About the Harley Clarke House

With Evanston’s budget crisis, does the City have money to spend on Harley Clarke?

The City now spends only $15,000 per year on maintenance costs. This represents .005% of the City’s budget of $300,000,000. Two different citizens’ groups have each offered to cover these costs for the City while the future of Harley Clarke can be determined, so there is NO need to rush into an irreversible decision.

What condition is the mansion in now? Can it be usable?

The City has cited a range of code compliant renovation costs from $170k (2013) to $270k (2015) to $650k (2016.) The 2016 report commissioned by the City concluded that the mansion was mostly in “serviceable condition,” with significant repairs needed. An assessment by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates in 2016 concludes that the building remains structurally sound, with no identified priority 1 repairs needed (repairs necessary to be addressed within the next year or two to manage potentially hazardous conditions).

The demolition group says they will deconstruct the mansion and coach house, restore the Jens Jensen gardens, and restore and expand the dunes area, all with no contribution from the City. Is that true?

The current plan for the site is a shadow of what the demolition group proposed. The MOU between the City and the demolition group includes demolition of the buildings, not deconstruction. There is no plan or obligation which includes any mention of, or funding for, restoring the historic Jens Jensen gardens or other promised landscaping improvements. The $400,000 pledged may not even cover the cost of demolition, let alone procurement (permitting, engineering, utility removal, asbestos and other environmental remediation) and tree removal.

Site works including dunes restoration, park expansion, beach expansion, increased parking and a new access road/walking path will need to be designed, managed and funded elsewhere. These are not included in the MOU. Upkeep is also not budgeted. It is unclear who will do these works, how much they will cost, or if taxpayers will have to pay for them.

Will demolishing Harley Clarke create much-needed parkland?

Harley Clarke sits amidst an existing 6+ acres of grass and parkland. Demolishing the mansion and coach house would add only ¼ acre of additional grass. Evanston is fortunate to have abundant parkland along the lakeshore from south to north. Harley Clarke is the ONLY public lakefront house.

Why has the process taken so long?

Good ideas take time. It’s common for projects such as this to be mothballed while an adaptive re-use is identified, and this process can take time (see Uptown Theatre and Cook County Hospital, both anticipated to be economic engines for their communities). There is no pressure to make an irreversible decision now, especially with maintenance costs being carried by a citizens’ group.

The City itself has initiated many of the delays throughout this process: due to "Illinois budget uncertainties" (2015); by declining an offer from Landmarks Illinois to complete an adaptive re-use study; prolonging the process with the previous preferred bidder for three years; and pulling support from the lease written with City staff and refusing to revisit the revised lease.

Will demolishing Harley Clarke save the site from being developed by private interests?

To be determined. The community has been consistently vocal in their support for a community use in the Harley Clarke mansion. If the City bows to the voices of a few, it is unknown what steps could be next. In fact, the landmarked protection of the existing building may in fact be staving off private development on the lakefront.

It would be nice, but does preserving the building make financial sense?

Experts advise “smart cities mothball such treasures until an adaptive re-use is found.” The City could do nothing, and it will still cost the taxpayers nothing, as maintenance costs will be funded elsewhere. Further, there is a very legitimate concern that the demolition plan will surpass the $400K offer due to the uncertainty as to what is included in the demolition estimate. Taxpayers are at risk of covering unanticipated demolition, landscaping and other site costs. The demolition group’s $400K offer is a flat offer for demolition, procurement and tree removal without including contingencies, overages or undiscovered costs. The demolition group has been clear that they are unwilling to provide a blank check needed to fund the project.

On the contrary, preservation of historically listed buildings has been shown to be a significant economic boon to local economies. A major study on economic benefits of historic preservation showed for every $1 invested there was a resulting $2.44 economic benefit, meaning more local jobs and a larger local tax base.

Is demolishing the building the most environmentally-friendly solution?

The most environmentally sound action for any existing structure is re-use. The second most environmentally sound action is deconstruction, which saves old-forest wood, historic glass, copper and other construction materials.

Demolition is the opposite of a “green” value. The city-received deconstruction estimate from BlueEarth deconstruction (here, page 129) made specific reference of the “historical and cultural significance” of the project, and an estimated “50 truckloads of reusable building materials” that would all go to a landfill after demolition.

Is demolition the best choice for the City?

The demolition of Harley Clarke may actually have significant impacts beyond the loss of a public asset.

Evanston is one of only 81 Illinois Communities that have achieved "Certified Local Government" status, and was one of the very first cities to do so. This National Trust designation, demonstrating a community's commitment to saving the past for future generations, opens the door to grants and tax breaks. But CLG status may be in danger if the City unnecessarily demolishes a landmarked building -- especially one widely identified as important and endangered. From a preservation standpoint, the worst thing a city can do is accept the stewardship of a special building and then ruin it through neglect or demolition, especially when there are other viable solutions.