Illinois Department of Natural Resources proposes offices, coastal education center for Harley Clarke Mansion


Kelly Gonsalves/The Daily Northwestern

Diane Tecic, program manager of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Management Program, speaks at Wednesday night’s Harley Clarke Mansion Community Meeting. The IDNR officially expressed interest in the property last October.

Kelly Gonsalves, Reporter

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources formally introduced its intentions to use the Harley Clarke Mansion as an office space and public coastal education center to Evanston residents Wednesday night.

After months of controversy over the future use of the historical lakefront property, 2603 Sheridan Road, the department officially tossed its hat in the ring for tenancy on Oct. 18. A federally funded organization, the IDNR hopes to use the space as a base to conduct several statewide programs aimed at protecting the coast and natural resources, as well as a learning and information center for adults and children.

“The idea of actually having some type of hands-on, wet classroom that kids could come out and learn about the interaction of the land and the water … That would be a really great opportunity,” said Diane Tecic, the department’s coastal program manager. “It’s something that we would want to consider.”

Tecic also mentioned possible public meeting spaces and wildlife information centers for hunters, fishers and boaters. The IDNR could also maintain coastal habitats in Evanston itself and possibly host eco-tours, Tecic said.

Tecic and other representatives gave detailed summaries of the department’s various eco-conscious programs but specified all proposed plans for the mansion are merely preliminary until the city confirms the offer.

The future of the Harley Clarke Mansion became a citywide concern after news broke Evanston billionaire Jennifer Pritzker planned to purchase and convert the space into a boutique hotel. Residents aggressively protested the plan, concerned with losing public access to the park and beach property.

The IDNR’s proposal comes in direct conflict with the building’s current tenant, the Evanston Art Center, which has also expressed interest in remaining on the property permanently. The center has been renting the property for $1 a year since 2010, a symbolic gesture of the city’s support for the organization.

“The Evanston Art Center still has a lease with us, so that’s an issue that we still need to address,” city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said. “How the renovations will be made and how long the lease will last — all those things still need to be determined.”

Residents, about 60 in attendance, seemed generally receptive to the IDNR’s proposal but skeptical of the financial burden its large plans may place on the city.

“I think we need to find a way to ensure that the lakefront remains undeveloped,” Barbara Janes, co-founder of No Park Sale said. With IDNR’s plan she said, “the park land will remain public. That’s the important thing, that every citizen of Evanston … has access to the lakefront.”

Bobkiewicz said the city will continue dialogue with both the IDNR and EAC to iron out the details of both groups’ proposals and each group’s financial capability to tackle renovations of the property. Evanston’s Human Services Committee will discuss the options in February, and a decision will likely be made by City Council in the spring, he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misattributed information to Barbara Janes, co-founder of No Park Sale. It also misstated a word in one of her quotes — Janes said she hopes Evanston citizens have access to the “lakefront.” The Daily regrets the errors. 

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