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Aldermen on Evanston’s Human Services Committee have voted to give the Evanston Art Center until the end of May to vacate the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion.

Officials of the center, which has started renovations on a building it has purchased at 1717 Central St. to house its operations, say they need the extra time, beyond their Jan. 31 scheduled departure date, to finish the renovations and avoid disrupting scheduled classes.

A rendering of the new art center building at 1717 Central St.

The committee also backed a plan to provide trash and recycling containers to help with the move along with a $5,000 grant to help cover the center’s moving costs.

But the aldermen failed to agree on whether to waive nearly $50,000 in city permit fees required for the renovation project.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, suggested that a complete fee waiver could set an expensive precedent, with other non-profits about to embark on expensive construction projects in town.

The planned new Youth Organization Umbrella building in the 1900 block of Church Street was one project on the mind of committee members.

The city also earns substantial revenue each year from permit fees for building projects at Northwestern University.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the last big not-for-profit project, other than at the university, was the renovation of the Dawes mansion by the Evanston History Center. “And I believe there were no fee waivers there,” Bobkiewicz said.

But Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said the requested fee waivers would amount to a fairly modest amount of economic development assistance, compared to what has been done for commercial projects.

“This is a way from getting away from being the bank,” Tendam said. “It makes a lot of sense — a very positive precedent as opposed to just handouts of money.”

Art Center Executive Director Norah Dietrich says the group is spending $1.8 million on the renovation work.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, suggested that the art center situation was different from other requests the city might receive “because they’re leaving, with our encouragement, a city-owned building, but staying in town.”

The committee voted to postpone action on the fee waiver until its next meeting, Jan. 5, while authorizing Bobkiewicz to allow the permits to be issued in the meantime pending resolution of the payment issue.

The lease extension and other committee-approved assistance will be up for approval by the full City Council at next Monday’s meeting.

Related stories

Arts group seeks extra months at mansion (11/12/14)

Art center buys new home (11/5/14)

Will Rauner want the mansion (11/27/14)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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15 Comments

  1. I don’t understand..
    I don’t understand why the art center decided to buy and renovate a larger building for $2.5M, when they could have paid $5M to renovate a building they were only renting…

    1. Conveniently “not understanding”

      The contract gave the EAC decades of use at $1 per year. But it also required maintenance to be paid for by the EAC. 

      The rest of us "understand."  The EAC got all of the benefits of the contract but the EAC is now strolling away while it ignores its obligations to the Evanston taxpayers.  Cheats.  But I can see that the EAC supporters endorse this cheating.

  2. Something stinks

    Excuse me but didn't the Arts Center, paying a $1 a year lease, neglect to upgrade the Harley Clarke mansion for decades?

    And the City Council wants to grant the Arts Center a whopping $50,000 waiver fee?

    Why is it that the Arts Center can still operate in the Harley Clarke mansion when the city claims it needs all of these upgrades? Is it safe to go inside? Something doesn't smell right.

    1. Why WOULD the Arts Center Contribute Now?
      AnonAl – why would the Arts Center be interested in contributing now? They have been permitted to act irresponsibly for years and now they want to continue the free ride for several additional months. What business in Evanston doesn’t try to get a few tax-dollars for themselves when our local government makes it simple to do so? The only surprise here is that we all complacently sit in our comfy chairs and complain from afar instead of storming the Civic Center when such repulsive requests are put before our city council. When any group wants something (recent examples include the library, art center, and opposition to Pritzker deal), they always drum up support for their view and have their supporters show up in large numbers to speak at council meetings. The other side rarely comes out enforce so our aldermen have no reason to believe anyone in their ward is even paying attention or cares….thus the giveaways continue.

  3. Ugh

    Ugh, again. This group the EAC has totally railroaded our City Council, and the City of Evanston for that matter (taxpayers). This is just a bad group ethically. I will never support the EAC. Many of you will say they contribute so much to the City in terms of culture, classes, etc. Well that is great on an EMOTIONAL level; how Liberals tend to justify everything. But in the real world, the EAC has used and abused the City and skirted any accountability for the disrepair for the mansion. In the real world, if this were a business, there would be a lawsuit. But it is business as usual here in Evanston. If you are a non profit – do what you want. For profit – good luck. Norah Dietrich – shame on you. City Council – shame on you.

    1. Same here

      After EAC's behavior during the lease, the last few fiasco-filled months and their greedy requests for more, more, more from the already overburdened taxpayers here, I have zero respect for the EAC.

      The EAC can afford that big, fancy new building because the City Council is, for the most part, made of mindless ninnies. The EAC apparently paid virtually nothing while it occupied the mansion and allowed it to crumble, despite the EAC's obligations under the lease  

      Here is the message from our Council members on this committee to EAC:

      After decades of paying less rent annually to occupy a mansion than it costs those common folk to park their cars for two hours in downtown Evanston, you want to leave that city-owned building in shambles whenever you feel like and abandon your contractual responsibilities to maintain it?  Absolutely, no problem.  And we will supply city services while you stay as long as you like and maybe even give you more money.  

      Yikes. What's that line — Thank you, sir, may I have another?

       

  4. Arts center lease extension

    I do not understand the comments here about why EAC did not renovate a building they did not own. Why would they do that? This is an arts organization that lives like many do, on very limited budgets. Yet they are vilified here as if they were looting the city to enrich themselves. There are many towns in Chicagoland that have nothing but strip malls and office buildings and expressways, move there if all you want are low taxes and minimal if no culture.

    1. To clarify why EAC should have maintained building…

      Evanston Now reported on this topic back on September 19, 2013.  Specifically, the article stated, "The center has a $1 a year lease with the city on the roughly 16,000 square foot building which calls for the arts group to maintain the interior while the city handles exterior maintenance."  (Source:  http://evanstonnow.com/story/entertainment/lee-v-gaines/2013-09-19/58641/art-center-may-want-to-stay-in-mansion). 

      The issue is the art center did not maintain the interior and quotes of required repairs have been all over the board from as low as $500K to as high as several million dollars.  The art center's blatant disregard of required maintenance was an irresponsible act that is resulting in the tax-payer potentially having to foot a large bill at a time when there are absolutely no available resources to do so.  Why our city government allowed this behavior to exist for the large swath of time it has is a good question and one they have not addressed.

    2. Belora,

      Belora,

      Let's see, how can I make you understand. They only paid 1 dollar a year on their lease. In return, they were required (ha ha) to maintain the interior of the mansion. The EAC decided that they would not honor their lease. I do not know much money it would cost the EAC to honor the lease but It will cost a lot moore because of the many years of neglect. That means that the EAC has been the worst kind of tenant you can possiblly have. Leave the rental unit in shambles and flee to another location.

      The city council is not off the hook. They looked the other way and enabled the EAC to get away with robbing Evanston taxpayers. Now, the council, as a punishment for being a bad tenant for many years, Is going to spend about 75 thousand dollar to help the EAC out with their moving costs. This is what happens when you are friends of the mayor and certain city council members.

      Now Delora, do you get the way this city works for special people.

      1. Before they move, allowed to lease or get extension

        EAC should perform at their expense or deferred maintenance not only bringing up to code but in sellable conditon at full market value a property of its type should sell for.

        Until that is done and all debts are paid, they should not be allowed to rent/lease/buy another property.

         

    3. Deserve to be vilified

      Too bad an EAC supporter makes an argument that is not supported by EAC's own lease — EAC had the contractual obligation to maintain the interior.  When you agree to do something and sign a document that says that you will keep your word, that should mean something.  But not to EAC.

      The Evanston taxpayers will need to pay the bill for the interior maintenance that EAC refused to complete.  Now the greedy EAC figures that it is so easy to pick the taxpayers' pockets, they are piggishly at the trough again.

      There are organizations in the Evanston arts community that behave honorably and don't play the overburdened Evanston taxpayers for fools.  EAC is not one of those organizations. 

      Again, EAC has shown its true colors.  As a result, I have no respect for the organization.  EAC is a disgrace and a poor representative of our arts community.

  5. EAC lease extension

    I don't need to be lectured.  I get it. Many cities give arts organizations $1 a year leases to work out of buildings who no one has the resources to maintain, refurbish or renovate.  No viable business entities would ever inhabit these buildings and pay market rent because they would expect a decent, to code space for market rent.  As the city was in no position to underwrite these renovations then or now, this idea that any struggling 501(c) 3 could fund these expensive renovations just shows us what all you naysayers don't get.  I ask again, who do you propose pay to get this building to code and who then do you deem appropriate to occupy it?  I only see negative complaints here but no realistic alternatives.  Just the same people insulting the city on every article here…so boring.  Say something positive and productive.

    1. Realistic Alternative for Lakefront Mansion

      Belora – in my earlier response it was not my intention to lecture and I do not believe I did so since it was only a clarification of why EAC was expected to maintain the building interior it occupied for numerous decades…. (Over 40 years I believe?)  That being said, there was a very relevant use for the space in the form of Jennifer Pritzker's hotel conversion that many Evanstonians thought a lovely idea.  The problem arose when none of us showed up at council to support the Pritzker plan because the only voices heard were those shouting it down.  At this point, what is likely to happen is we will have no group willing to take on the mansion and it will end up a pile of rubble which will eventually be converted into parkland.  This is a great use for the people who are not cash-strapped in this city, but for those that are, the revenue that would have been generated by that hotel would have been excellent in helping to minimize the constant swell of resident taxes and fees.  One thing that residents on the wealthier side of town might want to consider is the only thing between them and what they really fear is a relatively narrow band of middle-class folks who are slowly being forced out of Evanston.  Some of my friends have already departed, selling their homes at a loss.  The did so because of the ongoing tax increases, water rate increases, garbage fees and heightened feeling of crime caused by several shootings in the last year+….   No one has a positive and productive idea for what to do with the mansion because most people feel any ideas will be shot down by what are viewed as our Evanston Elite (also termed NIMBYs regularly on this site by other posters), much like the Pritzker effort.  I only wish I'd shown up with friends to the council meeting in support of Pritzker's hotel.  What a glorious way to relax — sitting on a veranda, sipping a beverage and listening to the musical song of Lake Michigan waves.

      1. Lease Extension EAC

        Muneaux, We're on the same page here. I thought the Pritzker hotel was the way to go for sure.

    2. Positive Statements

      Belora,

      I am positive that that the EAC ignored their obligations in the lease they signed. I am also positive that the city of Evanston and Evanston taxpayers should NOT fund any part of their move to their new home.

      I am positive that the EAC, who seems to have no problem raising 2 million dollars in an short time, should start to pay the city back for all the years of not fulfilling the lease. It would be a productive in any chase they have to restore their good name.

      Lastly, I am positive that our mayors and city council members over the last 30 – 40 years were the enablers of the EAC's lack of ethics.

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