City Council gives Evanston Art Center additional time to vacate Harley Clarke mansion


Edward Cox/Daily Senior Staffer

Evanston Arts Center patron Robert Fields argues the arts center should have two years to prepare for the end of its lease agreement. City Council approved a measure Monday night to extend the lease through the end of January 2015.

Edward Cox, Assistant Web Editor

City Council approved a measure Monday night granting the Evanston Art Center four additional months to leave its current location at the Harley Clarke mansion.

Council approved a motion from Ald. Jane Grover (7th) to give the art center until the end of January 2015 to leave the deteriorating building after art patrons raised concerns that approving the Human Services Committee’s recommendation to terminate the center’s lease agreement in eight would conflict with the center’s fall class schedule. A proposal raised by Ald. Mark Tendam (6th) to make conditions of the lease agreement more flexible was not approved.

During the meeting, the center’s faculty and students read quotes from an online petition asking the city to give the center two years to find a new home. Of the more than 30 people who registered for citizen comment, a majority urged the city to provide greater leniency to the center because of its cultural significance.

Though the aldermen’s agreement to extend the notice for lease termination to January 2015 is favorable, the center has struggled with raising funds and spending time searching for a new building, said Norah Diedrich, the art center’s executive director.

The art center has spent $45,000 to $50,000 for real estate consulting and architectural plans, among other services, Diedrich said.

“If somebody is saying we’re sitting on our thumbs, it’s absolutely not true,” Diedrich told reporters.

The art center, however, has had more than enough time to move out of the building, Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th) said. The center, which leases the mansion from the city for $1 a year, has neglected to provide proper maintenance, she said.

“There is a lot of blame to go around, but this city has the opportunity to make the right decision financially for the city going forward,” Burrus said. “To move forward, we need to have the art center out of the building so we can find a viable tenant to help pay for the repairs.”

Barack Echols, an attorney who is representing Evanston Art Center pro bono, said the organization is willing to put in $110,000 to partially fund mansion rehabilitation, should the city give it a two year lease agreement.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) brought up discussion on how to properly seek a new tenant. Although Tawani Enterprises applied as a prospective tenant through the bidding process, talks with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources — the city’s current tenant of interest — took a separate route through the cooperation of the City Council and the city manager’s office.

However, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the city has been transparent in its discussions with IDNR.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated what the City Council approved Monday night. Aldermen agreed to extend the notice for lease termination, not the lease, to January 2015. The Daily regrets the error.

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