State, city talks on Harley Clarke Mansion continue

City officials are stressing that talks with a state agency on lease of the Harley Clarke Mansion at 2603 Sheridan Road focus on the mansion and accompanying coach house and keep surrounding land open to the public.| Bob Seidenberg~Sun-Times Media
City officials are stressing that talks with a state agency on lease of the Harley Clarke Mansion at 2603 Sheridan Road focus on the mansion and accompanying coach house and keep surrounding land open to the public.| Bob Seidenberg~Sun-Times Media

Evanston officials are aiming by September to draft a lease with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for the city-owned Harley Clarke Mansion, where the agency hopes to place its coastal management programs.

In an update at the City Council’s Human Services Committee meeting Monday night, officials said talks with IDNR have focused on the mansion itself and the neighboring coach house building.

Meanwhile, the city and Lighthouse Park District would retain ownership of the parking lot, beach, lighthouse and surrounding land, all of which would remain open to the public, officials stressed.

Several years, plans to lease surrounding land to a private developer for boutique hotel spurred community protest.

Based on prior studies and assessments of the property, city officials estimate $5 million in renovations are needed at century-old, Tudor-style mansion, at 2603 Sheridan Road.

The necessary renovations would be split into two construction phases with the first consisting of interior build out of the office portion of the project and addressing fire and life safety issues, officials said.

At the meeting Monday night, Jeff Smith, longtime Evanston resident and now general counsel for IDNR, said the agency has heard nothing but positive feedback since reports surfaced about the agency’s plans to partner with the city on the project.

“We know there is an amazing synergy between what we have in mind and what already exists there,” he said. “[A] coastal management program right on the coast could not be a better fit to what poll after poll says is the greatest asset of Evanston, namely the lake, and to be able to restore that asset and help brand Evanston is an incredible opportunity.”

At the same time, he indicated the state is still looking at how to fund the project. He noted the anticipated stream of funding for the project was through the federal Coastal Zone funding program, which “may not necessarily comprehend the large infusions [of cash] we’re talking about here.’’

The construction phase would begin after the Evanston Art Center, the longtime tenant of the property, vacates the property in early 2015.

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