Setting the record straight.

We felt it was important to respond to the recent efforts by a group calling itself “Evanston Lighthouse Dunes” that is proposing to tear down Harley Clarke and the Coach House and restore the grounds. There are several issues with the tear down advocates’ plan:

The majority of residents in Evanston do not want the building to be demolished. This has been confirmed in several public settings over the past 3+ years.  In the survey from the 2014 Citizens Committee, chaired by Steve Hagerty, demolition only received 12% of first place votes. City Council subsequently voted unanimously on September 12, 2016 to retain the building and reserve $250,000 for building repairs and to put programming in the building.  Tearing down a local landmark building would set a terrible precedent for Evanston’s Historic Preservation goals more broadly, especially in light of the Trump administration’s most recent budget cuts regarding historic preservation and proposal to eliminate the historic preservation tax credit.  Demolition has already been litigated in the court of public opinion, and was not supported.

We agree that the Jens Jensen Gardens and Dunes at the site should be restored. This has been a central element of our plan from the beginning.  Saving a historical landmark building in no way precludes restoring the gardens and dunes.  On the contrary, by tearing down the historic landmark we might gain a quarter acre of grass. At the same time we would lose the economic engine of the site, lose a historical landmark, lose the opportunity for year-round programming on the lakefront, and lose the opportunity for a Great Lakes environmental education center. Preservation of the Harley Clarke house is essential to educational uses of the property.  You can find overviews of educational value of the house, potential educational programs, and specific comments on the need for an indoor-outdoor space for youth education from our partners and the public, on the public record of the city's Harley Clarke planning committee at:

Specifically, see the presentation from our partners at the Northwestern Center for Water Research from December 2016:

This was based on the request of Evanston 7th Ward Alderman Eleanor Revelle.

We have also formed a partnership including the Northwestern Center for Water Research, Science in Society Program, the ETHS and District 65 coordination offices, LakeDance, YOU, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, to develop educational programs in this space.

The tear down advocates are using several inaccurate arguments or gross mischaracterizations to support their position. Their arguments include:

  • ‘Quasi-Privatization’: The tear down group has suggested that leasing the building to Evanston Lakehouse would be a quasi- or soft-privatization.  This is a gross misrepresentation and is not true in practice or in law.  First, in practice, Evanston Lakehouse is a 501 c 3 non-profit public charity that operates for the benefit of the public. Our non-profit public charity status was confirmed by the Internal Revenue Service when they confirmed our tax status. We are specifically prohibited from providing ‘private benefit’ and must operate for public benefit, which is what we will do.  From a legal perspective, the privatization argument is also inaccurate. The City of Evanston will continue to own the building, Evanston Lakehouse would just be a tenant – there is no privatization. 
  • ‘Events are a problem’: The tear down advocates have suggested that by renting out the building for a limited number of events it would become exclusive.  Again – this is a gross mischaracterization.  Renting out space for events is a common practice for historic houses – for example the Evanston History Center does it, Cheney Mansion in Oak Park does it, the Grove in Glenview does it. Events – like your kids’ preschool fundraiser, a graduation, wedding, or anniversary celebration – would represent a small percentage of our operations.  During the day we would be offering environmental education, cultural history programs, architectural tours of the house, a nature preschool, or yoga classes. Renting the house for a limited number of evenings would not interfere with programming and public access and would provide revenue to support that programming.  Our goal is to have these types of events represent less than 5% of our operating hours. Evanston Lakehouse doesn’t want a ‘wedding factory’ at Harley Clarke.  We won’t be one.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  • Financials – The tear down advocates have suggested that Evanston Lakehouse will need to raise $14-15 million.  This is not true. Our capital campaign target is $4.8 million for restoration of the buildings and $500,000 for operations start-up costs of our non-profit.  This is a total of $5.3 million.  So, where are they getting $14-15 million?  We had to do some work to figure this out ourselves.  They are adding up all of the grants, gifts and fundraising that we would plan to do over the next 40-years of the lease.  The equivalent analysis would be to say the YMCA needs to raise $84 million this year to be viable, and Northwestern needs to raise $28 billion this year to be viable.  Clearly, adding up 40 years of a non-profit’s future fundraising is a gross mischaracterization of their funding needs.  Raising gifts and grants is the typical business practice for non-profits.  To suggest that Evanston Lakehouse needs raise $14-15 million is either a misunderstanding of how non-profits work, or an intentional error designed to inflate the numbers. Either way, it’s inaccurate and misrepresents our financial needs and inflates them more than 3-times the actual number.

    On the fundraising front, we have already secured over $100,000 of donations and pledges for the project – despite the uncertainty over whether we will receive a lease.  We believe this is a very positive start. It is not typical to raise money for a project in partnership with a City BEFORE the City has approved or endorsed the project – we are doing GREAT!  If that was the requirement, almost no non-profit/public project would get off the ground.  For example, the Robert Crown project did not have the funds for the project raised BEFORE the city and community endorsed the plan for a new recreation center.  First, everyone endorsed the plan, then they all worked together to raise the money.  The fact that Evanston Lakehouse has raised $100,000 *prior* to City endorsement is a very positive sign.

    The tear down group has also suggested that the pledges we have received should not count towards the commitments for the project.  Again, this is a mischaracterization.  It is typical for non-profits to receive pledges towards a capital campaign, and then call those pledges once the project will launch. We will also follow this proven model.

The City process to get to this point has been extensive. Non-profit operation was the most supported option in the survey conducted by the Citizens Committee chaired by Steve Hagerty.  The City Council voted unanimously to retain the building and put programming in it on September 12, 2016. A second committee, appointed in 2016, studied options for Harley Clarke for 9-months through a series of public meetings.  That committee, including the Parks and Recreation Department and the Lighthouse Landing Committee recommended our plan.  The City council then issued an RFP for any and all non-profits who were interested in Harley Clarke.  We were the only group to take the time, effort and care to respond – with a detailed 100-page proposal.  To circulate a petition seeking support for tearing the building down just days before City Council is scheduled to vote on the responses to the RFP and after years of public discussion subverts the extensive process that has led us to this point, and should not be tolerated.

Ultimately, the rationale for tear down is based largely on inaccurate arguments and mischaracterizations of Evanston Lakehouse’s plan, does not reflect the past 5-years of public process, ignores the public’s desire for historic preservation, and only represents a small group of ‘not-in-my-backyard’ activists who chose not to participate in the open and public process and are now trying to derail the progress we have made as a community.