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.

Related story

Pritzker, 3 others interested in city-owned mansion

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Selling the lakefront mansion would be a mistake

    What is it with aldermen not showing up for these important meetings?

    Two weeks ago Alderman Melissa Wynne failed to show up for a public meeting, forcing the mayor to break a tie vote and give a $35,000 GRANT to a business, Now We're Cookin.

    I sure hope our City Council does not sell the lakefront Harley-Clarke mansion. It would be a huge mistake. Pound the pavement and find someone willing to accept a long-term lease. 

    This meeting with only 3 of 5 of Evanston's Human Services Committee attending was disappointing because even though there is skepticism to sell, there is still a willingless to do so. I think aldermen should have made it clear that there is no room to negotiate a sale. It seems they are leaving the door open.

    If the city had to sell, the best time would be when the real estate market is expanding. It's not good to sell in a declining market.

    When will our City Council wise up and layoff employees or adopt a pay freeze for city employees, lower the tax rate, and privatize city services? The biggest budget item is labor. Yet, the city is still handing out annual pay raises, despite the fact that we have a serious pension crisis.

    Time for change.

  2. More bad economic advice from Al

    "the city had to sell, the best time would be when the real estate market is expanding. It's not good to sell in a declining market."

    Al, if the market is 'declining', that means that prices are going DOWN…therefore, we should sell NOW – immediately – since prices are going to be LOWER in the future.

    If the market is 'expanding', and prices are going up , it would make more sense to hold off.

    And Al, what makes you think that the City (or private investors) are so good at timing the market? Do you want the City to be in the business of speculating on land values?

    1. Real estate is cyclical

      It's not bad advice.

      Real estate is cyclical. Eventually, it will become a seller's market again.

      When it does that will be the optimium time to sell. Economics 101. 

      In any case, lakefront property is always desireable and you can't go wrong owning on water because of it's limited availability .

      Evanston should never sell the lakefront mansion.

      1. Real estate is cyclical, says Al?

        "Real estate is cyclical."

        So says Anonymous Al, who has been warning us of the permanent decline of Evanston and all of Illinois for the last 4 years.  Who says real estate is cyclical?    If you really believe that, Al, I suggest that you purchase some property in Youngstown, Ohio or Flint, Michigan.  It is quite inexpensive now…but when the market returns to the top of the cycle, as it always does, you will be swimming in money.

        "When it does that will be the optimium time to sell. Economics 101."

        Again, you are asking the City to time the market.  If they are so good at market timing, they should be investing the pension funds in stocks….just buy low, sell high…it's that simple…Economics 101.

        "In any case, lakefront property is always desireable and you can't go wrong owning on water because of it's limited availability ." how is Detroit doing? Toledo?  Erie, Pa?   Buffalo?  

        "Evanston should never sell the lakefront mansion."

        So…now we see your real agenda.   Forget the talk of cyclical markets and the optimum time to sell.  You are now saying that the optimum time to sell is NEVER.

        Al, you are acting like the typical anti-development NIMBYs, always coming up with some excuse to prevent development:  

          "We're not opposed to development…oh, no…we just don't like THIS PROPOSAL….we want something better…more parking, less density, more trees, more flowers, let's take our time and think about this….yes, let's wait until the market stabilizes…"

  3. The city should not own property like this

    The city should not own property like this because it simply cannot afford to maintain such a delicate property.  Old buildings especially take a lot of work and money.  Mostly money!  Even the cash rich Northwestern University devested itself of the Dawes mansion.  Maintenance of such a building pulls valuable resources from other important maintainance items.  The Noyes Cultural Arts Center building is badly in need of a new roof.  Clearly, the City just doesn't maintain anything as it should be.  Look how long it took the City to re-roof the Civic Center building.  It was a disgrace and an embarrassment.  Clearly, we own too many buildings.  The resources of the City are already stretched to the point where we are not maintaining the things we must, like our roads for example, which continue to be in poor shape in many parts of the City. 

    I support the idea to sell this builidng and the underlying property. 

  4. Sale of Lake Front Park land is not in the public intersest

    I am not against selling off public property.   But the issue here is more about the city of Evanston mismanagement.  The issue is not about lack of funds.  

    The city sells off assets all the time, from used vehicles to other property.  It recently sold a lot to a private individual, ofcourse while I don't disapproved of selling the asset,was the sale by  bid?  It has appear to me in the past some of these sales look less than in the public interest and more to benefit a friend of public officials. One public officials once told me a buyer of a non-bid property was a bigger support of the democratic parrty.

    The sale of this asset goes back for a long time, council members allowing the $1 rent.for years and no real increase.  The fact they know the building has issues and not being able to address them. Also one idiot council member told me there are millions of dollars in problems with the building we don't have the money, I would like to see the report, ofcourse they would be willing to give it out which Wally claimed to have recently prepared.

    For those who keep on claiming this building is in such disrepair, tell me what house in Evanston is built like this building, with its stone facade and tile roof?  The facade needs repairs but they are not that expensive in relation to the value to the building.

    Wally simplely wants to get rid of this assets since he does want to maintain it,


  5. Asset management and good stewardship

    There is a huge arbitrage currently between the real estate ownership market and the rental market. The rental market rates relative to property values are historically high. Cash flow from distress real estate rentals are providing return of principal to buyers in five years or less. We wouldn't expect or need that necessarily in this case but that's simply the type of market we are in today. Smart money (large family foundations, elite universities, patient money) doesn't sell during these market conditions. 

    Municipalities frequently do make the poor decision to give away valuable assets during these types of conditions due to populous fear and lack of knowledge.  The not so benign causes of these poor decisions are that elected representatives of the cities effectively sell out to the powerful (sell the Peoples assets cheaply to the powerful in hopes of reaping some personal favor). That favor can come in many forms.  Only through the diligence of the People is such conduct halted.    

    Its okay to determine the market value but we should commit to securing the most favorable lease possible even if that means making an investment of capital to improve the property, and make it more attractive to potential leasers, moderate or long-term. 


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