The Coastal Management Program of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is interested in leasing Evanston’s lakefront Harley Clarke mansion.

The city’s Human Services Committee is scheduled tonight to discuss the concept of having the IDNR take over the space as well as get an update from the Evanston Art Center on its efforts to work out an agreement with the city to remain at the mansion.

The director of the coastal program, Diane Tecic, in a letter to City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, says the mansion site is “ideally suited” for the program.

She says the IDNR would use the building for office space and offer a public meeting space and a coastal science classroom for area schools.

She says the project would maintain public beach and lake access and could offer kayak rentals and lakefront tours as well as hands-on workshops and training on natural resource issues.

Bobkiewicz says that if aldermen are interested in considering the state proposal, the agency would like to sponsor “a weekend community planning charrette on how the community best thinks this all might work.”

The Coastal Management Program  is funded in part through federal grants to states that have adopted programs to manage their shoreline resources. The agency says about $2 million in federal funds is available annually to the state for local coastal projects.

Meanwhile the art center says in a letter to the Human Services Committee that it’s “committeed to resolving any safety concerns” about conditions at the mansion “in a manner that will be mutually beneficial to the City and the Evanston Art Center.”

It’s asking for additional time, until January, to “complete its due diligence efforts” on determining what work needs to be done at the mansion.

Aldermen have been trying for years to decide what to do with the mansion, which has substantial deferred maintenance issues from its decades-long $1-a-year lease to art center.

Art Center officials in July said they wanted to move out of the manson, but reversed course last month and said they want to stay after failing to find new quarters elsewhere they could afford.

That left open the question of whether the center is willing to pay rent sufficient to cover maintenance costs at the mansion — or rent similar to what other arts groups pay at the city’s Noyes Cultural Arts Center.

In response to a city request for proposals for new uses for the property, Col. Jennifer Pritzker presented a plan to fully renovate the mansion and expand it into a boutique hotel. But aldermen, responding to complaints from neighbors, rejected that proposal before even fully discussing it.

When city staff then presented a list of immediate repairs the property needed, aldermen indicated they didn’t want to spend the money — at least until a plan for the future of the property had been agreed upon.

Last weekend, on a tour of city facilities, the aldermen learned that the mansion is only one of many city recreation facilities that are expected to need millions in fix-up expenditures over the next few years.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Thanks, Harley Clarke Neighbors {sarcasm intended}

    So instead of the gold standard of private sector credit and reliability – the Pritzker proposal that was rejected after being directly invited to submit – Evanston is now facing the prospect of transacting with the cellar dweller of state credits, Illinois.

    Instead of a light stream of patrons to a pleasant guest house there will be all day traffic associated with a state office; no realty taxes, insignifcant new retail sales tax and zero hotel tax.

    And neighbors, that smell of french fries – that's because the intern at the IDNR converted his rusty old car to run on used cooking grease!

    This is all going to do wonders for your home values and quality of life, but at least you won't have a member one the most respected families in the state operating that dreaded five star guest house. 

  2. Let’s wait and see
    Let’s wait and see what the IDNR comes up with. Given the community desire to keep this space public, this could be an ideal solution. The Coastal Management Program would get a mission-perfect location, but they’d need to come up with more than the current $1 per year to pay for upkeep on the mansion. If they can swing that, we get to keep the mansion, it remains a public space, and we add some public amenities. Traffic to the CMP can be estimated, and may prove to be about the same as the Art Center’s traffic.

  3. You can’t make this upp

    Now wny would any town want a 5 star hotel when they can have a state agency instead?

    Evanston deserves this one.  I hope they sign a 20 year lease at $2/year and its brilliant liberal citizens will think they've done the "right" thing and sleep better for it.  Meanwhile I'm with the first poster:  The loud-mouthed insipid neighbors are going to get what they deserve.  A failing building occupied by a state agency. Terriffic, forward thinking! LOL

    Or, maybe our heroic alderman can go back to Pritzker – tails tucked between their legs – and figure out a way to lure him back.

  4. Open for all

    If the IDNR can come up with the funds needed to renovate the building and adapt it for their uses, this is a great compromise that will keep this public building open to the public, keep the beach and surrounding grounds open to the public, and further their worthy mission of educating the public about the Great Lakes coastal region and the watershed in general.

    If the building had become a private, 5-star hotel, how many citizens of Evanston and Illinois would ever be able to afford to set foot in it again? I am all for keeping the lakefront open to the public in as many ways as possible.

    It is too bad that private owners were able to buy lakefront property in Evanston long ago, making stretches of the lakefront inaccessible, and making it impossible to connect up the lakefront bike/walking trails in Evanston and Chicago. We do not want to go backwards in this regard. Here's to hoping the CMP and IDNR can make it work!

    1. Nobody will use it

      If the hotel were built the beach and park would have also remained open to the public.

      Biggest difference is that thousands upon thousands of local citizens every year would have used the hotel facility for many myriad reasons. Everything from lunch on the lake to weekend getaways, to weddings, to non for profit fundraisers, the list can go on and on.

      If the IDNR goes in, nobody will use the facility. Maybe occasionally force some school kids out of classrooms and into a bus to justify IDNR's existence. The idea that the community will be rushing over is unrealistic, it's a dead end use.  

      Much less value to the general citizenry than if it went into private hands.

      1. You do understand

        You do understand that the Pritzker plans included builing a large annex for the hotel rooms and parking garage where the current park and playground are now, don't you? The mansion itself is not nearly large enough for a boutique hotel. 

        1. Pritzker Plan (EN May 9, 2013)

          Pritzker Plan from Evanston Now article May 9,2013:

          "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."

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