Committee discusses creating park district to keep Harley Clarke Mansion public


Connie Wang/The Daily Northwestern

Members of the Harley Clarke Citizens Committee discuss Wednesday the future of the Harley Clarke Mansion. The committee talked about possibly creating and expanding a park district around the mansion.

Billy Kobin, Reporter

Evanston residents explored the idea Wednesday of creating a park district around the historic Harley Clarke Mansion, allowing it to stay in the hands of the city and remain open to public use.

The Harley Clarke Citizens Committee met to continue to deliberate the future of the mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road, which has been home to the Evanston Art Center since the 1960s. The Art Center will move to a new space by the end of next month, leaving the mansion unoccupied.

Committee members, who will make recommendations to City Council, considered establishing a newly expanded park district that will include the city-owned mansion in order to maintain public ownership.

Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said the process of creating a park district that includes the mansion would begin with meeting with the people in charge of the existing district — the Lighthouse Park District of Evanston board. She added there would be a problem with the next step in the process — calling upon residents living in that district to approve the expansion — because nobody lives in that area.

“We are very systematically just working through all of the identified and suggested options and measuring (options) against the criteria we established earlier on,” Grover told The Daily. “What’s clear to me is that there is no consensus … on what should be the state of the Harley Clarke Mansion.”

Committee members discussed bringing in a private owner to pay for the mansion’s upkeep, yet keeping access to the mansion and beach open to the public.

During the meeting, several community members from the crowd of about 35 people advocated for the city to continue its ownership of the mansion.

“I think it would be a big mistake for Evanston to give up (the mansion),” Evanston resident Barry Greenberg said. “This is our castle, and it shouldn’t be cast away so easily.”

Several residents expressed confidence that the city would raise the funds needed to maintain control of the mansion.

“What we’re talking about here is funding,” said Steve Hagerty, chair of the committee and founder and CEO of Hagerty Consulting. “I am curious to date … has anyone stepped forward and said ‘Hey, I would be willing to contribute half a million, a million dollars or anything like that to the (project)?’”

Grover told The Daily some residents seem to think the citizens committee will be making a final decision regarding the Harley Clarke Mansion. However, the committee is only gathering information and will present input to City Council in early June, she said.

“I think what the public is not understanding is that the committee is not necessarily the place to do lobbying for one option over another,” Grover told The Daily.

Grover added that recent recommendations from the public are not focusing on how to bring about changes.

“So if somebody wants a museum, great,” she said. “Museums are a great idea, but how do we get to there? The hard part is always going to be how do we make any of these (changes) a reality?”

Despite the challenging process faced by the committee, the meetings have still been useful and informative, Grover said.

The Harley Clarke Citizens Committee is scheduled to meet next on April 29.

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