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.

Related stories

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.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Why have Council if they can’t take care of business ?
    Supposedly we have a Council and other parts of government, yet they can’t seem to resolve problems in anything like a timely manner.
    Each Council member and anyone presenting at a Meeting should prepare and circulate to at least other Council members a statement with all their positions and arguments before a Meeting and each member be expected to have read and be prepared with their comments/arguments. These documents should be made public [online] at least five days before a meeting.
    As it is they can’t seem to take care of business and make decision—why then even have them in office ?
    They seem to ‘propose’ a lot of things with no prior thought of cost and consequences. I assume it must be to make voters think they are ‘doing something’ but then let it die and hope voters [their special interests and others] forget about it.

  2. Mansion fiasco will take longer than theater delay

    Do you know 10 persons who could do a better job of making a decision than our current alderpersons and mayor? If so, why don't you consider throwing your hat into the ring when our next election comes up. The H/C Mansion fiasco is going to take longer to resolve than the Century Theater delay (and that was at least 6 years of city council inaction).

  3. Why is council giving us

    Why is council giving us their individual views on what to do with H/C. They should be representing the views of the people in their wards and vote the way of the wards.

    Better yet.

    The city should put a referendum on the ballot and let the people decider what they think would be best for tnheir own good.

    If we can put back into the private sector, we know that it will generate a lot of money for the city and taxpayers for years to come.

    If we lease it, we know that it will produce some what less money unless it is a gift to a non-profit, like the EAC. No more free rides and no more city free money.

    If we tear it down, it will probably cost us money but maybe the bricks can be piled in Wally's parking spot and he can sell them to offset the cost.

    Leave the neighboring park alone and return H/C mansion and it's land to the private sector, where it came from.

  4. Harley Clarke tax district

    Since so many of the residents around the mansion think it should be either given or rented to non-profits, the City should create a tax district that includes just the residents around the Mansion  that could be used for up keep and repairs.

    1. Special tax district already exists

      There already is a tax district for the Hawley Clarke neighborhood. It's called the Lighthouse Park District. They have taxing authority and their boundaries are Noyes on the south, Isabella on the north and the canal to the east. They own and operate the Lighthouse. As far as I know the Park District has not expressed interest in the mansion, although that would be a logical move. Where do the Lighthouse Park District Commissioners stand on this?

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