Brainstorming continues about lakefront mansion

About 70 people turned out Thursday evening for a second brainstorming session about possible new uses for the city-owned Harley Clarke mansion in Evanston.

With turnout down by nearly a third from last month's session, the group was told by organizers to focus on their most financially viable and most inclusive ideas.

But when participants, who'd been asked to gather at tables by broad topic categories -- like arts or education -- reported out to the full group as the meeting ended, there were few specifics offered about the financial viability of any of the concepts proposed.

Here's a sampling of what was proposed.

Although the City Council has said that any new use for the mansion has to be financially self-supporting, one group's top suggestion was that the mansion be turned into a library.

Evanston already has three public library branches and it's about to get a fourth at the new Robert Crown Community Center. The vast majority of the current library budget comes from a property tax levy.

Another top suggestion was "outdoor family movie screenings" -- a summertime service the city already provides at parks around the community that's funded by taxpayer dollars from the Parks and Recreation budget.

Another table led with a proposal to install sculptures in or around the mansion, hoping to raise funds by selling cocktails to people who showed up for opening receptions.

And yet another group hoped to entice museums in the metro area to set up exhibits at the mansion.

As the meeting ended the organizers of the event -- which, while it was held in the Parasol Room at the Civic Center, was not sponsored by the city -- promised that they would bring in experts to talk about fundraising options for potential new uses for the mansion when they hold their next meeting on April 4.

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Thoughts on Harley Clarke

Since there was support on the referendum for Harley Clarke, let the "people" decide what is the "best" use for the mansion with the following stipulations:

1. A viable idea and plan needs to be determined by the end of 2019.

1. A minimum amount of money has to be raised within 18 months (from January 1, 2020 - June 30, 2021); the minimum amount of money should be defined as "what necessary funds are required to adequately restore the mansion" with a reserve for future maintenance (old buildings need maintenance)

2. The idea needs to be fully vetted so it's financially sustainable - thorough analysis needs to be conducted and assumptions need to be understood and validated and the "people" behind the project have to be accountable

3. ZERO taxpayer dollars are used today, tomorrow and into the futureĀ 

There are many creative and entrepreneurial people throughout Evanston.

And if there's a viable plan it will get funded, again, with PRIVATE money.

I hope they are successful and wish them well.

Else, let's move on - a lot of time and energy is being focused on this issue when there are so many other things that need to be addressed in Evanston.