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home : opinion June 24, 2016

5/8/2013 2:24:00 PM
Editorial: The City Should Scrap Tawani Bid on Clarke Mansion

Anyone who is reading this paper straight through now knows that Colonel James (“Jay”) Pritzker’s Tawani Enterprises, Inc. has bid $1.2 million for the Harley Clarke mansion, which now houses the Evanston Art Center, and about 2.5 acres of land surrounding it. Last year the mansion was appraised at about $2 million and the entire parcel at about $3 million.

The City Manager and at least some aldermen have been hoping for a couple of years to sell the property. The mansion needs a lot of maintenance work, which the City may not be in a financial position to perform at present; and some alderman have said they think the City should not be a landlord.

Much has come to light over the past few weeks, and we think it is time for the City to halt negotiations with Col. Pritzker, send out new requests for proposals and rethink its position on leasing the mansion.

We have three reasons for this: First, the Pritzker bid is unreasonably low. Several City Council members have said this – including Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who said in a closed-session City Council meeting a few weeks ago that the City should ask for more money.

Second, the City appears to have shed its reluctance to be a landlord. At the other end of town, on Howard Street, the City is happily a landlord to a wine bar and an apartment and is likely soon to be a landlord to another restaurant and to a theatre troupe.

But most of all, the City should not sell its precious assets.

 Selling a City asset is like dipping into a retirement fund – a nest egg or safety net that we as residents of Evanston all share. The Lakefront Master Plan, adopted in 2008, calls for passive, public enjoyment of the lakefront, with a few temporary but not-commercial events, such as the art festivals.

We have been through this a few times before – the panic of trying to sell City property – and the City Council has always come to its senses. We did not sell the Chandler Center, the Ecology Center, the Civic Center or the building that houses the North Branch Library. The City and its residents are better off for having retained them.

Mayor Tisdahl said a few years ago that “not one blade of grass” around the mansion should be sold. We agree. The City Council should be stewards of the City’s assets – not cashiers.

It is reasonable, though, for the City to contemplate leasing the Harley Clarke mansion for a short period of time, with optional renewals, to a not-for-profit with a small footprint.

Council members and City Manager: Lease the mansion or fix it up and put it to City use. Scrap the Tawani bid and, in the words of Ted White and Aretha Franklin, “Think, think, think about what you’re doing.”

Evanston can do better. Evanston deserves better.

Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, June 17, 2013
Article comment by: Camille Blachowicz

Public park land should NOT be sold for any reason. Evanston is gaining residents and needs this park land. The lighthouse area is one of our few lake view areas. If the mansion can't be maintained, tear it down, sell off the woodwork, mantels, etc. and make it a public area. Build another shelter.
This is just as stupid and shortsighted as the earlier attempt to sell of Chandler park. Public land for the public.

Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Article comment by: Dan Thomas

I agree with Mr. Wertymer. The fine republic we live in was created to serve the basic needs of the people, not to own and maintain vast expansions of property. This is proven by the large amounts of property the GSA has that is sitting abandoned across the nation and falling into a deteriorated status. Let the competitive bid status run it's course so that the city can continue with it's primary purpose...maintaining city services to the residents of Evanston.

Posted: Saturday, May 11, 2013
Article comment by: John Wertymer

I've made numerous development proposals to the City for the Clarke mansion and its coach house beginning in 1995. They have all involved long term leases of the land, because the lakeside asset needs to be maintained for the public good especially here where it is in the middle of a park setting.

At the same time I believe that the City has no business operating real estate. The current deterioration of the mansion is testimony and at the basis of the current offering. My plan was similar to the one now proposed. This plan is not a guaranteed success, but it is the best use that will retain the building in a manner compatible with its surroundings. The price is fair and would work with the land being held by the City in a long term lease arrangement. Taxes should be assessed at some point after the project is complete and in operation. After all the main priority is for the City to avoid putting its money into the building. P.S. If my proposal had been accepted the City would have collected close to $1,000,000 in taxes at this point in time.

And, as for the Art Center, I had proposed a privately owned and tax paying art center adjacent to Dempster Plaza with the best taken from two other art centers I had founded in the City of Chicago -- Lillstreet Art Center and the Cornelia Arts Building. Strange, but I couldn't garner any commuity interest in such ideas even though they have been sucessfully operating in Chicago since 1975 and 1987, respecfully.

Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013
Article comment by: junad rizki

Thank you for you excellent reporting and looking into this story. The public needs to know the truth about our publlic officials.

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