Evanston billionaire proposes turning landmark mansion into boutique hotel

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl on Monday night responded to an online petition urging the city to stop the sale of the Harley Clarke Mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road. Tisdahl said the city can no longer afford to maintain the lakefront property.

Daily file photo by Hillary Back

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl on Monday night responded to an online petition urging the city to stop the sale of the Harley Clarke Mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road. Tisdahl said the city can no longer afford to maintain the lakefront property.

Jia You, City Editor

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A proposal by Evanston billionaire James N. Pritzker to buy the Harley Clarke Mansion may be presented to the community in the coming weeks, city officials said.

Pritzker’s company, Tawani Enterprises Inc., placed a $1.2 million bid with the city in November, asking to turn the landmark home into a 57-room boutique hotel. The company was the only bidder for the property after two rounds of public bidding.

The mansion at 2603 Sheridan Road includes a coach house, garage and green house. It was appraised for $3 million together with the 3,700 square feet of land beneath it in April 2012, according to city documents. The city currently owns the property and leases it to the Evanston Arts Center for $1 a year in an effort to support arts groups in the city, Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said.

Aldermen had expressed concerns with the low bidding price and the potential impact on public parking space, according to closed-session meeting minutes obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The proposed annex would replace 35 current public parking spaces. According to minutes of a Feb. 4 committee meeting, Pritzker had suggested building a 25-space free surface parking for the public in addition to a 200-space underground parking lot that would be primarily used by the hotel.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) a committee meeting Dec. 17, 2012, that she was “torn” by the proposal because she would like to see the landmark building restored but considered the bidding price too low. 

In an interview with The Daily on Friday, Grover said Pritzker had expressed interest in raising the bidding price for the property.

“I think there’s an expectation that if the city sells the property — the mansion and the ground beneath it — that it would be of fair market value,” she said. “That was a non-negotiable.”

The proposed sale could generate significant tax revenues for the city, Grover said, adding that there has not been an estimate on the potential tax revenue.

Grover said she suspects the mansion’s renovation cost, estimated at about $3 million to $5 million, could have been a factor in driving out other bidders. The city does not have the money to maintain the aging building, she said.

With the pending sale, the Evanston Art Center has been exploring options to relocate, director Norah Diedrich said in a May 18 interview.

Pritzker also applied for a city license to turn a property at 1622 Forest Place into a bed-and-breakfast. He currently runs one such establishment at 300 Church St. The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals rejected his proposal for the second bed-and-breakfast in April.

A Tawani spokeswoman declined to comment on the Harley Clarke proposal.

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