City staff told members of the Harley Clark Committee Wednesday night that if the mansion building were torn down, the Evanston lakefront property potentially could be redeveloped for as many as nine single family homes while still maintaining public ownership of the beach and parking area.

If the mansion at 2603 Sheridan Road were retained, the property could instead be subdivided into as many as six lots — including the mansion, the coach house and four new single family homes, the staff memo said. All of the lots would meet the city’s minimum lot size requirement of 7,200 square feet under the R-1 zoning that now surrounds the mansion property.

The staff report didn’t attempt to estimate a value for the subdivision, but public records show that North Shore Builders paid $3.25 million to purchase nine similar-sized lots at the former Kendall College site, three blocks southwest of the mansion, two years ago.

They’ve now sold newly constructed homes on several of those lots for between $1.26 million and $1.49 million each. At those prices, a nine-home subdivision could generate as much as $250,000 a year in property tax revenue for local taxing bodies.

The committee briefly discussed the possibility of the city turning over the mansion property to the Lighthouse Park District, whose boundaries run from the lakefront west to the North Shore Channel and from Noyes Street north to Isabella Street.

That district, which has maintaining the Gross Point lighthouse as its primary responsiblity, won voter approval this month by a 7-3 margin to increase its tax levy by about 13 percent, to an average of roughly $125 per household.

But its overall budget is still quite small — about $90,000 a year, committee chair Steve Hagerty said — and it’s unclear whether voters in the district would be willing to take on the cost of maintaining the mansion.

The committee was also told by city staff that a “ballpark estimate” for demolishing he mansion would be perhaps $120,000 — in addition to about $60,000 to prepare the property for demolition.

Restoring the site for use as parkland would be an additional, unspecified cost.

The committee voted to schedule a charette or workshop session for public comment on Monday, May 18, and decided that the available options could be grouped into three clusters for discussion at that meeting:

  • Open space — demolish the building and reclaim the land for park use.
  • Preservation — find a new user to lease the building from the city and maintain it.
  • Sell — find a new owner for the property who would convert it to a new use.

The workshop session would be accompanied by options for residents to provide feedback online.

After that, the committee would reconvene to prepare its final recommendations — which are scheduled for presentation to the City Council on June 8.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Any worse ideas?
    I’m trying to imagine an even worse idea for the Harley Clark property than selling off public land to a developer to stuff the maximum amount of premium housing for the 1%.

    Maybe a casino/brothel/strip mall like Plaza del Lago in the 1920’s?

    1. the Harley Clark property

      I would ask those who think that a developer should put private homes on the Harley Clark property to stop and look at what has become of the old Kendall College property at Lincoln and Orrington.  Do we really want a similar development on our lake front?

    2. worse ideas?

      Good question, John (and hat-tip for great historical reference). I too am challenged by what could be a worse idea. Maybe a gun range? Salt dome? Petcoke storage? Another firehouse? The Tower? Frac sand mine? I assume the idea was floated only to make other concepts more platable by comparison.

      1. Who is “City Staff”?

        Who on the "city staff" is so clueless about Evanstonians and their values that they would suggest selling off Harley Clark or Chandler-Newberger or (provide own example here)?

        1. Because you need to be

          Because you need to be politically correct in Evanston, the city staff would be too scared to speak up. But if you would expand your statement to include all citizens, probably the vast majority of Evanston's people would say "sell it off, rather than invest another dime of taxpayers' money".

        2. No witch hunts, please

          Hi John,

          In an open-minded effort to explore all options, the Harley Clarke Committee asked city staff to figure out how many homes could be fit on the parcel if it were zoned R-1. The staff provided the answers Wednesday night.

          — Bill

  2. Obscene and idiotic

    The land should be retained for public access. All of it. Once it's gone, it's gone for good.

    The thought of selling this potentially magnificent public area for the development of private mini-mansions is obscene and idiotic. 

  3. How about affordable housing?
    How about affordable housing? If it’s affordable enough I might take one.

    1. Evanston has more than your

      Evanston has more than your share of affordable but feel we need more this would be the perfect spot. We would need a shuttle bus to carry people from this site to other parts of Evanston. Maybe the city council could shakedown the developer for this.

    2. Cui Bono ?

      So I guess the Council, who leans heavy to the liberal side, wants to preserve a mansion for elitist groups instead of making it available for business or even affordable housing.  They keep the taxes high so those who they class as in need of affordable housing, then plead for more affordable housing.
      Yet they want developers to be the ones to pay for it instead of keeping elitist groups with subsidized rents and buildings off the tax rolls—let taxpayers and developers pay but the Council sit and proclaim what they want everyone else to do.

      I looked at some of the Evanston apartment ads and saw there were a number of 1B units for rent in nice looking building, for under $1000.  I doubt even these 'affordable' units in building the Council wants the developer to build can be under $1000.

  4. Intrinsic Value of Lake Front Parkland-Healthy Enviornment

    ~~I agree with John Zbesko single family lots would take away a beautiful open space our city needs. The property was purchased to, to expand parkland and lakefront and beach for public enjoyment. Our lakefront property is the most valuable, per square foot real estate we own. The purchase was a great investment by a visionary council in the 1960s that was following a comprehensive plan which included acquiring more lakefront property to enhance the quality of life for residents.  They saw the future economic value. The property, including the beach was about 4+ acres and cost the city $265,000. We could never afford to purchase this property again. We say we value the Burnham Plan for the Lakefront then let preserve the open space.  Think of how awe inspiring it is to go along the Sheridan Road south of Northwestern, the beauty and views of Clark St Beach, then again just south of Main, and then at south Blvd. However, when you reach Rogers Park, development blocks all views until Lakeshore Drive, there is no sense of beauty or serenity on the Rogers Park strip of Sheridan. When you reach Lake Shore Drive, you experience incredible impact of the Burnham Plan which we cherish.  Why would we close off our lakefront? We need more parkland for everyone- our parks and recreation committee have said this for years. We must not to privatize the little bit we have left of our lakefront parkland.  
     It would be wonderful to see leadership from the council, manager or mayor to protect the parkland for the public and make it work. I would like to hear more than the one of two voices speaking for saving the land for the residents. Just because the city did a horrible job of its capital improvement program for this property, and the tenant did not fulfill their responsibility, is no reason to take it away from the residents by privatizing it. Hopefully our elected official will recognize the intrinsic value of the asset. I would hope they make an effort to understand what other communities have done to improve their nature assets. I encourage our elected officials to go over to THE GROVE I speak with the director who has been there almost 30 years. The Grove is a beautiful nature, historical and event place. It was not easy to bring it to where it is today but with community effort it is a regional treasure.
    I believe that there are 1,000s  people in our city have the community spirit to make this a beautiful place, or if the city does not have the political will to help that happen, then deconstruct the mansion, create beautiful parkland, build picnic shelters, invite garden clubs to come and restore the Jens Jensen garden. The idea of privatizing it is wrong for the residents. Our parks have an intrinsic economic value not seen in sales and property taxes. They bring people to our community who are willing to pay those taxes because those parks provide a healthy environment for society.

    1. Time to get serious about the budget, taxes and sacred cows
      You said: “I believe that there are 1,000s people in our city have the community spirit to make this a beautiful place…”
      So for the ‘supposed’ 1000s, the rest of us wind up paying higher taxes to keep a white elephant in business and off the tax rolls ?
      The Council and sadly residents have backed every give away, art project, preservationist cause for years. Now [actually for a long time] the city has lived beyond it means—and can no longer support boondoggles, parks for the 1% [who probably would never go there anyway], theater companies coming out of the you know where.
      The city needs to get back to basics. Sell off the white elephants, cut taxes [that alone would make housing more ‘affordable’ and stop playing around with every idea the liberal elite come up with.

    2. Tear it down and leave it.

      This is a ploy to scare the little people into giving up the land to the Pritzkers. That land needs to remain public or you're going to see a mob with pitch forks take it to the streets. Tear it down and make a park.

    3. REALLY More Parkland?

      I have at least 8 Parks within walking distance of my Residence. On most occasions when I walk or drive by they are vacant. Some of the Parks like some of the properties the City owns are poorly maintained. Perhaps the land should be developed with homes that blend into the area. 

  5. Public access to the

    Public access to the lakefront and parkland:  Go right over to Chiaravelle School on Dempster and notice the neighborhood and public access to the city park just to the north.

  6. Sale of Public Owned Land

    I wonder how many people will chime in when the city tries to sell off the recycling center land to a developer.  How many of you will say, "It's not the same thing" or something along those lines?  Of course, the Recycling Center being situated in southwest Evanston and not on the lakefront will be the reason why those so loudly protesting the Harley Clark potential sale because they are "against the sale of public owned land" will sit by quietly as James Park begins to be whittled down for development.

  7. Location, location, location

    The only true real estate axiom that counts.  Take all that land after the mansion is demolished, turn it into a trailer park and sell trailers to those who can qualify for low income housing.  In about three years watch the value of each trailer skyrocket.  Those that were poor will now be "well off", at least on paper.  Their cash cow comes in when they sell.  Just think of those areas along the Pacific Ocean in California.  Our body of water is just as pretty as theirs!  

  8. It makes no sense to teardown the lakefront mansion

    Come on people, this is a mansion on the lakefront. Why does everyone seem to talk in the sense that this mansion needs to come down either for a park, new houses or put a massive addition on it for a boutique hotel?

    Anyone remember the events of the Charles Dawes mansion? Just as the Evanston History Center's lease was about to expire the Fire Department declared the mansion had numerous building code violations that would cost several million to repair and the history center had to close. At the time Northwestern University had its eyes on the Dawes mansion. Thankfully, Dawes made it clear that the mansion belonged in the public domain. Northwestern backed off and the History Center made repairs at a small cost, nothing near a million dollars

    I keep saying here, if the Harley Clarke Mansion is in such bad shape that it needs to come down WHY is the Arts Center STILL operating there? 

    The best option is to lease it. Go out for another round of bids, the economy is better. See what happens and maybe try and work out some deal that benefits Evanstonians and not a billionnaire with political connections who lowballed for the building and land around it.

    I still can't get over the fact how the city lost the audiotapes of the executive meetings between city officials and Pritzker and how Pritzker donated to the Sixth Ward alderman after the alderman won the election and while Pritzker had two  pending zomning requests with the city.

    1. Open Minds Required

      The committee assigned to make a recommendation on the emotional issue of Harley-​Clarke appears to have approached this terribly difficult issue with collective open minds. It seems that we could support those who took on this thankless job by keeping the same open perspective. Instead of the typical list of "Why any idea that's not mine/ours won't work," perhaps shifting the response to "What would make this idea work? could advance the dialogue in a constructive way. No one has to love an idea to consider that it may have some possibilities.

      Finally, if there are "thousands" of people willing to privately invest in making Harley-Clarke another Grove, this is a very good time for them to come forward.

  9. Public Property – Not for Sale
    Why are we considering selling public land off to private developers?

    This is public property. It’s not for sale. When is enough enough? I think the voting public of Evanston needs to pay very close attention to how our elected officials are managing our public property – so they can vote accordingly at election time. This is public property!

    1. WHAT IF

      If the city buys private property, it makes the property public. What if the city leases it out to a private party (EAC) for 40 years and neither party (EAC or Evanston) bothers to keep it up. What is wrong with the city selling it to a private party to recover 40 years of tax payer's losses?

      You can call the circle of life.

    2. What is good for the goose…?

      You said "Why are we considering selling public land off to private developers?"
      Odd with all the comments about "public property" that cannot/should not be sold off.
      But for years people [and I bet many of these commentators] have wanted NU to sell off their property to private businesses/residents.
      When it is NU "sell", when it is the city "keep it is sacred even if a money loser and seldom used."

  10. Harley Clark Tax District

    Draw up borders for a Harley Clark Tax District. Similiar  to the others in Evanston. The money could be used to Restore the Mansion as well as maintain it. 

    1. Just what we need…

      Another taxing district?  Really? 

      How many on here lobbying to preserve that mansion have been inside it lately?  It's a real shame that the mansion has deterioriated to the point it has.  Thank you EAC.  Best of luck in your new home.  Hope you do better with that one than you did with this one. 

      1. Yup Another Taxing District

        So many have been wanting to create a special park . Another taxing District to create and maintain the park would be good.  

      2. What assurances on new EAC property on Central

        Have they put up a bond to ensure they will not let the new building deteriorate like they let the Mansion ? I don't know what funding the Council actually gave them [including moving, rehab, necessary upgrades], but do we have assurances that they will pay it back to taxpayers PROMPTLY ? Given their record, can we be sure they will not cause any disruption to the Central area ? Of course they claim all those thousands(?) of visitors but I suspect the actual numbers are MUCH lower. Since the Council is so gung-ho on EAC, do we know how many times they actually visited the Mansion or how many [different] people in total visited the Mansion ? I don't know what fees they charge, but if they are as popular as they claim, maybe they could double them and turn them–or at least a taxable–amount back to the taxpayers. I find it odd that they want all these 'arts' venues, but ignore what NU is already offering but have so little in programs in social science, humanities or science—I guess they expect NU to provide all of those.

        1. EAC on Central

          The city agreed to spend up to $30K to help the art center move.

          A copy of the City Council resolution on that can be found here.

          There was no provision for recapturing the money.

          You may be confused because of the previous proposal that the city loan the art center $500K to help facilitate the purchase of the 1717 Central St. building. But that request was withdrawn. Story on thst here.

          Generally speaking private property owners are not required to put up a bond to assure that they will not let the building they are purchasing deteriorate.

          And "gung-ho" is hardly how I would describe the sentiment of aldermen toward the EAC. More like a post-divorce "happy to be able to move on with their lives."

          — Bill

  11. Mansion site could hold nine homes

    It would really be a shame if the city of Evanston elected to tear down the Harkey Clarke mansion. This property along with the lighthouse adds to the character of Evanston and the Sheridan Rd. lakefront. Nothing could be built that would be pleasing to the eye. Yes it is true that the interior of this house needs a lot of work but fixing up this property or selling it to someone who would make good use of it is a way better option than a tear down. Complaining neighbors was the only reason that the Pritzer plan was turned down. I think it was a good plan. At least the exterior would stay the same. The property that once was Kendal College property has zero character to it and ads no value to Evanston as a community. If you view the area full of ugly and cheap high-rise condos at the end of Sheridan Rd leading to Lake Shore Drive and remember back to the middle 60's that was a strip of beautiful 1920's brick homes that had character. Now it is called the valley and an eye sore. Is this what you want Evanston to look like? I am for saving the property at all costs and why not have a bed and breakfast?

    1. Character or No Character

      40 years ago downtown Evanston had character but that classic northshore look has disappeared. If you didn't know better, you might think you were in Chicago.

      From a distance HC mansion looks great but the closer you look, you will see that it needs a lot of work. The outside is the is the part the city was to maintain.

      The inside is the part the EAC was to maintain but did little or nothing. It is hard to believe that the city is not suing them.

      1. Is that not standard
        Yes the city should sue to get the repairs made and bring it up to standard.
        But the city lets the arts groups [others] run up bill, open new facilities [e.g. new EAC on Central] and use taxpayer money but if they fail or don’t do necessary work or meet promises, let them off the hook. “Heads they win, tails we [taxpayers] loose.”

        1. A lot of people do not

          A lot of people do not understand how our city government can let the EAC off the hook. The EAC has spent nearly 40 years of screwing Evanston taxpayers. They always said they didn't have the money to maintain the mansion but in less than 6 months they raise about 2 million dollars to buy a new headquarters and make its needed modifications. What a bunch of liars.

          The city coucil briefly makes it known that EAC never approached living up to their lease then turns around and offers to spend about 15k to help them move. After that they discussed how to help them off the hook for about 50k in inspection fees for their new building.

          What the hell is going on with the city council. Maybe Ann Rainey would like to explain, even though the city council might feel that it is above doing so.

  12. What about that new idea?

    Tearing down the property is moronic – sorry but that needs to be said and needs little explanation. 

    Selling the property or any idea of creating revenue would do nothing for you or any other citizen of evanston – the city will squander the money before its deposited – you will never benefit on any level. 

    I've heard discussion of a cultural center rich in events and public use – with a cafe – is this true?  That sounds interesting.  I've heard they have funding ideas?





    1. If the city borrows or raises

      If the city borrows or raises taxes to get the millions they need to fix the mansion and then started to fix the mansion, they would be squandering our money,

      Only 2 acceptable answers. sell it or tear it down. If  they tear it down, they should sue EAC for double the cost plus court costs.

    2. Good idea, how to make it happen?

      Funny how people want the building preserved and a place of public use "rich in events" like a cafe, wedding banquets, historic showcase, etc etc.  Yet not one single viable idea of how to fund it. Those bake sale fundraisers, that's not going to work, and schemes for increasing taxes is not an acceptable suggestion.  

      If the final goal is to preserve & rehabilitate the mansion, turn it into a place "rich in events", then why the objection to private investment? Contract stipulations with clawback clauses can guarantee the property be used for specific purpose and no other, now and forever.

      I find this objection to private dollars creating public benefit odd and not well thought out.  So long as the citizens get a beautifully rehabbed facility offering the public uses so often expressed as desired, private ownership of a previously privately owned parcel is something I don't find so objectionable. All I see as relevant is what delivers the best and most public use at the least public cost.

      And the statement that citizens would receive no "revenue" benefits from such a sale & ongoing operation, well thats simply untrue.

  13. Turn the Mansion into a Public Country Club

    Turn Harley Clark into a Public Country Club: A beach resort (on the Southern portion) with beach chairs and tables and umbrellas for rent and a beach-side cafe, a mansion with ball rooms for weddings and bar mitzvahs and fundraiser benefits, rooms for meetings & classes, a nice club-style restaurant, a hotel suite, etc.

    This way we can keep the Harley-Clark building public, serve our community, and make it revenue producing at the same time.

    Several years ago the City of Evanston launched Evanston150 project and solicited suggestions from the community to come up with 10 Big Ideas. A very popular theme had to do with Water/Beach recreation. The project would create jobs, provide residents with amenities they've been asking for, and preserve the mansion.

    The design could keep the setting natural, (like Wilmette's Gilson beach which is full of dunes and prairie grass, too.) and the northern half of Lighthouse beach could be kept as is for those who want a more quiet retreat.

    Perhaps another addition could be to add a small water playground in the huge front yard which would also serve the community, create jobs, and eliminate the need for the Skokie reciprocity (which, in my personal opinion, benefits Skokie more than our Evanston youth due to the non-easily accessible pool locations)

    The possibilities are endless. We have a beautiful lakefront (with 6? beaches). We have a beautiful structure we don't want to let go of. We have a Big Idea for water recreation to implement. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity.

    1. Survey Done ?

      Has there been a count of how many people visit the Mansion or Park/Beach per year ?

      And where they are from ?  I've lived in north Evanston for 27 years and Evanston since 1974 and only went to the Mansion once—for an art exhibit that was very sad and disappointing.  As for the beach never, and twice riding through the park to see what is was like–the last time because there had been a story about a fire. When I go to a lake side beach, it is Clark.

      It would not surprise me given the location of the Central park and little it offers esp compared to the ones from NU south, that only people within three blocks visit the Clark park/beach—the 1% people rail against.

    2. Show us the $$$$ & the plan ?
      While we can hope and dream for a “Public Country Club” can you help us understand where you are going to get the money and what is your business plan? Your idea is intriguing but while you mention the revenues and jobs it would produce, you forgot to mention how much money is required to restore the building into a condition where people would want to host events, you don’t discuss who and how this building will be managed (costs money and requires management expertise) and you don’t mention that expenses will be incurred.

      A major question to consider, “Is this proposal financially viable and sustainable?” or will this plan become a white elephant and require Evanston taxpayers to spend money each and every year to subsidize this proposal?

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