Asked to email ideas for what to do with the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion, 25 Evanstonians responded, submitting some 35 ideas ahead of Thursday night’s mansion committee meeting.

And the most frequently mentioned one was the very idea that aldermen rejected out of hand nearly two years ago in the face of an organized campaign of opposition — the boutique hotel project proposed by Col. Jennifer Pritzker.

Of course there’s been no recent sign that Pritzker or any other developer is interested in reviving the hotel concept, and the committee is still accepting suggestions at harleyclarkemansion@cityofevanston.org, so the final results are likely to change.

But here’s the tally of ideas so far after reading through the messages included in the committee’s meeting packet.

  • Eight people suggested returning to the boutique hotel concept.
  • Four people suggested demolishing the building to increase open space..
  • Four people suggested converting the building to a rental space for events.
  • Two people suggested opening a restaurant in the building, an idea that had been part of the original boutique hotel concept.
  • Two people suggested turning it into a hostel-like facility for visitors — presumably something less expensive than the boutique hotel.
  • Two people suggested reviving the proposal from the state Department of Natural Resources to make it a coastal resources center.

Then there were a three suggestions for other concepts that — like the boutique hotel — would involve sale of portions of the property:

  • Subdivide it for new private residential construction.
  • Sell the mansion and the property.
  • Sell the coach house and greenhouse for private residential use.

But one other writer — without actually suggesting a use — insisted that the property should not be sold and no long-term lease should be signed either.

Several people offered diverse ideas for what would what appeared to be non-profit uses:

  • A multi-tenant rental space like the Noyes Cultural Arts Center.
  • A tourist attraction.
  • A “distribution center” — what would be distributed was left unspecified.
  • A center for community-supported agriculture programs.
  • Let artists set up gift shops in the mansion.
  • Turn it into an incubator space for not-for-profit groups.
  • Use it as an indoor winter farmers market.
  • Turn it into a photography museum.

And one person offered an idea for a short-term use to raise funds — staging laser tag games there.

The committee, after refining its list of criteria for evaluating potential new uses, scheduled its next meeting for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 11, at the Civic Center.

It’s due to make a recommendation to City Council about what to do with the mansion by June 8.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Harley Clarke mansion

    With the arrival of new buildings in Evanston (AMLI at Chicago and South Ave, and the new building at Main/Chicago), all elementary schools which are all full, wil have no space for the new students. Why do not use this marvelous space for a new elementary school in Evanston?

      1. no on 2.

        5th ward voted no on the school and Evanston has too many schools. It would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

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