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Hesitant aldermen OK next step on mansion sale

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With just three of its five members present, aldermen on Evanston's Human Services Committee voted Monday to go ahead with seeking proposals for the sale or lease of the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion.

But each expressed doubts about the plan to sell the lakefront landmark.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said she was wary about "divesting ourselves of this historic asset."

But she added, "It will be interesting to see what kind of proposals we get. We need to take the next step."

Grover said the building "needs a lot of work, and I'm not sure the city is the best entity to undertake that work."

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she'd long been reluctant to have the city divest itself of lakefront property.

She said Northwestern University had — at times when it was less financially successful than it is now — taken the course of signing long-term leases on property.

She mentioned the recently terminated 99 year lease the university had with Roycemore School, but could also have cited the arrangements the school established with two theological seminaries that shared the campus.

Leasing, rather than selling, the property, Fiske said, would "give us some assurance that sometime in the future the property may revert back to the city."

"But I do think we just have to hear what the market says back to us," Fiske added, "and we don't know that now."

"Obviously the city has not done a very good maintenance job in the past, especially of maintaining landmarks," Fiske said, "That's not the business we're in."

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said he had reservations about whether the prospective purchasers would be willing to invest money in the property without having some guaranteed access to outdoor facilities and parking.

But Deputy City Manager Joe McRae said the four respondents to the city's initial request for expressions of interest in the property were well aware that the city is proposing to lease or sell only the mansion building itself.

"On the issues of parking and so forth, we're willing to come to the table and discuss those further," McRae said.

"The decision," he added, "lies with the City Council as to what it would consider including" in a final agreement.

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