As aldermen Monday night approved seeking a new request for proposals for a use that could fund renovation of the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion, an alderman raised doubts about whether there’s enough donor money to go around to tackle all the worthy projects in the city.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said the former Noyes School at 927 Noyes St. in her ward, which now houses the city’s Cultural Arts Center, needs $5 million in capital improvements that the city itself can’t afford.

That’s also a number that has been widely mentioned as the potential cost of renovating the Harley Clarke mansion.

The Harley Clarke mansion.

And, Fiske suggested, it’s a not unreasonable guess for what it might take to restore the former Foster School at 2010 Dewey Ave. in the 5th Ward, which now houses Family Focus and other social service agencies.

The Family Focus Center.

Family Focus officials say they can no longer carry the cost of operating the building and are seeking to sell it to a new entity and potentially become a tenant in the building instead.

A group of neighbors seeking to fund the purchase have planned a march through the neighborhood for supporters at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Fiske said Harley Clarke supporters have placed “a lot of focus on vision, and not much on the amount of money needed to make it happen.”

Fiske said she’s looking forward to when revenue is seriously discussed by Harley Clarke advocates at their meetings, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Supporters of the new Robert Crown Center have raised $12.4 million toward an ultimate goal of $15 million in private donations for that project.

That could offer hope that these three other projects could also gain the support they need, or it could suggest that local donors are already largely tapped out.

In any case, the aldermen voted to go ahead with plans to issue the RFP, after stripping out language suggesting they’d be open to selling the buildings and providing a long-term lease on the ground beneath them.

Fiske was joined by Aldermen Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, and Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and voting against stripping the sale option from the RFP.

A proposal by Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, to consider a sale, but only to a not-for-profit or a governmental agency, was also rejected.

The aldermen voted to beef up language in the RFP calling for the new lessee to provide significant public use of the buildings in whatever plans they submit.

The city has been seeking a solution to the question of what to do with the lakefront mansion for the better part of a decade and has previously considered and then rejected options to sell the building, lease it to a not-for-profit and demolish it.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Attend tonight’s meeting @ 7pm at Evanston Library

    tonight at 7pm, State Senator Laura Fine, and State Reps Robyn Gabel and Jen Gong-Gershowitz are hosting a meeting to discuss the State of Illinois’ Budget and Pensions – Billions of $$$ are needed, not just $5,000,000.

    Come and find out the state of affairs and their ideas to address our fiscal challenges.

  2. Family Focus Bulding is a different animal

    I would posit that we shouldn’t put the Family Focus building in the same basket as Harley-Clarke and the Noyes Center. The latter are buildings owned by the city, so they represent serious decisions that need to be made in terms of costs/investments/future use, etc… The Family Focus building has nothing to do with the city. It is owned by a private organization and is on the market for $2.4 million. I really don’t think anyone would seriously entertain the idea of the city acquiring it for $2.4 million and then spend an additional $5 million on renovations. We should let the market work and if the property is purchased, the only role for the city should be to address any variances/special uses the new owner might need for redevelopment or renovation. But at this point that is all speculation since the building remains the sole property of Family Focus.

  3. Family Focus repairs will cost between $10-12 million
    It should also be pointed out that a group that wants to purchase the Family Focus building says that repairs will cost $10-12 million, according to an article in the Trib.

    So now we aren’t even talking about $5 million, but $2.4 to buy the property + $10 million for renovations.

    This is really not a good idea. The city should stay as far away from this building as possible.

  4. There Is Money for Noyes

    Evanston has the money to maintain Noyes.  Let’s remember that Noyes runs at a profit.  It isn’t draining money out of the budget every year.  And we collect an Amusement Tax that will get us between $250-400K.  Just put that money towards the upkeep of Noyes.  Prioritize and plan what needs to be done.  Over 10-15 years (and beyond) the building is taken care of.  No drama.  No taxes raised.  This is not a crisis.  Many theatres and arts organizations work out of buildings in much worse shape.  There just needs to be a plan.  

    In order to do that without increasing the budget, we need to eliminate the two major Arts expenses.  First, the City of Evanston should not be funding the Fleetwood/Jourdain Theatre.  It should not be subsidizing one arts organization while letting the others fend for themselves.  If the City of Evanston wants to support and encourage diversity in the arts, the best thing it can do is ensure that there is accessible and affordable performance/exhibition space.  In other words, use those tax dollars to maintain Noyes.

    Second, stop funding the Evanston Arts Council’s grant program.  Part of the EAC’s job is supposedly to maintain the Noyes Cultural Arts Center.  That should be their priority.  These lttle $2K grants are nice…but not important in the big scheme of things.  

    But the big question is: why does this keep happening?  Why are our city buildings and facilities so underfunded?  I think it’s time for the City Council to stop thinking that they are working at a charitable foundation.  Time to stop thinking their job is to dole out tax dollars to “worthy” recipients.  Time to stop dreaming and just pay the bills.  This is a perfect example.  Our Cultural Arts facility needs $5 Million and yet Mayor Hagerty and the Council keep talking about a downtown theatre or bringing Northlight back to Evanston.  I would be all for those things…but let’s first take care of the theatre space we have now.

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