The proposal presented by Colonel Jay Pritzker’s Taiwani Enterprises seems to have sparked dollar signs in the eyes of many City Council members. Col. Pritzker proposes to develop and expand the Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road, into a 57-room “boutique” hotel. He has offered $1.2 million to purchase the mansion and 2.5 acres of the City’s land there.
While City officials and many aldermen appear determined to continue negotiations with Col. Pritzker and Taiwani about the sale of the mansion, opposition to the sale appears to be growing.
Signs stating “No Park Sale” by the ad-hoc group NoParkSale can be seen on many lawns in the north part of Evanston, both east and west. No Park Sale came out of Change.org, an online petition objecting to the sale of the mansion. The group has a Facebook page but no website yet, said Mary Rosinki, a member of the group.
More than two years ago the City put out a request for proposals (RFP) to develop the mansion, which for the last 40-some years has been home to the Evanston Art Center. Before that, it was the local home of Sigma Chi fraternity. The Art Center, which has a lease until 2021, terminable upon 280 days’ notice, has been looking for a new home for several years, said Executive Director ora Diedrich.
Because the first RFP drew no responsive answers, the deadline was extended. Most aldermen appeared to agree that only the mansion would be sold, and at that time Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl vowed “not one blade of grass” would be sold.
Countless blades of grass in the park would be removed from public access, however, were this proposal accepted. The City owns the property at 2603 Sheridan Road, called Lighthouse Landing Park, the Grosse Pointe Light Station and Lawson Park, which abuts the north end of the parking area – but does not own Northeast Park, which abuts the west end of the parking area. Taiwani’s proposal appears to end with the current parking area, but new access to the beach would have to come through City-owned Lawson Park, which abuts the north end of the parking lot. It is not clear how access to other amenities at Lighthouse beach – the gardens designed by Jens Jensen, the grotto recently rehabbed with money from an Evanston family, and the Council ring, which families can now rent for an evening’s bonfire – would be affected.
The City Council has already changed its bed-and-breakfast ordinance to allow Col. Pritzker to operate two bed-and-breakfasts on Sheridan Road without living in them; the previous ordinance mandated that an owner be on the premises to operate a bed-and-breakfast establishment.
Meanwhile, residents continue to protest the potential sale of the mansion and the development of the lakefront – which they say, and which this newspaper said in an editorial on July 3 – will diminish the City and tarnish the legacy of one of its visionary residents, Daniel Burnham, champion of an open, public lakefront.