s a larger version in .pdf format.

Government offices

In the discussion, sale to a government entity came in for criticism from some committee members as likely to end up being mostly “bureaucratic office space” that wouldn’t provide meaningful access to the community.

A key to the viability of any plan along those lines will be whether Gov. Rauner — who’s called for deep state spending cuts — is interested in pursuing it. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that’s a question that will come up when city officials meet with the governor April 14 during the planned Evanston Day in Springfield.

Alderman Ann Rainey and Preservation Commissioner Garry Shumaker.

Boutique hotel

Although they were on opposite sides of the vote to reject the Pritzker proposal in 2013, the two aldermen on the committee, Jane Grover, 7th Ward, and Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, saw potential benefits to a boutique hotel in the discussion Wednesday night.

Grover, who had voted to kill the plan, said it would add amenities to the lakefront site — including a restaurant. Rainey said it would make the area more fun while assuring preservation of the landmark mansion.

Linda Damashek, one of the organizers of community opposition to the Pritzker proposal, said it would lead to loud parties and drinking on the mansion’s terrace. But Garry Shumaker, of the city’s Preservation Commission, said many residents who emailed the committee with suggestions had voiced support for the idea of a restaurant on the property.

Residential redevelopment

While committee members agreed that the boutique hotel proposal would generate the most sources of ongoing revenue for the city, they concluded that property tax revenue from residential redevelopment would at least be better than government offices on the revenue front.

While Damashek insisted there was no need for more single-family housing in the area, Grover said that the success of the redevelopment of the Kendall College property nearby for single-family homes at least demonstrated that there is a demand for it.

Grover mentioned in passing the idea that affordable housing might be included in a redevelopment, but Rainey said, “that’s a joke,” adding later that the redevelopment would most likely only serve “a couple of very wealthy families.”

Or, you could …

During public comment, while several residents offered ideas for plans they thought would let the city retain ownership of the building while leasing it to a non-profit entity or operating it itself, none of them appeared to have a pot of money in hand for the project, nor did most have any control over the entity they imagined would take it over.

Lori Keenan suggested Highfield Hall on Cape Cod as a model.

Suggestions ranged from making the mansion a new home for the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, which already owns its own building on Central Street, to creating a museum in the space featuring the works of Chicago street photographer Vivian Maier, or turning into an event space, like McLoone’s Boathouse in West Orange, N.J., or Highfield Hall in Falmouth, Mass.

What’s next?

The committee voted to hold its next meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 15, and discuss the merits of:

  • Creating what some members referred to as a “conservation district” — potentially a new taxing body to run the property.
  • Finding an existing, or newly-formed, not-for-profit organization to lease or purchase the space.

The advisory committee has been given a June deadline for reporting back to the City Council with recommendations of the best options for the future of the Harley Clarke property.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Pritzker!

    Let's try to simplify the problem of the mansion. I would suggest the following:

    1. We want something that will not cost the city (or any other governmental body) anything

    2. We would like something that maintains the parkland / beach access and maybe the mansion.

    3. Compromise!

    I suggest (maybe speaking for the silent majority) that we approach Col. Pritzker, with hat in hand, and see if she is still interested. I remember reviewing the website she pepared about her plans and it looked good to fulfill the above objectves. She also has demonstrated that she can produce a quality property (the first B&B) that opened near the lakefront (is the second one ready yet?).

    The city can insure that the basic objectives are met through zoning changes, and, dare I say it?, NEGOTIATIONS., without hopefully throwing too many restrictions and afterthoughts at the project.

    There will always be people who are unhappy that their particular idea or thought isn't completely satisfied. However, one should take the broader view of what is good for the WHOLE city.

    1. You are right, but you’re wrong

      You are right as to the most realistic and workable answer to the future use of the mansion.  You are wrong to think that the home owners who live in Evanston's "money belt" will allow a commercial establishment in Northeast Evanston.  This is where they live and  they will not take the "broader view" of what is good for the "whole" of Evanston.  These people were the ones who opposed the Pritzker's offer and their money and influence cannot be overcome.  But you are still correct in your posting!

  2. Has anyone come forward regarding..
    .. A non -profit holistic training center, integrated in its surroundings as the future of health & Healing?…… Perhaps an existing or additional collaboration with Northwestern who attracts international practitioners for study?

    What better site for mix of old/new, reflective, inner harmony, inspiration and positive energy accessible to residents, teachers, students?

    And yes, serve many of our youth in their search of what this center could provide directly or indirectly?

    What better construct/location to dicsover new approaches aligned with Evanston’s challenges?

    Hasn’t Evanston been awarded participation in very selective, prestigious National studies, e.g., one headed by Christina Ferraro?

    Isn’t Evanston ‘s diversity a unifying, recognized treasure? Its challenges reflective of our evolving nation as well?

    This “center” could be a mutual legacy between our community & others with gifted vision? A Bill & Marina Gates? Bill Clinton? President Obama? Richard Branson? ??

    As a long time resident, I truly understand Evanston’s need to seek opportunities for revenue generation & control.

    I do deeply believe the best use of Evanston’s special assets deserve to be far-ranging & practical (e.g. Burnham; Mackie’s “Conscious Capitalism “).

    Building on Evanston’s “good will” nation-wide will generate real revenue ultimately. Returns CAN exceed “revenue”, especially now, with social media.

    Thank you for you undertaking so formidable a project that could benefit so many!

    p.s. Has Evanston courted any “suitors” (philanthropic donors) through avenues online?

  3. unfair insinuation.
    The comments made by Linda Damashek illustrate the type of hurdles faced in making an intelligent decision for Harley Clarke. Her stating that a small boutique hotel with a restauant will lead to loud parties and drinking on the patio is biased and unfounded. To me, there seems to be an insinuation that this would be nothing more than a frat house keg party pounding until sunrise. That’s unfair and a disservice to the larger community.

    The same grave concerns were made over the Pritzker renovation of her B & B, which were also completely unjustified.

  4. heres a thought
    Convert Harley Clarke and the Old recycling center into Library’s Then find a developer to purchase the current main Library into a Mini Mall.

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