The board chair of the not-for-profit Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens still has hopes of reaching an agreement with the city to rehabilitate and manage the beleaguered Harley Clarke mansion, adjacent to the Grosse Pointe Lighthouse on the city’s lakefront.

The representative, Patrick Donnelly, pressed the organization’s case at the regular weekly meeting today of the Rotary Club of Evanston Lighthouse.

He said the group plans to attend the city’s open house, scheduled for Aug. 3, for groups and individuals interested in the long-range use of the facility.

As it stands now, the group has secured federal status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, which means that entities can claim a federal tax deduction on contributions made to it.

Unless the Aug. 3 walk-through presents an unexpected surprise, he said, the group estimates it would take about $4.5 million to rehab the building and begin operating in a financially sustainable manner.

Using as its model the Highfield Hall & Gardens in Falmouth, Mass., the group figures it can operate on a better-than-breakeven basis by operating a café in the mansion’s coach house and rent out portions of the main house for special events, such as conferences and weddings.

While parking is limited to about 75 spaces that fills quickly during the beachgoing season, Donnelly said that valet parking could be employed to make the operation feasible, while during the off-season, the present parking available should suffice.

A year ago, the group attempted to solicit contributions, but only raised about $25,000 after two months of trying.

But Donnelly said he feels the $4 million goal would be doable, once it reaches an agreement with the city and launches an extensive campaign. Once in operation, he said his board envisions annual operating revenues of $400,000 to $500,000.

The group’s vision incorporates historic preservation of the house and gardens, an environmental education and recreational facility, event and meeting spaces, a seasonal and cultural venue, and a coach house café and patio.

Among the assets of the building, Donnelly said, are a 3,000-square-foot basement, a first floor of 5,000 square feet, a second floor of 3,500 square feet, which could function as a library and meeting space, and a 2,500-square-foot ballroom on the third floor.

The upshot, in Donnelly’s view, is that the building and parkland would not be privatized, nor would the facility continue to be a financial burden on the city. Instead, Harley Clarke would be a viable entity providing jobs and revenue to the city, with the adjacent Jens Jensen gardens restored and enhanced.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. Wishful thinking or sensible plan?

    Sounds like many hopes and dreams for Harley Clarke. Is it backed up by realistic analysis? Early in article, says needs $4.5 mm to restore the mansion. But a little later, says "feels the $4mm goal would be doable." ($500,000 difference is 10% difference, not an insignificant amount) Interesting to see the board "envisions" annual operating revenues of $400,000 to 500,000. Nice to know but what are their assumptions? And also, to generate revenues, there must be some expenses? what are those? Is there a viable and financially sustainable business plan? if so, please post it to this site, so more people can understand the pros and cons of this plan. This could be a sensible plan or it could be a white elephant. Let's get more details and facts and assumptions into the hands of the public.

  2. Hiring ‘Fundraisers’

    Not mentioned in this news story, but in the brochure Donnelly's group passed out at the Evanston July 4 parade: the plan to raise $150,000 to hire fund raising professional(s) to raise the $4.5 million for rehabilitation. This does not ring realistic. Someone also speculated that Donnelly is using this issue to jump start a career in politics. 

  3. ReHab Estimate

    The group estimates cost of Rehab to be $4.5 million. Did a professional give them this estimate in writing?  They are using Highfield Hall & Gardens as a model. Cost of rehab to Highfield was $8.5 Million.  They estimate having operating revenue of $500,000. They only planing monthly espenses of $42,000?

  4. Why Not Col. Pritzker?

    If their plan is for an event space, etc., why not re-engage Col. Pritzker.  She certainly has the resources to make a go of this, and she has a real track record of preservation in Evanston

  5. Would the Council take so long if it was their personal property
    Say a Council or City Manager [or resident in favor of keeping the mansion] owned a property in as bad a shape as the mansion and someone [developers, private individuals wanting to make something useful such as B&B] at well above what any estimate says it is worth.. Would hold out so long and keep incurring cost, let alone cash in hand ?
    Yet the Council seems more than willing to dream that this ‘Money Pit’ can ever be sold for the purposes they dream of. They don’t mind holding out when it is taxpayer money. Would they do so if it was there own money ? Very doubtful.
    If they won’t get rid of it, let those who say they know how to make it “useful” or profitable pool their own money and buy it [putting it back on the tax rolls]. Then see how fast these “supporters” disappear into the wood work until their next big causes [and they always find more] appears.

  6. You could get familiar with

    You could get familiar with Glessner House on Prairie Avene in Chicago and learn what they've been doing for years to support a mansion from 1887.

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