Nonprofit plans to submit another bid for Harley Clarke Mansion despite previous denial


Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

The Harley Clarke Mansion, 2603 Sheridan Rd.

Samantha Handler, City Editor

Following City Council’s sudden denial of the group’s proposal to take over the Harley Clarke Mansion last year, the nonprofit formerly known as Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens is coming back with a new plan.

The group — now called Evanston Community Lakehouse and Gardens — has been preparing a new proposal to determine the use of the Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Rd., in response to the city’s third request for proposals period, which ends in February. The nonprofit previously submitted a response to the city in 2018, which was denied and set the city on a course to demolish the historic lakefront mansion.

Members of the group also rallied to get a referendum on the ballot last November, which resulted in 80 percent of voters favoring preserving the mansion for public use, a result that is not legally binding. In the spring, the nonprofit held a series of community engagement meetings where residents could express what activities or uses they wanted to see at the property.

“Our approach this time is going to be a little bit different because it’s going to be much more oriented around what we heard from the community,” said Emily Guthrie, the president of Evanston Community Lakehouse and Gardens. “We submitted a response to a proposal in the spring of 2018. So this is going to be different — not a lot different, but enough different.”

The new plan includes input from Evanston residents on what they want to incorporate in the 37,700-square-foot estate, including a bird sanctuary, art classes, theater, exercise classes and performances, Guthrie said. She added that the community engagement sessions generated about 250 ideas, resulting in the nonprofit adding the word “community” to its name.

The city’s new request for proposal calls for nonprofits, individuals, and for-profit organizations to submit plans for the mansion, coach house, or both, according to city documents. The city also requires the proposals to include a public component as well as a “substantial renovation” of the property that still maintains both its historic character and the Jens Jensen Gardens.

Guthrie said another part of the updated proposal is addressing safety issues on the property — such as removing asbestos and adding sprinklers — and making the mansion ADA accessible. Still, Guthrie said there are aspects of the original structure that the group wants to preserve.

“The conservatory on the south side of the building to me is just an exception space,” Guthrie said. “There’s nothing else like that in Evanston, and I would like to see it available to the general public.”

Evanston Community Lakehouse and Gardens has also begun private fundraising, Guthrie said, and is planning to start a crowdfunding campaign. She said the group has around $300,000 in pledges and they are in the process of confirming those donations.

Guthrie said she has not heard of another group planning to submit a proposal, and interim city manager Erika Storlie told The Daily that the city cannot comment on any submissions.

The city’s request for proposals also prohibits groups planning to submit responses from communicating with city officials.

The city will hold a meeting Nov. 5 at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center where groups planning to submit proposals can present their ideas to residents.

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