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Sell the lakefront money pit?

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Evanston aldermen will need to decide soon whether to sell the dilapidated Harley Clarke mansion on the lakefront.

Unfortunately the public does not yet have enough information about the plan from the would-be purchaser, Col. James N. Pritzker, to make an informed decision about the merits of his proposal to restore and expand the mansion and turn it into a boutique hotel.

Pritzker’s team has shown an attractive rendering of what the exterior facade of the expanded building facing Sheridan Road might look like.

But there’s been no serious public discussion of what the hotel and restaurant would likely generate in new tax revenue for the city. One can imagine scenarios in which the project could generate a half-million in hotel, sales, liquor and property tax revenue to the city annually. But we need some realistic projections to judge the project.

And details about how much of the land would be sold off, and how public access to the beach would be maintained — and hopefully enhanced — remain quite vague.

The city has allowed an unsustainable $1-a-year lease arrangement with the mansion’s current tenant, the Evanston Art Center, to continue for decades. Under that deal the city fails to maintain the exterior while the art center largely fails to maintain the interior.

Pritzker, a billionaire, has the resources, and a track record of doing high-quality renovations of other landmark buildings, that makes his proposal worth serious consideration.

He would certainly achieve the preservation goals for the property described in the city’s Lakefront Plan.

But the Pritzker proposal — with its 200-car underground parking garage — also exposes the fantasy inherent in the Lakefront Plan. It somehow envisions wonderful things happening around Lighthouse Beach that will draw more people — but only people who live within walking distance — “since there was no public support for expanding the parking.”

That fantasy may sound swell to people who live along the lakefront. But maintaining it requires an unsustainable subsidy from the rest of the city’s residents.

Related stories

Mayor: No money to fix mansion

Pritzker makes low-ball offer for mansion site

Thoughts on a lakefront boutique hotel

Related document

Lakefront Master Plan 2008

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