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Mansion’s future is back on council’s agenda

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Evanston aldermen Monday are scheduled to again try to figure out what to do with the city-owned Harley Clarke mansion on the lakefront.

Last October the City Council voted to table a decision on spending any money on the building until the state’s budget issues had been resolved.

The state now has a stop-gap six-month budget, which has led Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, to request a renewed debate about the mansion — but the longer-range prospects for cuts in state aid to the city appear at least as grim as they did last year.

In the meantime, Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens, a non-profit group that has advanced plans for an estimated $4.5 million renovation of the building, has fallen far short of its fundraising goals — raising $3,691 in cash as of this evening toward a $10,000 GoFundMe campaign goal in over two months, and only $25,000 in unenforceable pledges during a two-month campaign last year.

More than five years ago the city started looking for new uses for the mansion. It ended up receiving just one proposal to redeveloping it — from Jennifer Pritzker, who sought to expand the building and turn it into a boutique hotel. The City Council rejected that plan out-of-hand on a 6-3 vote after some residents protested the idea of any commercial development of the property.

The controversy did lead the mansion’s long-time $1-a-year tenant, the Evanston Art Center, to launch a fundraising drive of its own, which ultimately enabled it to move to larger, better quarters on Central Street.

The city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department currently spends $11.8 million a year, while bringing in revenue of just $5.8 million.

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