Officials from the state Department of Natural Resources met with about 60 Evanston residents Wednesday night to describe plans for moving the DNRs Coastal Management Program offices to the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion.

While the residents posed a variety of questions, there was none of the outright hostility that greeted an earlier plan to turn the mansion into a privately-owned boutique hotel.

The mansion is currently home to the Evanston Art Center, which has rented it for decades under a $1 a year lease.

City officials have concluded they can’t afford to make needed improvements to the building unless it can generate more revenue, and the art center has been considering moving to a new location.

Diane Tecic, head of the IDNR’s Coastal Management Program, described benefits the state plan could bring.

Diane Tecic, who runs the two-year-old Coastal Management Program that could be housed at the mansion, said her unit’s job is to encourage conservation and habitat improvement along the lake Michigan shore.

The state “has fabulous coastal resources,” Tecic said, and wants to get people more engaged in efforts to achieve long term sustainability.

In Evanston and Chicago the agency hopes to restore areas at the water’s edge for wildlife habitat and encourage use of green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff as well as improve recreational access to the lake and its shoreline.

She said having the coastal program headquarterd at a promkinent lakefront site would be a great fit, and said the facility could provide an education center opent to the public as well as a coastal science classroom for schools.

Residents listen to the IDNR presentation in the Parasol Room at the Civic Center.

While no details of the proposal have been worked out yet, Main said the agency has looked at the mechanical issues with the mansion “and we are not scared” about the potential cost of improving it.

He said the agency has federal and state funding for its programs that should be able to cover the cost of repairs and rent to the city.

Tecic said about 10 staffers from her office would likely work at the mansion, and if other IDNR units were included, the total number of employees on site might be as high as 20.

She said that on average two to five people now visit the unit’s Chicago office each day.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that under the plans as discussed so far the city would continue to run the beach and that the city has only been discussing leasing the mansion and its coach house to the state agency.

But obviously if they wanted to help maintain the mansions gardens and habitat, Bobkiewicz said, “I don’t think we’d say no.”

Bobkiewicz said that after three years of discussion about what to do with the mansion, the city “is coming to a fork in the road.”

Even if the IDNR moves into the mansion, he added, the city hopes to work closely with the art center in its efforts to find a new home.

He said he plans to seek guidance about how to proceed from the City Council’s Human Services Committee when it holds its next meeting Feb. 3.

Related document

IDNR presentation on Harley Clarke plans

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Sounds like a Solid Plan

    I like this plan because it keeps the city asset a city asset, creates more than $1 in annual income, the renovation and rent is paid for by state and federal dollars, and it will be open to the public while serving the public.  What's not to like?

    1. whats not to like

      City is a very poor landlord. Look at the other properties City owns and the amount of maintenance not DONE. City can't afford to be a LANDLORD.  Property is not on  Property Tax rolls.  City owns to many properties not on Tax Rolls.

         State is very Poor Payer of Bills.

  2. Wanted to attend but had a

    Wanted to attend but had a conflict.

    This sounds like a good start but if this is a GO some other questions must be answered:

    • Who will pay for the required safety repairs that should be required before somebody else can move in?
    • What is a fair rent? We should not even consider any thing like the giveaway that has been going on for decades.
    • Will there be any job openings that could be filled by Evanston residents? We should encourage INDR employees to move to Evanston and buy or lease the many empty homes, condos, and apartments that exist.
    • There should be a penalty clause in any lease that requires that the State makes timely rent payments. If payments are regularly late the interest rate should be flexible and tied to a Fed lending rate. This is a must since Illinois is famous for not paying its bills in a timely manner.

    I think that others, may be able to come up with some other must have requirements in the lease.

  3. Its time for the Council to put a muzzle on Wally
    At last nights meeting, Wally said he had to work out the deal with the IDNR, what I have been continuing to see at the city, is Wally brings forward a proposal document then , he claims he needs the ability to work out the deal. What is missing it appears these documents never come back to council. It raises questions.
    Why isn’t the council voting on the final agreement?
    Harley Clarke has been a very poorly run process to date, with issues that point to serious violation of the public trust.
    IDNR should not be responsible to help the Art Center move. That is Wally problem, and the council, if they want to give the Art Center money after years of paying $1 in rent, let them justify it!
    As far as paying the rent – I point blank asked Mr. Main during public questions, if they could pay between $300,000 and $400,000 in rent, he stated the could, so whats the issue Wally?
    That amount of money will cover capital cost of between $3 to $4 million.

    The deal should move forward if the agency can cover this amount, there should be no hidden deals or agendas, the issue has been, get a tenant in the building that can pay for its up keep. It clear INDR is a good fit for the site, if they have the funds it should be no issue.

    My only concern is we have certain public officials who do not represent the public interest and have agendas and are looking for something in return of any deal.

  4. Commercial Property

    Doesn't leasing the Harley Clarke Mansion to IDNR require a zoning change? Doesn't this create a situation that the residents faught against?

    1. Yes, zoning would need to be changed

      The mansion is in a OS (OPen Space) district. These are the permitted uses in OS Districts :

      • Arboreta.
      • Botanical garden.
      • Community center – public.
      • Conservatory.
      • Cultural facility.
      • Educational institution – public.
      • Forest preserve.
      • Golf course – public.
      • Park.
      • Playground.
      • Recreation center – public.

      Elsewhere in the code they discuss "Government Institutions" as being permitted uses in other districts.  It is pretty clear that IDNR is a "government institution."  Maybe they will try and define it as a "cultural center", but it could be challenged.

  5. not scared of cost? of course not.

    Of course Mr. Main stated "we are not scared" of the cost of improving the facility or paying big rents to house 10 employees.  Why would he be?  The cash is simply fleeced from the taxpayer money tree, don't ya see, it's all free.  All that state/fed grant money? That just gets plucked from your pocket, er, oops, out of a hat, it's magic, silly rabbits.

    Of course there is no hostility from the anti boutique hotel neighbors.  They didn't want the general rable rousing public looking down from their window onto their beach.  The public will never use this facility, as Mz Tecic said, about 2 people might show up a day, the occasional busload of children force marched from their classrooms to justify the "education center".  

    Less use = better use.  That is what will be proclaimed as in the best interest of the public.  

    Fact is, public taxpayer gets fleeced for millions, and unlike the privately funded boutique hotel, the general public receives nothing they will ever care to visit or utelize more than once at most. 

    Ten people will do a job, with salaries also funded by taxpayers, in what will be some of the most expensive and expansive cost per employee office space in the country, with lake views, which they could perform in any office for a tiny, tiny, fraction of the cost.  WOW,what a great deal for the public!  

    Wasteful,  shameful, but not in the least suprising. 

    1. Thank You

      You make a lot of sense and I can't believe anybody in their right mind would disagree with you. I hope it wakes some people to what is going on with the INDR.

      The INDR's mission has nothing to do with having their offices located in a scenic North Shore expensive location. If they can get office space in a state own building, the rent would be free. There are probably many public office building available where the rent would be less than half the price. In other words, it would be irresponsible for the INDR to spend state and federal money just to have an expensive North Shore address.

      There is no question that evanston would be financially better off if they lease the mansion to the INDR at a fair price. Especially if the INDR pays for repairs required to make the building safe.  But should they?

      I think that if Evanston does not lease the mansion at a fair market rate it would be irresponsible to the Evanston taxpayers.

      Likewise it would be irresponsible for Evanston to aid and abet the INDR in wasteful spending of state and federal tax dollars.

      On the greedy self centered side a lease to the INDR looks like a good deal but, on the ethics side, it would be wrong.

      Unless Evanston can find a government agency that requires a facility with a beautiful view of the Lake Michigan, I think they will need to find somebody in the private sector who would be interested in the property.

      1. Don’t rush on the mansion lease

        I agree that Evanston must get a fair market rent for the Harley Clarke building. Anything less is a disservice to Evanston citizens.

        Pritzker's massive boutique hotel would have impeded the use of the Lighthouse beach that is used by Evanston citizens and is the most popular city beach. Evanston should not sell the mansion, a prized asset. 

        I say there is no rush to lease. It's not as if Evanston was getting fair market rent in the first place. Leave it vacant until someone comes along who wants to pay fair market rent and not want to add building space in the current parking lot and pave the existing green space into a parking lot.

        I am not confident with current city leadership because it appeared they were chomping at the bit to have Pritzker buy it even though his offer was far lower than the appraisal of the mansion.

        1. Chomping at the bit?

          So, after a roughly two year process including a public request for proposals that drew initial interest from four parties but a completed proposal only from Pritzker, the aldermen were chomping at the bit to do Pritzker's bidding when they rejected her proposal out of hand on a 6-3 vote without even seriously considering it?

          Fascinating theory.

          — Bill

          1. Aldermen weren’t “seriously considering it?”

            I don't know what went on in closed door meetings regarding Pritzker's proposal. Do you? I do know that the Roundtable had sought the minutes of the meetings but they were destroyed, accidentally so the story goes.

            Maybe chomping at the bit is a bit too extreme but our city reps continued negotiating with Pritzker even after a low bid of $1.2 million for 2.5 acreas of beachfront property and an historic mansion without the propsal ever getting a public presentation. In other words, city leaders began closed door negotiations to sell the mansion and land without presenting the proposed plan in detail to the public. Those "secret meetings" "inflamed" opponents and they turned out in "record numbers" at a late July city council meeting to oppose the plan.

            You wrote on July 3, three weeks before the Council rejected Pritzker's plan, that "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….But there’s been no serious public discussion of what the hotel and restaurant would likely generate in new tax revenue for the city."

            Three weeks later the Council, amidst massive opposition, rejected Priztker's vague plan.

            In summary, meetings of the closed door session were destroyed, the city decided to negotiate despite a shockingly low bid of a plan that was vague and with no official public presentation. I don't know, if the city wasn't chomping at the bit to sell the mansion and the land they certainly must have had a lot of interest to move forward despite all of these red flags.

            Is it wise to begin negotiating the sale of 2.5 acres of beachfront property and a mansion with a $1.2 million bid before presenting the plan to the public? 

            There were three executive sessions to negotiate a low bid with Pritzker. Don't you think that the city was seriously considering the sale?

            The Council rejected the plan because residents were justifiably up in arms over it.

          2. Up in arms


            I think there should be public discussion before a plan is approved or rejected.

            Because the yard sign brigade demanded that the plan be rejected before it could be publicly discussed, and because the council caved into their demand, we'll never know what Pritzker could have been persuaded to pay for the property or what the boutique hotel might have generated in ongoing tax revenue for the city.

            Instead we now have a choice between using the mansion for a state office under a lease that we can hope will perhaps cover the cost of maintaining the property but does not stand to generate any additional tax revenue, or continuing to lease the building to the art center for $1 a year and watch it continue to decay.

            Or, as you suggested before, it could be vacated. That way it would do nobody any good.


          3. State agency may not just be an office use
            Bill – having listen to the presentation, yes they are going to use it for office, but it appears they have other ideas in mind to expand public use.
            I also think the city of Evanston beyond the mess they created at Harley Clarke is totally mismanaging the entire site, given the large number of uses going on, maybe this state agency can provide the leadership to correct the mess?
            Also I found it very interesting Wally and friends on our capital tour, where presenting a project for close to $1 million dollars to fix the flog house and another small building behind Harley Clarke. These two buildings are nothing more than garages. It appears very odd to me, they would spend this kind of money but not put a penny into Harley Clarke?

          4. Can it be Justified

            No matter how good this deal could be for Evanston, how can you justify a state agency spending this kind of money when they can probably get office space for less than half the cost. It could even be free if they move into a state facility.

            For a state agency to lease this space at market value could almost be called criminal. Maybe Bill would be able to do another story about a bankrupt state's wild spending.

  6. Private use for Harley Clarke not going to happen!
    Some people and few council members seem to think, they want to sell Harley Clarke for a private use,

    The public spoke, you don’t sell our parks.

    Wally and Friends have a huge mess at the Evanston Water Utility if you need something to worry about the misuse of public funds start looking into this – it appears someone or a group has stolen about $70,000 in stainless parts from the water plant, although staff claim is from time to time these parts go missing.
    If you worried ask about if they have a sound business model for the operation, rather than the nonsense they are going to make millions when in fact they are losing millions.

    Quess what Wally and the Utilities director, while they haven’t come out and said it want almost $200 million from the Evanston rate payers which will cause water bills to go up 2.5 times, with the nonsense they are going to make millions.

    Those who are worried should asked about the health grant the Mayor got or the $32 million in federal funds for the housing work and how that money was used. Or the large number of grants Wally is using for so called green project that are a waste.

    The list of misuse of our tax dollars is so long, its not worth continuing- Wally and those council members who want to sell Harley Clarke, are not representing the public interest, their claim they are doing something good by selling a lake front park is nonsense given the millions they are wasting here.

    1. Junad and the water bills

      It seems that whatever the topic is, Junad always manages to bring up water rates.  

      It is like the right-wingers shouting "Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi" at whatever Obama says.

      The Harley Clarke mansion is NOT about water rates, Junad.

      1. Harley Clarke and Water Rates have similar issues
        So you don’t think Harley Clarke is about Water Rates? Seems like the same process is going on here Council members are talking about a unnecessary replacement of a water tank for over $26 million, actually its more the staff is low balling the numbers. Why do they want to replace the tank, they stated NU wants it move, interestly enough the first consultant report stated just repair the top.
        Same approach by public official the mayor at one meeting claimed out of the blue we need a new water tank.
        If you want to enquire ask about how they are running the business, they are refusing to tell us. Harley Clarke they never brought up the so called economic benifits until it had actually been voted down.
        My research of the mess at the water department , is now telling me these so called public officials could be asking us to pay up wards of $200 million dollars which includes a $150 for the plant expansion, ( they claim $100 million ) but the estimate is only order of magnitude plus 50%.

        Also if you think, what I am saying is nonsense look at item A3.2 Vortex Restrictors, they claimed they go missing – quess what they are stainless steel – it appears they were stolen, council members voted to replace them and did not answer my charge during public comment. Given these are at bottom of man holes, not likely the crooks took them, appears to be a inside job? Maybe you should enquire about this its starting to look like a cover up.

    2. Somebody has to keep bringing it up

      The city would like for everyone to just forget about their misuses and boondoggles in managing the city's needs and taxpayer dollars.

      Until the Council and its minions, start doing a good  and honest job, taxpayers need to keep bringing the issues us.  Clearly they won't straighten up on their own !

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