Evanston officials are expected to begin discussion soon over whether to accept a $1.2 million bid from Col. James Pritzker for the historic, city-owned Harley Clarke Mansion, according to city sources.
Submitted earlier this year, the bid is only about half of the city’s appraised value for the home itself, according to city sources. That proposal by the hotel chain heir casts doubt as to what the city will eventually do with the historic – yet dilapidated – property, currently occupied by the Evanston Art Center.
The city put the property out to bid last year, and while four parties were interested, the only formal bid came from Tawani Enterprises, a private wealth management firm controlled by Pritzker.
As first reported by the Evanston Round Table and subsequently confirmed by Evanston Patch, officials from Tawani Enterprises met with city representatives in two meetings last December and February. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, submitted a bid for $1.2 million for the entire property, with the goal of converting the mansion into a 57-room boutique hotel. The city has appraised the mansion alone at $2.1 million.
Pritzker did not respond to numerous attempts for comment through his public relations representatives.
The Pritzker bid is the latest twist in what has been a tricky situation regarding the nearly 38,000-square-foot property at 2063 Sheridan Road, which was designed by famed architect Jens Jensen. Deputy city manager Joe McRae anticipates the matter will be discussed before the entire city council either later this month or in June.
“It’s a great property,” McRae said. “It’s a piece of history and something good ought to be done with it.”
Last year, the city commissioned a study from a local architectural firm assessing the state of the home and the surrounding grounds. The firm indicated $430,000 would be needed just for ongoing maintenance. However, a total renovation of the property could cost anywhere from $3 to $5 million, according to Ald. Jane Grover, who represents the 7th ward where the property is located.
Those associated costs explain why the city solicited bids in the first place. Still, there is no guarantee Evanston will go ahead and sell the property. The council could decide to accept the bid, continue negotiations, or outright reject the offer.
“All options are open at this point,” McRae said.
Ultimately, the city council will have to make the decision.
“We should always be wary of selling public assets, but at the same time we should also be wary of continuing maintenance of a building that is expensive to maintain,” said Ald. Grover.
While aldermen will have the final say on the matter, McRae is confident there will be plenty of public input.
“We will ask the council to allow us to have a public process where there would be a community meeting so we can gather public insight on this thing,” he said. “That information will further inform council and staff as to how to proceed.”
If the city were to sell the property, a subsequent question opens up regarding the future of the Evanston Art Center, which has used the mansion as its home since the late 1960s, and leases it from the city at a nominal rate of $1 a year.
“We want them to remain in town and we would help them find adequate space in town to the extent possible,” McRae said.
In an e-mail to Patch, art center executive director Norah Diedrich said she declined to discuss the situation at this time.
Before the art center moved in, the mansion was home to the Sigma Chi National Fraternity from 1951-1965, and before that it was a private residence from its construction in 1926.
Whatever happens with the Harley-Clarke mansion marks another attempt by Pritzker to create business opportunities in Evanston. A five-bedroom home at 300 Church Street is being remodeled at the moment and is scheduled to open as a bed and breakfast soon.
. Pritzker hoped to turn the home into a bed and breakfast, but his proposal received a 4-2 negative vote from the city’s zoning board of appeals in April.
“It’s part of the zoning process,” Pritzker attorney Andrew Scott said. “We would have liked a favorable recommendation.”
Scott said he still believed there was hope for his client at the council level. The Forest Place property, which drew some neighborhood opposition, also got a thumbs down from the zoning board, but eventually won council approval.
“It’s a legislative decision by the city so it is completely up to them,” he said. “We have certain standards we need to meet and we intend to present a strong case that we will meet all the standards.”