With several new or renewed expressions of interest from various groups in leasing the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion, Evanston alders Monday night decided to pull back from immediately leasing the mansion’s grounds.
After the Artists Book House group announced last month that it is withdrawing from efforts to renovate the mansion, the Council’s Administration and Public Works Committee directed the city’s legal staff to write a 40-year lease that would turn over the grounds to the Jens Jensen Gardens in Evanston organization.
But the committee neglected to specify what conditions should be included in the lease.
When Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings raised questions at Monday’s City Council meeting about what provisions for public access and other considerations the council members might want to include, he initially got pushback from some A&PW members about why he hadn’t just followed their direction and prepared a lease — based on a draft submitted by the Jens Jensen group.
But it gradually became apparent in the discussion that making too broad a set of concessions to the gardens group could crimp the city’s ability to successfully lease the mansion itself.
Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said the city now has received expressions of interest in the mansion from four different groups. Three were unsuccessful bidders for the property in an earlier city request for proposals process, and there’s also a new proposal, she said, for a center for climate action that is envisioned as a partnership between the city and Northwestern University.
Revelle said the council should have a discussion about the full property, and not just move forward with the Jens Jensen proposal.
Ald. Clare Kelly (1st), who had pushed for action on the Jens Jensen proposal at the A&PW meeting, claimed the process dictated by the committee was being thwarted.
But Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said that while he wanted to include the Jens Jensen group if possible, he’d “rather try to sell a whole pizza” than one that “already has a slice taken out of it.”
Since the Harley Clarke issue was presented as a discussion item, no formal action was taken Monday, but it appeared from the discussion that the city is likely to move toward beginning a new request for proposals process for the mansion and its grounds.
The city has been trying for more than a decade now to find a successful new use for the vacant city-owned mansion at 2603 Sheridan Road.