Upgrades to Evanston’s lakefront Harley Clarke mansion to prepare it for use by a state agency are expected to cost nearly $5 million.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz included the cost figure in a memo to aldermen that’s to be discussed at tonight’s Human Services Committee meeting.

Bobkiewicz says the first phase of the work would build out the second floor for offices for the coastal management program of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and make fire and life safety improvements throughout the building.

The second phase would include replacing windows and improving the building’s masonry, plumbing, heating and cooling systems and roof.

Work on the building would begin once the Evanston Art Center vacates the building at the end of January, and IDNR officials hope to have the construction work completed and begin to occupy the offices space by sometime next spring or summer.

Bobkiewicz’s memo doesn’t address who would pay for the work, but at a public meeting in January IDNR Chief of Staff Todd Main said the agency had federal and state grant funding that should be able to cover the renovation costs.

Under the plan, the first floor of the building would be used as educational and classroom space.

Bobkiewicz says the city’s discussion with the IDNR have “focused only on the mansion itself and the neighboring coach house building.”

He says the city and the Lighthouse Park District would retain ownership of the parking lot, beach lighthouse, and surrounding park land, all of which would remain open to the public.

After the city concluded it couldn’t afford to continue to rent the property to the art center for $1 a year as it had for four decades, the city sought proposals to sell or lease the mansion to private developers.

But the city then rejected the only firm proposal it received, from Col. J.N. Pritzker, who wanted to turn the mansion into a boutique hotel

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Why not use existing vacant space ?

    1007 Church has space.   So does the large building at Emerson and Oak.  I'm sure building owners can point out a number of other buildings that have space and perhaps lots of space.

    Instead the Council and apparently a group of community members who believe any building more than five years old is a historic treasure that must be maintained at any [taxpayer] cost.

    I don't know what the vacany rate at the Emerson/Oak building is but maybe it is large enough to accomidate all of City Hall [and get rid of that monstrocy and money pit]. If not large enough, get out the procrustian bed for staffing and agencies.


  2. Typical NIMBY Repercussion

    Great work people … Not only did you keep this chunk of land off the tax roles, but now $5 million in tax dollars will be used to make it an office building! 

    1. The Pritzker deal continues

      The Pritzker deal continues to look better and better with each passing day. We have a broke city looking to a broke state who, in turn, is looking to the broke federal government to pay for the interior of the mansion to be safe and modern. This is not exactly how the "save the mansion" people envisioned the outcome.

      Maybe it is not too late for the mayor to beg Col. Pritzker to reconsider. The next best choice would be to tear it down and save Illinois taxpayers a ton of money.

      1. City Needs to Ask itself

        City Council needs to ask itself  if creating a Lake Front Office Bulding out of this Property for a State Agency the best use for it?

      2. raise the $5 million

        The mansion can be fixed…we just need $5 million.  Surely the local NIMBYs who came to the Council meeting to oppose Pritzker's project are willing to contribute their "Fair Share" , as they say. 

        Alderman Fiske will no doubt contribute a few thousand, as everyone who voted for her…and Mayor Tisdahl, who supported Fiske's re-election, can surely come up with at least 50k.  This is a small price to pay to preserve the charm and uniqueness of Evanston.

        1. Charity Fund for “Historic Buildings” and other

          The best solution is for those who want to preserve old buildings, fund wine bars, one theater after another, etc. is to start a fund(s) from contributors [no taxpayer money and no tax deduction] to fund all of these projects—in TOTAL.

          No more city funding and no taking money from the state or federal government and treating it like "free money"—officials need to take a course in economics and realize this money is out of the pockets of taxpayers who have no interest in the Councils and holdovers from the 18th Century, projects.

          Let the Council actually get back to taking care of the real problems that face the city—crime, high taxes, loss of business, loss of shopping, etc..

  3. As a careful renovator of old

    As a careful renovator of old buildings… one has to question $5 Million…  So my first question is how many sq/ft is the building?  Then divide $5MM by that number and one should arrive at a cost per-sq-ft.

    Just a quick calculation and @ 10,000 suuare feet = $500 sq/ft.  That is CRAZY money per sq/ft!  If the City can't keep costs, under $200 sq/ft…  I'd be glad to be hired to manage this process.

    YIKES!  Respectfully, Brian G. Becharas

    1. Number is correct
      Brian – the $5 million is correct – the building is about 18,000 sq ft. The Art center estimate they prepared was about $4 million by their consultant , also Twani document stated about $5 million if they were going to renovate just the original building and not add on.
      It is in the $200 sq ft range.

  4. $5 million and likely higher

    Anyone who has done a large scale remodeling project on an old building has likely experienced 2 issues – Project delays and cost overruns. Also, add in annual upkeep on an old building.

    Seems like a white elephant to me.

    Lastly, we're relying on the kind benevolence and pocket book of a broke tenant, the State of Illinois?



  5. Change

    I hope Evanston residents will remember this issue, among many others (EAC $1 rent, new theatre seats for deadbeat tenant, killing Pritzker deal, bike liscenses, whatever) when election time around.

    Funny, one party rule… State of IL a mess.  One party in power… Our Country is a mess. Same party here in Evanston?  Yup.  Working real well.  Time for REAL change.


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