City Council discusses miscommunication in Harley Clarke, Jens Jensen leasing process


Daily file photo by Mika Ellison

At Monday’s meeting, City Council heard concerns about negotiating a lease with Jens Jensen Gardens in Evanston over the Harley Clarke Mansion.

William Tong, Assistant City Editor

Councilmembers, Evanston officials and community members clashed over the future of the Harley Clarke Mansion during Monday’s City Council meeting.

Non-profit Artists Book House had signed a lease with the city for the building in 2021 but decided to back out in January due to fundraising difficulties. The organization also struggled to negotiate a sublease with Jens Jensen Gardens in Evanston, a group that wants to take care of the mansion grounds. 

Evanston Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings said the city’s legal team needs more guidance as it attempts to draft a lease for the Harley Clarke Mansion grounds with Jens Jensen Gardens in Evanston. 

During its Jan. 23 meeting, the Administration & Public Works Committee directed city staff to negotiate a lease with Jens Jensen. 

Because of that, Cummings wants to know whether the city wants to bifurcate the property, which would split the building and grounds to require separate leases. Additionally, he said he needs more specific details on whether Jens Jensen would have exclusive use of the mansion’s grounds as his team undergoes negotiations. 

City councilmembers expressed diverging opinions on what they want the lease to look like. 

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) and Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said they want to slow down the lease process for Jens Jensen and let other organizations submit proposals for the Harley Clarke Mansion itself, rather than its grounds, first. 

“We have a whole pizza to sell,” Nieuwsma said. “I would rather try to sell a whole pizza than a pizza with one piece that’s already taken out of it.” 

Several organizations, including ONECommunity Museum and Friends of Harley Clarke, asked to lease the mansion during public comment. Additionally, Northwestern proposed using Harley Clarke to house a center for climate action through the Institute for Sustainability and Energy, according to Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th). 

Other councilmembers, like Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) and Ald. Devon Reid (8th), said the city should follow through with the Administration & Public Works Committee decision and negotiate lease proposals with Jens Jensen. 

“It undermines our process … our democratic values and the legislative process to not allow that committee’s direction to move forward,” Reid said. “Have it come to council, and we can take a vote here.”

According to Jens Jensen Board Chair Charles Smith, the organization sent a draft lease to the city in September. He said city staff did not reply with a list of modification requests until January. 

At one point during the City Council meeting, Smith and Cummings argued about who was to blame for miscommunications about the terms of the agreement. 

“We haven’t doggone had a chance to put them in the lease,” Smith told Cummings. 

Cummings said Smith’s team never sent over its terms about maintaining an event calendar and operating the Harley Clarke grounds as a community center. 

While City Council did not approve any new action regarding Harley Clarke during the meeting, Cummings and his team will continue trying to draft a lease with Jens Jensen by Feb. 27, the next City Council meeting.

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Twitter: @william2tong

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