Evanston aldermen agreed Monday to have the mayor appoint a special committee to suggest solutions for what to do with the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion.
As proposed by Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, the group would include aldermen, Preservation Commission members and other citizens. The aldermen gave the panel a deadline to come up with recommendations before the Evanston Art Center moves out of the building June 1.
During public comment at the council meeting several people urged that a way be found to preserve the mansion. Some of those speakers also urged that it remain publicly owned.
Linda Damashek, of 1318 Judson St., an activist with the Evanston Parks and Lakefront Alliance, said the group had investigated four publicly-owned mansion properties in the region. She said all four — the Berger Park Cultural Center in Chicago, the Cheney Mansion in Oak Park, the Dole Mansion in Crystal Lake and The Grove in Glenview — are what she called “break-even” operations.
Mary Rosinski, of 1729 Chancellor St., suggested the main mansion building — minus the conservatory — could be moved down Sheridan Road to a city-owned lot adjacent to the water plant.
And Carl Bova, 1322 Roasalee St., said that if the city took a step-by-step approach to improvements to the mansion –as it’s done with the Civic Center — it could afford the rehab cost. Bova also proposed combining the two independent park districts in the city and spinning off the city’s parks department to form a new independent park district that could be headquartered in the mansion.
But Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said it’s a waste of time to have a committee “come up with fanciful ideas” about what to do. The panel, she said, needed to come up solutions on how to make any proposed new use self-supporting, because the city can’t afford to subsidize it.
And the math on an event space — like the Cheney Mansion — just doesn’t work out, Burrus added.
On the other hand, Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said the group should be able to explore whatever is out there. “If they come back with a terrible idea, we can reject it,” Wilson said.