The Evanston City Council’s human services committee voted 5-1 to terminate the lease of the Evanston Art Center, despite protestations that it could mean the demise of the 85-year-old arts organization.
The city manager was also given the green light to continue discussions with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources that has expressed interest in leasing the historic lakefront mansion at 2603 N. Sheridan Road.
The art center’s current lease agreement with the city includes a 240-day eviction clause.
Executive director Nora Diedrich asked the city to waive the eviction clause and give the art center two years to transition out of the Clarke building. While strategic planning identified that the building could not accommodate the art center’s ambitious expansive plan, it would still take two years to locate and renovate a suitable space and move there.
“We’re talking about huge art studios with printing presses and welding materials, this is not an easy move,” Diedrich said. “Eight months is simply not enough time for the art center to move and survive.”
Ald. Mark Tendam (6th Ward) told fellow council members that the city has put out mixed messages to the art center.
“I don’t know much about the [Illinois Department of Natural Resources’] proposal, it sounds sexy,” he said. “I wouldn’t risk losing the art center for a prospect that we don’t know much about.”
Ald. Judy Fiske (1st Ward) disagreed with Tendam, stating that as far back as 2011, the art center knew of the city’s plans to repurpose the property.
“They have gone through many iterations of what to do with the building. The art center has had a very long time to make a decision of what to do,” Fisk said. “I’m having some issues with this coming out of the blue after many years of discussion. I’m not sure the art center is negotiating in good faith on their end.”
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the city was looking at a spring or summer timeline for possibly finalizing a lease agreement. The 240-day clock, however, is already ticking.
“My concern is once the opportunity to move forward is in place that it would be difficult to ask them to wait an additional eight months,” Bobkiewicz said. “There are discussions [by the state legislature] for the capital budget and this agency may be eligible for funding. We may miss this by asking [IDNR] to wait an additional eight months.”
Under the termination clause the art center would have to relocate by the fall. Ald. Delores Holmes (5th Ward) and the committee chair asked the city manager to see if more time could be negotiated with environmental agency. In turn, the city would work with the Evanston Art Center is finding a new space to ensure a soft transition.
“We need to think about what would happen after two years when we may not have a viable tenant,” Holmes said.
The measure goes before the city council for a full vote next week.
Meanwhile, an online petition, "Save the Evanston Art Center," has been started on Change.org, and has accumulated over 2,000 signatures.