State officials late Monday pulled out of discussions with Evanston about turning the city-owned Harley Clarke mansion into offices for the state’s Coastal Management Program.
In a letter delivered by email to City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, Todd Main, chief of staff for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, gave two reasons for the decision:
- That the city’s desire to retain ownership of the land under the mansion would severely limit the state’s ability to find grant funding to rehab the building.
- That with the inauguration of a new governor next week the agency may have new leadership and the department’s current staff “must defer to the new administration as they determine their priorities for state investments.”
After the letter was read at Monday night’s Human Services Committee meeting, committee members voted to move discussion of what to do next about the mansion to next Monday’s meeting of the full City Council.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz — concened about liability risks if the building remains vacant after the Evanston Art Center moves out in June — had asked the committee to recommend that he be authorized to seek estimates for the cost of dismantling the building.
The committee didn’t vote on what steps to take next, but at least gathering information about the cost of demolition appeared likely to be one of the options on the table next week.
News that demolition was being considered brought out several preservationists to the session.
Diane Williams, the incoming chair of the Preservation Commission, said, “What to do remains a vexing challenge fo the City Council and city staff and that many concerned citizens have a lot of different points of view on the mansion.”
“But there are multiple resources out there that can help identify best practices and the most viable set of use options for the property,” Williams added.
She suggested that the roughly six month time frame before the mansion is vacant provides time “to think about and potentially re-look at issues assocated with reuse of the property.”
Garry Shumaker, the outgoing chair of the commission, suggested formation of a group representing the city’s economic development and parks and recreation units along with some of the many architects and designers in the community to try to come up with solutions.
And long-time preservation activist Mary Brugliara suggested the Elizabeth Cheney mansion, owned by the Park District of Oak Park, could provide a model for turning the Harley Clarke mansion into a venue for weddings and other events that could be a good revenue source.