The group that won the competition last year to lease the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion from the City of Evanston for 40 years now is asking more time to meet the fundraising goals outlined in the agreement.

The Artists Book House group had pledged to raise $2 million by May 2022 toward the renovation project that was then estimated to ultimately cost $6.5 million to $8.5 million.

The Harley Clarke mansion on the Evanston Lakefront.

Now the City Council will be asked Tuesday night to approve a lease amendment that would give them until December of this year to raise $1 million and then stretch out the fundraising an extra year-and-a-half to raise what’s now projected to be a total cost of $8 million to $10 million.

The group says the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have slowed fundraising for the project.

The amended lease agreement also stretches out the schedule for completing renovation work on the building from May 2026 to December 2027.

A rendering from the Artists Book House group showing how the mansion’s conservatory might be converted to a papermaking studio.

Three groups were in competition for the mansion lease. The Artists Book House proposal was chosen by the City Council on a 7-1-1 vote at a meeting on March 8, 2021.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. The decision to lease to an Artists Book House was always an obviously poor one. There was never any real evidence that the group could raise the funds required to work on the improvements the building needs. Given that “The Artists Book House proposal was chosen by the City Council on a 7-1-1 vote at a meeting on March 8, 2021” the idea that Covid is the fundraising barrier seems silly. The proposal was approved during the pandemic, which should have been factored in. The building is falling down and should have been demolished, which there was funding for. The repair estimates of up to $8.5 million are from 2021, so certainly have gone up since that time. I would think any pragmatic person would conclude this project will not get off the ground, while the city continues to help maintain a failing building. In the end, we will be back where we started. The city council needs to get on board with fixing the obvious broken things, rather than searching for things to fix.

  2. None of this is a surprise. Nor will it be a surprise when the STP (same thirty people) come out of the forest to protest if city council ever dares to discuss demolition again. A new green space full of wildflowers, prairie grass and space for outdoor activities? What a terrible idea! Much better to let the crumbling mansion continue to crumble while various groups argue about who can raise 6… oops 8… oops 10 million dollars.

  3. Give them more time, there is no harm in that. The idea that the building is “falling down” is a fallacy. The building has been stabilized and is structurally sound based on all previous reports. These projects take time, and a commitment to restoring and rehabilitating our significant built heritage and maintaining the collective memory associated with those places contributes to the City’s climate resilience and historic preservation goals. Demolition was and is always a decision of easiness and shortsightedness. It’s a waste of so many things including energy, material waste, and a waste of our collective history and social identity.

    1. At what point is the ‘waiting for money’ model an exercise in futility? 10 years? 25? 50? Seems like for those who say it’s ok to wait, they are ok with waiting literally forever. So if we really want to discuss short sightedness, maybe it’s short sighted to continue to hang on?

      1. It’s only been a year and a half since they were given the lease. Thats a far cry from 10, 25, 50 years.

  4. A good question to ask is how much have they raised so far? They should disclose that prior to a vote on an extension.


    Above is the full study of the condition of the building in 2019. At that time, it was suggested that about $500,000 was needed to repair the obvious damage. That does not include any updates to bathrooms, electrical etc. that one might expect in a public building. The roof was observed from a distance but not inspected up close. One would have to conclude that the building has continued to deteriorate and that the cost of rehab has increased over time and due to inflation.
    There are lots of ways to conserve resources. One of our resources is our community resolve. I am so tired.

  6. I love saving historical buildings but it is very expensive to do. It is really too bad the Pritzker plan was not appreciated. The Margarita Inn was our boutique hotel for years. Now it is a homeless shelter. Perhaps it was a bit shortsighted to refuse that offer. Artist groups rarely can find the necessary deep pockets to fund such an ambitious dream.

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