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Pritzker makes low-ball offer for mansion site

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Evanston aldermen discussed in three closed-door sessions in recent months a proposal from Col. James N. Pritzker to buy the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion and 2.5 acres of land around it for $1.2 million.

That’s less than half the value assigned the property in an appraisal last year.

Release of the minutes of the executive session meetings was sought by the Evanston RoundTable, which also learned that audio recordings of two of the meetings, which are legally required to be retained for 18 months, had instead been destroyed because of an error by city staff.

The Pritzker plan calls for retaining the mansion at 2603 Sheridan Road and building additions to create a 57-room boutique hotel and underground parking on the site. The city would retain ownership of the Lake Michigan beach to the east of the mansion.

The $1.2 million proposal was mentioned in minutes of the first meeting, in December. The minutes of more recent meetings suggest Pritzker was open to raising his offer for the property.

The minutes, as summarized by the RoundTable, don’t provide details of what revenue benefits the city might derive from returning the property to the tax rolls or from hotel, sales and liquor tax revenue that might be generated by the project.

They do indicate substantial skepticism among aldermen about various aspects of the plan.

After leasing the mansion for decades to the Evanston Arts Center for $1 a year, the city has found itself without funds to do expensive deferred maintenance on the building.

That led to public discussion of the possibility of leasing or selling the mansion building itself or the mansion plus land around it to a private entity.

The city issued a request for proposals, which drew several inquiries, but Pritzker submitted the only formal proposal by the late-November deadline.

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