Evanston aldermen Monday night again, in the words of Alderman Delores Holmes, “kicked the can down the road” on what to do about the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion — but not nearly as far down it as at least one alderman wanted.
And, compared to two years ago — when the council rejected out of hand on a 6-3 vote the idea of even considering a proposal to sell the city-owned mansion for conversion to a privately-owned boutique hotel — it appeared there was somewhat more support Monday for commercial use of the property.
With the concept phrased as a long-term lease to a commercial entity, four aldermen Monday said they were open to that idea, as long as the resulting use would — like a hotel — be open to the public.
Three others opposed any deal with a commercial entity and a fourth leaned toward a non-profit solution. One alderman, Peter Braithwaite, voiced no opinion on the issue.
Under the city code, the council can lease property for up to two years by a simple majority vote — five of the nine aldermen. A sale, or a lease for a longer term, requires a two-thirds majority — six votes in favor.
Voting two years ago in favor of discussing the Pritzker plan were aldermen Coleen Burrus, Holmes and Ann Rainey. Burrus has since left Evanston and been replaced on the council by Brian Miller, who indicated a preference Monday for finding a not-for-profit to lease the property.
But Holmes and Rainey were joined Monday by aldermen Jane Grover and Mark Tendem in saying they were open to a deal with a commercial entity. Tendem, in fact, said he’d prefer that because it would be more financially sustainable.
A new operator needs to be able to fund the project, Tendam said, and not have to come back to the council to bail it out — something he indicated he feared would happen if the city turned the property over to a not-for-profit group.
A representative of a two-month-old non-profit that wants to take over the mansion, Evanston Lake House and Gardens Inc. NFP, said the group is now up to $17,000 in pledges for a project that it has estimated is likely to cost $4 million.
Alderman Melissa Wynne said she is concerned about the idea — including in the new group’s plan — of having a restaurant in the coach house and renting the property out as an event space.
She said the garbage generated by a restaurant would detract from the pleasant environment on the lakefront.
But Grover challenged Wynne about how any non-profit could pay the cost of maintaining the mansion if it couldn’t generate revenue from food sales and events.
Alderman Judy Fiske suggested the council should postpone a decision about the mansion for six months to a year to give the new group more time to raise funds.
But the only action taken was on a motion by Miller that held further discussion of the mansion issue until the Oct. 12 City Council meeting.
New group hopes to lease mansion (9/21/15)
Aldermen asked to define mansion options (9/20/15)
Editor’s note 10/9/15: This story has been updated to correct an error in the description of the duration the the term of a lease of city-owned land that can be approved by a simple majority vote of the council. That period is two years. Any longer lease requires a two-thirds vote.