As Harley Clarke acquisition process is extended, local nonprofit remains confident in bid


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

The Harley Clarke Mansion. The city-owned building has been the subject of controversy for nearly four years and counting.

Ryan Wangman, Summer Managing Editor

In the wake of a decision by City Council that has extended the timetable for a resolution on the Harley Clarke Mansion situation, leaders of a local nonprofit still believe their bid for the property will remain the most competitive offer.

Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens, an organization formed in December 2015 to “restore and repurpose” the property, was recommended to receive a lease of the space by the Harley Clarke Planning Committee at a City Council meeting on June 26. At that meeting, council members did not accept the recommendation, instead favoring a Request for Proposal that would allow other interested nonprofit organizations to submit bids for the space.

Tom Hodgman, board president of ELHG, said the group saw “overwhelming” public support during the city’s first review process, which began in November 2016. He said he thinks the group will have a good shot at winning the bid in the proposal process moving forward.

“We think we’ll be very competitive as a home-grown, community-based group that has been working in the community for a long time and (are) really incorporating a lot of the community ideas,” Hodgman said. “We are born in Evanston, raised in Evanston as an organization.”

A preliminary RFP was reviewed by council members at their July 10 meeting and sent back to city staff with edits. It will be reviewed again at the next council meeting July 24.

At the July 10 meeting, Ald. Judy Fiske (1st), said she was in favor of a longer window for RFP submissions because she’d rather “get it right than rush it.” She said that a shorter amount of time for submissions would cut down on the number of responses to the request.

“I’d rather give the house the best chance that it has to find just the right non-profit that can afford to renovate the house and really make it work for the … years we grant them a lease,” Fiske said.

Alex Block, an ELHG board member, has been involved with the Harley Clarke debate since he started a petition four years ago to stop the city from selling the property at what he believed to be below market value. He said while he never thought the issue would gain traction, the petition received 2,000 signatures within a month of it going live.

Now, Block works with ELHG to help figure out how to make the property a “viable public asset.” He said he feels strongly that ELHG’s plan is “perfectly situated” for the area, and that he believes there is no group that has focused more on this issue.

“Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens is the best possible use for that particular property,” Block said. “Any decision that delays implementation of ELHG’s plan I don’t think is in the best interest of Evanston.”

Although Hodgman said he understands the city is doing its “due diligence” with the RFP, he said he felt the group was within the mandate of a prior resolution by the city to seek nonprofit organizations for the property, and that there had previously been a “public and transparent” process surrounding Harley Clarke.

Nevertheless, he said the group was still focusing on a platform of “community ideas” in their bid, which is centered on environmental education and cultural history.

“We are the group that has been there consistently through all this process over the years, and have been responsive to the comments of the community and the city,” Hodgman said.

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Twitter: @ryanwangman