Aldermen move toward leasing Harley Clarke Mansion, assuring public ownership


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Harley Clarke Mansion, 2603 Sheridan Rd. Aldermen voted to approve a request for proposal for the mansion.

Cassidy Wang, Reporter

Aldermen voted 5-3 Monday to accept the request for proposal for the long-term lease of the Harley Clarke Mansion. The period for proposals will start May 16 with a deadline for submissions on Feb. 28, 2020.

Alds. Ann Rainey (8th), Cicely Fleming (9th) and Judy Fiske (1st) voted against the proposal.

City officials and residents have debated what to do with the mansion — a historic property located on the lakefront in North Evanston — since 2015, when the Evanston Art Center vacated the lot. In an advisory referendum on the November ballot, roughly 80 percent of voters supported preserving the mansion for public use. In the past, multiple proposals have failed to pass through Council due to insufficient funds and lack of community support.

The original RFP included the sale and long-term lease of the mansion. However, after discussion of the problems that could result from selling the property, Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) amended the original request for proposal to make clear that the city will not be selling the building.

Revelle said she was concerned that if the city sold the property, there would be no recourse should the purchaser not follow through with the proposed plan.

“It’s really important to retain the public ownership of the entire property,” Revelle said during the meeting.

Allie Harned, a 2nd Ward resident and representative of the grassroots campaign Save Harley Clarke, spoke out against selling the mansion. She said the inclusion of the city’s intention to sell the building in the original RFP read like a real estate ad, which would be in stark contrast to the overwhelming referendum vote to save the building for public access.

“We contend that the referendum was not vague or misleading,” Harned said. “People knew what they were voting for and they do not want you to sell the only public house on the lake.”

Harned also said she is concerned the RFP does not specify how the evaluation committee will be selected. She said the city should consider goals of equity and inclusion in deciding who will evaluate proposals, with the hope that “all community voices will be proactively representative of all stakeholders in the city.”

Revelle’s amendment also included that the city would have to look for “significant public use for the building.”

To specify the meaning of “significant public use,” Mayor Steve Hagerty advised the city to add an addendum to the RFP that will articulate and capture ideas from Harley Clarke community meetings so those interested in submitting a proposal can take into account what residents have been discussing for public use.

“To refresh our memory about the wording in the referendum that received overwhelming public support, it was to preserve the landmark buildings and gardens for use and access as public properties,” Revelle said. “That’s the message I would like to see in the RFP.”

While the city wants to include the public’s input in deciding what to do with the building, Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) said she wants to remind the residents of the minimal cost of the building to taxpayers, which was specified in the referendum.

Fiske said discussion of revenue has not been seriously discussed at Harley Clarke community meetings.

“That’s been the main stopping point in the past,” Fiske said. “There’s no lack of vision. It’s the money that the building of this size is going to take to renovate and I know we’re going to come back to that when we get the responses to the RFP.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @cassidyw_

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