Representatives of Col. James Pritzker say his company would spend $22 million to faithfully restore and improve the historic city-owned Harley Clarke Mansion if Evanston officials approve the purchase.
Pritzker-owned Tawani Enterprises, Inc., was the final bidder on the 20,275-square-foot lakefront mansion at 2603 Sheridan Rd., after the city issued a request for proposals last fall. If the city accepts the $1.2 million bid, Tawani will turn the mansion into a luxury boutique hotel, adding a three-story annex with additional hotel rooms and a 200-space underground parking garage open to the public.
Some residents say they are upset over the proposed sale of the historic, lakefront property, which is currently home to the Evanston Art Center. Nearly 800 people have signed a petition on Change.org opposing the sale, arguing that Pritzker’s bid of $1.2 million is too low and that the city should retain ownership of the entire property adjacent to Lighthouse Beach.
Members of Pritzker’s team told Patch, however, that they believe the project will ultimately be a boon to the city. They say the $22 million project budget (not including the purchase price for the building) would include a faithful historic restoration on par with other restorations Tawani has done throughout the Chicago area, and that the hotel would provide jobs and other economic benefits to the city through sales, liquor and property taxes. Furthermore, Pritzker’s team vows that public access to the lakefront along the current path will be maintained.
Dawn Overend, coordinator of Pritzker’s projects in Evanston, says she believes people have jumped to conclusions about the project, particularly about access to the public beach.
“We had hoped to beautify and improve access to the public beach and to the park,” Overend told Patch during a meeting with the Tawani team at Pritzker’s Evanston home.
In addition to the parking garage, Overend said Tawani would add a set of handicapped-accessible restrooms open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and open the mansion’s front lawn to the public (most likely during daytime hours only). She also said the hotel lobby and a restaurant and café on the hotel’s ground floor would also be open to anyone.
“When you have this treasure, we’d like to be open to the public,” Overend said.
Renovations of the building would include restoration of the original gardens designed by famed landscape artist Jens Jensen, the glass conservatory and details like the original hardware, moldings and steel windows (which are now inoperable).
“It really is exorbitant costs to restore this,” she said.
Tawani chief operating officer Sean McGowan noted that Tawani has completed or is working on historic restorations of several other buildings in Chicago, including the Monroe Building at 104 S. Michigan, downtown. The Chicago Architecture Foundation recognized the restoration of the 16-story building in 2011, and Landmarks Illinois also honored it with a state-wide award in 2012. Tawani is currently working on a restoration of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Emil Bach House, at 7415 N. Sheridan Rd. in Rogers Park, among other projects.
“When we decide to do it in a project, we really do it right,” McGowan said.
He said Tawani would try to save or replicate as much of the Harley Clarke Mansion as possible. Already, the company is looking at photographs of the home from the Evanston History Center, which show how it looked when it was first built in 1927 as a private residence.
“We believe this would deliver an absolute gem to the neighborhood,” McGowan said.
The hotel’s target guests would be tourists visiting Chicago or parents of students at Northwestern, according to McGowan. If constructed, the inn would be one of the only lakefront hotels for several miles, and a restaurant inside would be one of the few lakefront restaurants.
Assuming the city approves the purchase, the hotel would take approximately two years to design and construct, according to Tawani project manager Mark Lavender. The annex with additional rooms would be built to look like the rest of the mansion, and beach access would be maintained throughout construction, according to Lavender. He also said Tawani would work with as many local contractors as possible, including Evanston architect Paul Janicki, who has designed two bed and breakfasts Pritzker is opening at 1622 Forest Place and 300 Church St.
Asked whether Pritzker planned to purchase more buildings in Evanston, Overend said he was considering the purchase of some commercial properties further west. But, she added, “We will not purchase a property where we believe it would disturb the neighbors.”