About 50 people turned out Thursday evening for a third session for fans of Evanston’s Harley Clarke mansion to hear presentations from leaders of two groups preserving old houses in other cities.

Siobhan Cottone is executive director of the Lakeside Legacy Foundation, which owns and operates the Dole Lakeside Arts Park in Crystal Lake.

She said 16 years ago a group of backers raised over $1 million in 40 days to buy the 12-acre Dole mansion property, which had been owned by a local church that planned to sell it to a builder who, she said, planned to build highrises on the site.

The Dole mansion and grounds in an image from Google Maps.

The foundation, which in 2017 had total revenue of $667,797, now rents space in the mansion to artists for studios — with about 80 percent of those spaces occupied, Cottone said. The group also takes a commission on works the artists sell.

And it uses art galleries on the site as event rental spaces and hosts music performances.

An image of the Lakeside Arts Festival from the group’s website.

Cottone, who has a staff of six, says the group’s biggest revenue-generator is a four-day music festival over the Fourth of July weekend that brings over 50,000 people to the McHenry County community of just over 40,000 residents. There’s also a major Christmas gala fundraiser.

The group’s 2017 IRS 990 report shows about $257,000 in contributions, $208,000 in rental income and program fees, $161,000 net income from fundraisers, and $24,000 net income from sales of goods. The group reported net operating loss of just under $5,000 that year and net assets of $1.7 million.

“If you all stay together, you will make this dream come true,” Cottone told residents in the Parasol Room at the Civic Center.

Debra Kuntzi.

Debra Kuntzi spoke over a video connection from Rock Island, Illinois, where she heads the Friends of the Hauberg Civic Center Foundation.

The Hauberg Civic Center.

The Hauberg property has been owned by the City of Rock Island since the middle of the last century. In 2016, Kuntzi said, the city proposed selling it as surpus for $200,000, though, she said, its actually worth $2 million.

“We fought city hall,” Kuntzi said, and persuaded the city to hang onto the property and to sign an operating agreement in May 2017 with the foundation to run it.

Initially, “they didn’t trust us,” Kuntzi said, “but they soon learned that we were the right people to take care of it.”

“We have a very supportive City Council and mayor now,” Kuntzi said, and the city still pays utility costs for the building as well as mowing the lawn and providing maintenance services.

The foundation reported nearly $71,000 in revenue and $59,000 in expense in 2017, and Kuntzi says revenue increased to $140,000 last year.

Rock Island, with 39,000 people, is part of the Quad Cities metro area on the Illinois-Iowa border with a metro population of about 384,000.

Kuntzi said the foundation is planning 27 events this year including murder mystery performances and “Spirits and Bites” a session hosted by a group interested in the paranormal.

She said the foundation has an 11-member board and an additional 20 people on a professional advisory board, including electricians, plumbers and architects.

Kuntzi encouraged the Harley Clarke fans to “always be respectful” in dealing with city officials.

She said she’d noticed just before her presentation started a member of the group “making a snide remark” about the city’s computer equipment.

“Don’t do it,” she said. “They will never take you seriously if you’re constantly arguing.”

“They own the building and you’ve just got to work with them,” she added.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss language for a new request for proposals document for the Harley Clarke mansion at its April 15 meeting.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. How to make Harley Clarke successful

    Great management and great administration are as important as great ideas.

    1. …And a lot of money

      Indeed strong leadership that can bring in “great management and great administration” are necessary but not sufficient. You also need a lot of money. 

      I support ANY and ALL ideas for Harley Clarke that meet, at a minimum, these 3 criteria:

      1. the idea is financially self sustaining

      2. the group who leads this effort raises a sum of money that will bring the current building up to code, and up to the standards defined by the architect. (given the age of Harley Clarke building and the fact that it’s been vacant for several years, and the Evanston Arts Center woefully underinvested in the building, there’s a lot of work to be done. AND THIS RESTORATION WORK IS VERY EXPENSIVE) How much should the group commit to invest? I don’t know, and i won’t hazard a guess, but be prepared.

      3. ZERO, NADA, NO city of Evanston financing for the capital or operating budget is allowed.

      (from an equity perspective, this building isn’t conveniently located where a majority of Evanstonians have easy access. Users of Harley Clarke will most likely be wealthier people who live north of Davis Street and east of Ridge in addition to residents of NW Evanston)

      If there’s a group with a viable idea and are willing to commit the time, energy and money for this project, I say, “Go for it” and “good luck.”

      But after a defined timeframe, if the group isn’t meeting their defined benchmarks, then the building should come down and let’s expand the park.

      Harley Clarke has sucked up a lot of City Council and other people’s bandwidth.

      Let’s move forward.

      1. excellent plus….

        Excellent summary of what is needed, plus selling the mansion as a single family home / private party should be considered. Seems there was interest in that.

      2. That’s not enough for Evanston

        Unfortunately, the city council rejected an opportunity which checked all of those boxes when rejected a plan from Jennifer Pritzker to convert Harley Clarke into a boutique hotel.

        It is not clear what else they need.  Could a lease to a private entity which did not allow open public access be acceptable?  If a facility for arist studios is acceptable, then I guess so.  Would a not-for-profit private group generate as much revenue for the city and allow as much public access as a for-profit hotel?  I would hope the city council considers these questions.

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