The Harley Clarke mansion on the Evanston lakefront.

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.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Groundhog Day in Evanston.
    I’d like to know how much money has been spent on essential repairs, heating and electricity during this “more than a decade” search for a tenant. Add in any consultant and legal fees along with staff time devoted to Harley Clarke.
    The city and climate action could benefit from knocking down the mansion and giving people a better view of the lakefront.

  2. How about let’s knock it down and be done. Unless some new lessor is fully funded for all needed repairs. Cash in the bank. Otherwise, stop the madness.

    1. Like Northwestern… which is referenced in the article. Cash in the bank vs the risk associated with financing this exclusively with private fundraising. Seems like a no-brainer.

  3. I still think gifting it to Connections for the Homeless for them to operate their low barrier, housing first homeless shelter is a fantastic idea. Just think of the views!

    How about that in your backyard lakefront residents?

  4. City leadership, past and present, have proven themselves completely unable to manage this asset, which has somehow become a liability for the City. The time has long passed to simply sell the property without restrictions (beyond general zoning controls) and apply the proceeds to a more beneficial use, such as funding police and fire pensions. Our incompetence in this matter is shocking and embarrassing.

  5. It’s simple. We need to either knock it down, or allow a commercial use to afford its repair and upkeep. I for one would love somewhere in Evanston I could enjoy a coffee, lunch or cocktail overlooking our beautiful lake, all year round.

  6. Why don’t we just sell it to Northwestern and let them turn it into a casino? If we asked real nice I bet they may even be willing to give the City a cut of the parking.

  7. Where, pray tell, are all the tree-huggers and do-gooders who fought the sale to Col. Pritzker and mounted the “No Sale of Park Land” campaign? Seems they’ve got alligator arms when it comes to writing big checks needed to renovate the mansion. Please save me from more weeping and gnashing of teeth no matter what ultimately happens to this property, preferably sale for commerical use or demolition.

  8. It’s simple, the house is well beyond totaled. Knock it over and restore the natural lakefront. This should be a dream come true for a town of environmentalists.

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