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.
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.
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.
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.
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.