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Tisdahl responds to petition against sale of Harley Clarke Mansion

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.

Patrick Svitek, Summer Editor

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Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl on Monday night pushed back against an online petition criticizing the city’s decision to sell the Harley Clarke Mansion.

At a City Council meeting, Tisdahl had city manager Wally Bobkiewicz read a letter she wrote to the author of the petition, which accuses Evanston officials of holding sale negotiations “mostly behind closed doors” and considering an offer that is less than half the property’s assessed value.

“The City Council has discussed the future of the building publicly for the last three years and decided over two years ago to begin a process to examine other uses of the building,” Tisdahl wrote, according to Bobkiewicz’s reading. “The Harley Clarke Mansion has millions of dollars of deferred maintenance, and the city does not have the resources to complete a renovation of the building.”

Tisdahl said she has not heard back from petition creator Alex Block, a rising Miami University senior from Evanston. Block did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The petition, which seeks to stop the sale altogether, had more than 650 signatures by 11 p.m. Tuesday.

The city-owned building, 2603 Sheridan Road, has housed the Evanston Arts Center for more than a decade. The city leases the property to the center for $1 a year in an effort to support the local arts scene.

In her letter read by Bobkiewicz, Tisdahl acknowledges the city is in “preliminary discussions” to sell the mansion to Evanston billionaire James N. Pritzker’s Tawani Enterprises Inc., which wants to turn the building into a 57-room boutique hotel in its $1.2 million bid for the property. It was appraised for $3 million along with the 3,700 square feet of land beneath it in April 2012, according to city documents.

(Evanston billionaire proposes turning landmark mansion into boutique hotel)

The petition singles out the difference between the price tag of Tawani’s proposal and the assessed value.

“Selling this historic lakefront property at a fraction of its value is shortsighted and contrary to our community’s values and interests,” the petition says.

Tisdahl cited Block’s cause while questioning an increase in city arts staffing. She asked how a cultural arts coordinator — a new position that was approved minutes later — could unite a “fragmented and misinformed artist community.”

“Well, I don’t expect this person to overcome the massive belief of the Internet, but I think what they can do is be a regular spokesperson for what we are trying to do here in Evanston,” Bobkiewicz replied.

(Evanston aldermen OK ‘arts czar’ position)

The full text of Tisdahl’s response to the petition, as read by Bobkiewicz:

“I’ve received your petition regarding the sale of the Harley Clarke Mansion. The City Council has discussed the future of the building publicly for the last three years and decided over two years ago to begin a process to examine other uses of the building. The Harley Clarke Mansion has millions of dollars of deferred maintenance, and the city does not have the resources to complete a renovation of the building. After a yearlong public process to receive qualifications and then proposals for potential users, the city is now in preliminary discussions with Tiwani Enterprises Inc. regarding its proposal. Those discussions include maintaining complete public access to the grounds and beach. The city has made no decisions on price or terms of the sale of the property. The Evanston Arts Center is in the second year of identifying a new location for its operations in order to increase its accessibility to residents and improve its facilities. The arts center has always been welcome to remain in the Harley Clarke Mansion until the building is deemed unsafe, a choice that they have wisely declined. Three points in your petition require attention. First, the City Council has discussed this project many times in open session over the years. Minutes and video from those discussions are available on our website. A recording of one executive session held by the City Council Human Services Committee on February 4, 2013, was inadvertently not saved. The written minutes of that meeting are available online. The petition also states incorrectly that the Evanston Zoning Board has voted against the sale. There’s been no formulation of a specific proposal on the property by the zoning board or any other legislative body in the city of Evanston. The mayor has no vote on the issue unless required to break a tie. Any future uses for the Harley Clarke Mansion will be discussed by the City Council in open session, and community meetings will be held before any final action is taken.”

Summer editor Patrick Svitek can be reached at patricksvitek2014@u.northwestern.edu. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/PatrickSvitek.

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About the Writer
Patrick Svitek, City Editor

Patrick Svitek was City editor of The Daily. His other past positions include managing editor, online managing editor, Web editor, City editor, assistant City editor, copy editor, reporter and designer. He is from Fort Wayne, Ind., and has interned at the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post, Medill News Service, Patch, The Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne, Ind.) and The News-Banner (Bluffton, Ind.).