A seven-member committee appointed by the mayor to advise the City Council about possible new uses for Evanston’s lakefront Harley Clarke mansion got organized at its initial meeting Thursday evening.

Committee members appeared ready to consider a wide array of options for the property and started to define a set of criteria they’d use in evaluating different uses.

Chaired by Steve Hagerty, owner of Evanston-based Hagerty Consulting, the committee also includes long-time Parks and Recreation Board member Amina DiMarco, architect and former Preservation Commission chair Garry Shumaker, Evanston Parks and Lakefront Alliance activist Linda Damashek and Dawn Davis-Zeinemann, who told fellow committee members she lives “just down the road” from the mansion and it was one of the first places she visited when she and her husband moved to Evanston nine years ago.

Committee members Dawn Davis-Zeinemann, Amina DiMarco and Linda Damashek.

Also on the committee are two aldermen — Jane Grover, whose 7th Ward includes the mansion site, and Ann Rainey, 8th Ward.

The City Council hopes to get recommendations back from the committee by the time the mansion’s current tenant, the Evanston Arts Center, vacates the building at the end of May.

Committee members agreed to meet every two or three weeks, to try to limit the duration of their sessions to 90 minutes to two hours and to provide for public comment during each meeting — as well as to hold one or two workshop-type meetings to get additional feedback from residents.

Some of the criteria committee members suggested for evaluating different options included whether the option would:

  • Allow the land around the mansion to remain publicly owned.
  • Allow the mansion building to remain publicly owned.
  • Be self-funding or require taxpayer subsidy.
  • Expand the tax base.
  • Provide one-time or recurring revenue.

The committee also agreed to conside the enviornmental impact of potential uses as well as impacts on traffic and neighborhood density, whether the solution would preserve the mansion building and the gardens around it, whether it would require additional parking and the impact on view corridors from the lake and from Sheridan Road.

Alderman Grover suggested taking a long-term view and consider whether proposed new uses would reflect future community needs and whether a proposed use would be an amenity that would serve the largest number of Evanston residents.

Committee member Garry Shumaker with Community Development Director Mark Muenzer.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz recounted for the group the history of the city’s efforts since mid-2011 to find a new use for the mansion which he said had suffered from a lack of maintenance by the city and the art center. Both were “contractuallyh obligated to keep up the building,” Bobkiewicz said, “but neither side really lived up to the agreement.”

After issuing a request for proposals the city received only one firm proposal — from Col. Jennifer Pritzker to expand the building and turn it into a boutique hotel — a proposal the City Council rejected.

The city then spent about a year negotiating with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources over a plan to turn the mansion into a home for the IDNR’s Coastal Management Program — but those talks fell apart after the Gov. Pat Quinn was defeated in last November’s election.

Background information and documents about the mansion are available on the city website, and the city has set up an email address for person to use who wish to share ideas with the committee. That address is:

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. The Vivian Maier Museum at the Harley Clarke Mansion

    Vivian Maier's legacy is up in the air at Cook County Probate Court and the Harley Clarke Mansion is up in the air over Evanston's budget.  Miss Maier's legacy of 150,000 plus images has surprising value that was only unveiled after her death.  People should put that value to work both culturally and financially by giving it a permanent cutural home on Lake Michigan's shore — where Viv took so many stunning beach photos — and letting her public invest in her images.  With a cash endowment raised by individual investments in each of those 150,000 images, the Vivian Maier Museum could maintain public access at that permanent cultural home at the very least, and could likely do much, much more in terms of public outreach programs and facilities for Vivian's large and growing population of admirers.  Here's hoping the Vivian Maier Museum and the Harley Clarke Mansion land together in Evanston.

    1. Dance on her Grave
      Vivian Maier was a sensational photographer and, as portrayed in two documentaries, an extremely private and somewhat difficult personality. So the debate arises whether such a “museum” would honor–or exploit–her memory. My guess is that she’d be greatly annoyed, and God love her for that reaction.

      1. Homoring Vivian’s Legacy
        Your guess doesn’t explain why she didn’t dispose of her legacy herself, billyjoe. She did want to be remembered by those she thought worthy, and did consider some people worthy. They will pass through the doors too.

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