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Evanston City Council Rejects Harley Clarke Mansion Sale

Members of the Evanston city council voted 6-3 Monday to reject a bid from James Pritzker to purchase the lakefront property and 2.5 acres of surrounding park.

After receiving thousands of petitions, countless e-mails and numerous phone calls opposing the proposed sale of Evanston’s lakefront Harley Clarke Mansion to Hyatt Hotel heir James Pritzker, city council members voted 6-3 Monday to reject Pritzker’s bid.

Pritzker submitted an offer of $1.2 million for the mansion and 2.5 acres of surrounding parkland last year, after the city issued a request for proposals for purchase of the mansion alone.  He proposed turning it into a 57-room boutique hotel, while maintaining some public access to the beach nearby. 

Before a crowd of people that overflowed out of the city council chambers and into two separate rooms set up for attendees, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl told the residents “blame me if you’re concerned.”

“I did, as did someone else, want to find an adaptive reuse for the mansion and suggested to Col Pritzker that he have a bed and breakfast there,” Tisdahl said. “His proposal was not what I had anticipated, and I do not believe we should sell public land, nor do I believe this council intends to sell public land.”

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Asked to clarify who the second person was who supported the proposal, Tisdahl told Patch she did not want to identify the person to whom she was referring. She said she could not remember specifically when she had a conversation with Pritzker, but said it happened within the last year and was not an official meeting.

Ald. Don Wilson (4th ward) moved to decline the proposal submitted by Pritzker’s company, Tawani Enterprises. The motion passed 6-3, with aldermen Ann Rainey (8th ward), Delores Holmes (5th ward) and Coleen Burrus (9th ward) voting against it.

“It’s a question of preserving a community asset,” said Wilson, who also thanked Tawani Enterprises for the proposal.  City officials have said they put the mansion up for bid because the city could not afford the upkeep on the historic property—including what Tisdahl described as “millions of dollars of deferred maintenance.” 

Lakefront Ald. Judy Fiske (1st Ward), who has been vocal in her opposition of the proposed sale of the mansion, said the city acquired the mansion for the purpose of increasing parkland in Evanston, and that purpose should be kept in mind.

“What happens to the house happens to the parkland,” Fiske said. “And we’re really park poor in Evanston.” 

Fellow lakefront alderman Melissa Wynne (2nd Ward) said she would rather see the building disassembled than used for commercial space.

“I know that many of you think that’s awful,” Wynne said. “But I think we need to consider that, because it will be difficult for us to find the appropriate dollars to restore this building.”

Ald. Burrus, however, said she opposed the motion to reject Pritzker’s bid precicsely because of the issue of money. She said the building was “severely deteriorated,” with lead-based paint, asbestos, and lead in the water, and would need a new roof costing well over $1 million. 

“I agree…with the beach and the parkland not being sold, but we need to look very constructively at what to do with the building because it is a liability, not an asset,” Burrus said. 

Ald. Wilson made a second motion directing the city manager to find an alternate use for the building that did not involve public parkland, which was passed unanimously. City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he would return in September with additional ideas for the use of the building, plus an evaluation of the building’s current state of repair.  

At least 63 people signed up to speak at the city council meeting, the majority of whom came to tell the council that they opposed the sale of the mansion. Many praised the council’s decision not to sell parkland, but also called for public engagement and transparency in future discussion of the property.   

“The transparency issue is really critical,” said 80-year Evanston resident Bennett Johnson. “You don’t own that seat. You represent the people that put you there—and you forget sometimes your respect to them.”

Jim July 23, 2013 at 08:18 AM
We all know innovative and shrewd people who love to build and renew builings for pennies on the dollar compared to what a city government would spend. the entire job could be done for $100 per square foot, including the roof, if the right people had the job. That would be $1,000,000 for the entire job. Certainly the city could come up with that begged, borrowed or as Rahm would say with an "infrastructure Partnership".
Tom Fischl July 23, 2013 at 09:04 AM
The Evanston City Council voted 6-3 last night to reject the proposal by the Pritzkers to purchase city property. It was reported that last nights meeting had the largest citizen turn out in Council history. The debate ended before it began as you can read from the Evanston Now article. The real story is in the details and what has been exposed from last night (by me, not the media). Alderman Wilson (an attorney) admitted that the conversation about the sale of the beachfront property was conducted behind closed doors which blatantly violated the Open Meetings Act of Illinois. For the last 20 years, Evanston has invoked one of the exemptions to the law whereby negotiating real estate can be conducted behind closed doors and hidden from public scrutiny. Since every controversial thing Evanston has done involves real estate, every conversation has been conducted behind closed doors. The Illinois Attorney General has concluded that Evanston has illegally invoked the statute on numerous occasions and we can now add the mansion sale to the list. It makes perfect sense for the city of Evanston to negotiate behind closed doors when the city is looking to purchase property. Any public knowledge of a potential sale to the city will undoubtedly inflate the price of the property. However once the property is purchased by the city, then the conversation needs to come back to the public realm which has never happened in Evanston. It does not make sense however, for the city of Evanston to negotiate the sale of public property behind closed doors. The more people who know about the sale, the higher the bid would go which benefits the taxpayers. I also believe that public scrutiny would make the projects better (I trust the people more then I trust the Government). Arthur Hill and the Pritzkers were specifically selected to receive taxpayer subsidies (in one form or another) and no other developer or hotel operator ever had a fair chance to compete. That is why these negotiations went behind closed doors. I do believe that what happened at last nights Evanston City Council meeting will change Evanston forever as the Government has dug themselves in to a hole they can’t get out of. The trust is lost. I am SO proud of my Evanstonians for coming out last night and sending such a powerful message. Ever since the city of Evanston was caught red-handed trying to steal property from the Peter Jans Golf course last year (which is why the Parks & Recreation Director is leaving), the momentum has shifted. Maybe now Evanston can be returned to its citizens where it belongs – in my opinion.
ereality July 23, 2013 at 11:36 AM
Last night at the Council meeting, Alderman Jane Grover of the 7th Ward added that she was disturbed by the amount of "incivility." “It’s hard to get the good nuggets when clouded by insult,” she said. Nuggets? How about the giant BOULDER you and some of your esteemed colleagues missed when your constituencies told you how they felt and you chose to ignore many of them and play poker? And speaking to "incivility"; it's a two way street. Perhaps Ald. Grover should have listened to and addressed/answered too the citizens of her ward first. Perhaps they would have not been so "uncivil"! And, too bad Grover did not look directly at Ald. Ann Rainey when she spoke of incivility!
Resident Citizen July 23, 2013 at 01:06 PM
Art's center needs new home. Mansion needs $430,000 just to get it up to code. Who is going to foot this bill? This was a bad protest based on not having all of the facts. I live within a few blocks of the park and was rooting that that property would have been restored to its former glory. The protest signs said "Parks are for people, not for profit" That doesn't even make sense as the property is currently rented out for $1 per year, so in theory it is private property already. Prizker was going to put $22 million into the home, would have been a feather in the cap for Evanston. Shame.
elizabeth July 23, 2013 at 01:07 PM
Hurrah for our voices being heard!!
Jane July 23, 2013 at 01:47 PM
Too bad. I think it would have been a nice asset to the community. I hope the same people who lobbied against this won't complain as we watch the building sit empty and slowly deteriorate, or complain as their taxes are raised to fund renovation for yet another historical museum whose hours are so limited it surely cannot make enough money to fund its upkeep.
Jim July 23, 2013 at 02:11 PM
I always thought that elected officials were to REPRESENT their constituent's wishes and views, not initiate actions regardless of their constituent's views and wishes. Maybe not in Evanston.
Karen July 23, 2013 at 02:12 PM
Yes, it was a good day for Evanstonians! Glad to see everyone become so engaged in this issue and have out voices be heard. With everyone fully engaged, I bet the community will come together and raise funds and creative, appropriate ideas for this structure. Evanston Patch editor, this was a HUGE story for Evanston (as evidenced by Chicago TV and newspaper coverage), why did we not get a news alert about THIS
Karen July 23, 2013 at 02:14 PM
...no news alert email blast about this, but always alerts about petty crime in Evanston. Seriously, what kind of news outlet is this? Just catering to the Jordan Zoots and the gun advocates?
Jim July 23, 2013 at 02:32 PM
Jane, no problem. just tear the mansion down and leave the site as a park. Inexpensive and solves the problem. I don't think the objection was about the building. more about selling public property to private interests, sort of parking meter like in Chicago.
elizabeth July 23, 2013 at 04:48 PM
Good point Jim!
Resident Citizen July 23, 2013 at 04:59 PM
It will be very expensive to destroy the building. http://smallbusiness.chron.com/determine-building-demolition-costs-15447.html
Tony July 23, 2013 at 05:19 PM
It would be nice if everyone with a sign in front of their house was also forming a group to raise the almost half a million dollars to bring the building up to code. Easy to say no, the hard part is what comes after.
Jim July 23, 2013 at 08:18 PM
Sort of reminds me of the Foster School referendum when it lost. Some folks only like democratic principles when they win. otherwise they like ad hominems. If the building is in such terrible shape, why hasn't the city been keeping up with the maintenence all along. The city has over a million bucks to throw at new parking meters. Probably could do without those. government needs to learn to live BELOW it's means for rainy days rather than spending everything and then coming up with ideas to fix the problems that they caused with poor management and foresight by trying to do things their constituents don't want. the constituents didn't cause the problems. the city did.
Junad Rizki July 24, 2013 at 08:24 AM
The city has mispresented everything about this - Alderperson Burrus is clueless to the real costs - claiming 10 million dollars is nonsense and the roof does not need replaced. There are two reports available one suggests about $400.,000 to fix the exterior of Harley clarke, the other suggest $430,000 to up grade code problems for the art center. By the way they claim they want to move out. These Alderperson and the Mayor have lied, about the cost for their own political agenda, versus the public good. They just approved spending over $100,000 for an Arts coordinator postion a do nothing job- in ten years that will have wasted $1 million plus dollars! The city budget is over $250 million the so called restoration costs for this building are truely tiny in relation to the budget. The entire sale was a joke, and shows us how screwed up the city really operates. There is alot of work here to make this right Wally and his staff can not do it, because they are clueless to the process, Wally just is trying to dump our valuable assets versus manage them. The Mayor is worthless and can not provide the leadership. by the why what did they tell Wally to do come back in 60 days with a solution, please how about Wally coming back with a process for the road map to get to a solution which involves citizen input and some real data?
Junad Rizki July 24, 2013 at 08:35 AM
Alperson Burrus should explain to the public why she thinks it would cost over $550 a square foot to renovate the Harley clarke Mansion. Also here claims about numerous environmental problems, were interesting to say the least given the report on the code analysis said they did no testing.
Karen July 27, 2013 at 03:31 PM
Jennifer, the petty crime type stories (bike story) also get top billing in the daily newsletter but there was also an emergency alert about that and not about this story, which was huge. My point is that I don't think it is good practice to focus your breaking news solely on often petty crime (that is repeated and repeated and repeated) and not giving the same focus/sense of urgency to other stories that our community cares about and are obviously much bigger stories. So much negative coverage/focus in our great community when there are a lot bigger and more interesting stories we would like more focus on.
Jennifer Fisher (Editor) July 28, 2013 at 11:33 PM
Thanks for the feedback, Karen.

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