Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens supporters fear future of Harley Clarke property


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Rd. After aldermen denied a lease agreement in April, the future of the mansion is uncertain.

Samantha Handler, Assistant City Editor

If there’s one thing for certain about the Harley Clarke mansion, it is that its future remains uncertain.

After aldermen denied a proposed 40-year lease agreement in April, Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said it seemed like the agreement was “truly at the end” for Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens, and no other organizations have expressed interest in taking on the renovation project. Tom Hodgman, president of the nonprofit organization, said the prospect that the mansion might be demolished has made it harder to recruit donors.

Some residents have expressed concerns that the mansion may be headed for demolition, prompting Mayor Steve Hagerty and Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens to issue statements on the matter.

“This group may have been the city’s last ditch effort to save the mansion,” Mayor Steve Hagerty said in a statement on Facebook. “I suspect we will now enter the final phase of the Harley Clarke saga and discuss whether the mansion should be salvaged, demolished, and have the space restored to parkland. Like all the other options, the answer to Harley Clarke remains uncertain.”

The mansion — located in north Evanston at 2603 Sheridan Rd. — has been vacant since the Evanston Art Center moved out of the building in 2015, and the city has been searching for a buyer for the building for the past several years.

Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens, founded in 2015 with the goal of renovating the mansion, had proposed plans to restore Harley Clarke in two phases, including fixing the structure as well as featuring community meeting spaces and an environmental education center.

“(The mansion) is going to sit there for awhile while everyone moans and groans because nobody knows what to do with it,” Revelle told The Daily at the April 9 council meeting.

In November, aldermen authorized the city to draft a contract with Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens, though in April they cited concerns about fundraising benchmarks and the potential financial risk for the city. There was a motion for the council to table the vote until the April 23 council meeting, which failed 4-5.

Hodgman told The Daily on Tuesday he had heard some aldermen had reservations before the council vote, but wished they had sent the lease back to city staff for more negotiations.

“It was almost like they just threw the baby out with the bath water and they didn’t even vote to hold it,” Hodgman said. “They could have easily held it and could have fixed a few things, and we would have been up and running.”

He added that the nonprofit has since sent a revised lease to City Council and has also further discussed the proposal during the public comment section at council meetings.

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he knows that members of the organization have been talking with aldermen about a new plan, but he has not seen a revised lease.

“At this point there’s nothing pending on the mansion,” Bobkiewicz said. “The discussions with the (Evanston) Lakehouse (and) Gardens have ended and there’s no issues pending.”

Hodgman said Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens still wants to negotiate the lease with the city, saying they are ready to engage whenever the city is. He said Harley Clarke is a site of “importance” and their plan is not only about saving the structure, but also about “saving the structure to become something.”

He said restoring the mansion will “inject energy” into the community, adding that it’s “disappointing” that demolition may be an option.

“This is like our own little Millennium Park here,” Hodgman said. “This is one of the most amazing places in Evanston and we have this building of significance and we think we can put it to use in a way that is going to really benefit the community.”

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