City Council authorizes drafting of contract for renovation, lease of Harley Clarke mansion


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) at Monday’s City Council meeting. Aldermen authorized the city to draft a contract for the renovation and lease of the Harley Clarke mansion.

Kristina Karisch, Web Editor

Aldermen on Monday authorized the city to draft a contract with Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens to renovate and lease the Harley Clarke mansion.

The historic building, located in north Evanston along the lakefront, has been vacant since 2015 when the Evanston Art Center moved out. The mansion includes lakefront access, a greenhouse and a garden. As part if its proposal, Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens will restore the property and sign a 40-year lease to operate the mansion.

The renovated space would feature outdoor recreational opportunities, community meeting spaces and environmental education. According to the proposal, Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens plans to keep the building open for events and meetings, and it will install a cafe to help fund the operation.

Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens was founded in 2015 to restore the Harley Clarke Mansion. Since its inception, the group has received more than $90,000 in pledges for the $5.3 million project, board president Tom Hodgman said in October.

The organization is looking to raise nearly $5 million of the costs through a capital fundraising campaign. In the original proposal, Evanston earmarked a $250,000 contribution.

However, Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said because of Evanston’s current financial position — officials are trying to fill a $6 million deficit in their proposed 2018 budget — the city will no longer provide the funding.

The lack of municipal contribution and high cost of the project has led some aldermen to doubt whether the nonprofit can raise necessary funds.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) said she is concerned about fundraising, but hopes that once the group signs a contract donors will feel more comfortable contributing.

“We need to have clearly identifiable benchmarks along the way,” Fiske said. “If the funds aren’t raised, I think everyone needs to understand that we have a situation here where even in the worst-case scenario, what we would be doing is preserving our lakefront and restoring the dunes and recreating the natural environment.”

Fiske added that officials have talked about renovating Harley Clarke for years and that it is time to act.

After the city decided in 2012 to sell the property, community members have rallied to keep Harley Clarke open to the public. Various proposals for the space have been made since then, but officials have struggled to find a suitable plan.

In July, two nonprofits requested long-term leases to invest in and renovate the mansion, according to city documents.

Staff recommended Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens after the other nonprofit was deemed “non-responsive” because members failed to attend a mandatory meeting, documents showed.

McCormick Prof. Aaron Packman, a civil and environmental engineer who attended Monday’s meeting, said he reviewed both proposals and spoke in support of Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens.

“Educational use of Harley Clarke, including the lakefront property, requires a building to stage indoor-outdoor educational activities,” the 6th Ward resident said. “This could be a landmark opportunity for the city to make a facility that would draw people from across the North Shore and strongly support our public schools.”

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said at the meeting that a draft of the contract will be presented to aldermen at a Jan. 22 meeting.

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