Aldermen to explore what's next for Harley Clarke

Evanston aldermen are scheduled to make another effort Monday night to agree on what to do next about the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion.

It's not clear what course the aldermen may pursue after having over the past several years invited -- and rejected -- commercial redevelopment of the building as a boutique hotel, a non-profit proposal for an ecology-themed educational center and a proposal to tear the building down to expand the park that surrounds it.

Fans of the mansion have held two brainstorming sessions recently without yet surfacing a proposal that appeared likely to cover the estimated $5 million cost of renovating the building. They have a third session planned for April 4 at which they hope to address fundraising issues.

And a local author, Audrey Niffenegger, has suggested she could put up $500,000 toward turning the mansion into a center for teaching writing and book production skills, somewhat similar to one now facing budget cuts at Columbia College Chicago.

On Jan. 28 Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, asked the city manager to speak with Niffenegger about her plans. And on Feb. 4 Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she saw the potential for multiple ways to move forward with the mansion.

Mayor Steve Hagerty, in his state of the city address Friday, called for "an adaptive, functional re-use" of the mansion that would create "a special place for residents and visitors alike."

It's possible the aldermen may opt to issue a new request for proposals for the mansion's future, but it's unclear what parameters for an acceptable use they might set -- given the opposition of some aldermen to commercial uses of the property and the insistence of others that no city funds should be devoted to the project in the face of other city spending priorities.

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