|Col. James Prtizker (Ret.)|
(Photo courtesy of Forbes Mag.)
A member of the Pritzker family wants to buy the mansion on-the-cheap and turn it into a boutique hotel for the well-off.
I've blogged many times about Penny Pritzker, President Obama's former national campaign finance chair who is his choice to be the next Commerce Secretary. One of her billionaire cousins is James N. Pritzker, a retired Illinois Army National Guard lieutenant colonel. He's best known as the patron of Chicago's Pritzker Military Library. He enlisted in the US Army in 1974. Pritzker's biography on the library web site is vague in regards to his final rank in the regular Army; it appears that he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1979 and was released from his service in 1985. He retired from the Guard in 2001.
|Grosse Point Lighthouse|
But local media always refers to James as "Colonel Pritzker," so it's easy to ascertain that it is what he calls himself. I know some retired colonels. They introduce themselves to others as "Mike" or "Dennis," not "Colonel." But what the heck do they know, they're not Pritzkers.
Nor are they billionaires.
Last year Evanston put the Harley-Clarke Mansion on the market. The Colonel through his management company, Tawani Enterprises Inc., has offered to buy it and the surrounding land for $1.2 million and transform the mansion into the aforementioned fancy hotel. But according to meeting minutes from a December Evanston Special Human Services Committee meeting released last week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, in 2012, the mansion was appraised at $2.1 million--and the surrounding land was appraised at $3 million. That's some sweet mathematics, unless you are an Evanston taxpayer, although minutes from the February meeting stated that there is "some room for negotiating."
I would certainly hope so.
The Pritzker family, as you probably already know, owns the Hyatt Hotel chain.
If this deal goes through Pritzker's way--it will simply be a land grab of a scarce Evanston resource--public lakefront property, although according to City of Evanston meeting minutes, there will be "limited access to the beach." A path to that limited-access beach is promised, but I had little trouble getting to the lake shore yesterday. I exited my car, walked twenty yards on the asphalt to a short sandy path where I gazed upon the glory of Lake Michigan.
An Evanston tipster who wishes to remain anonymous alerted me to this story. Last night he told me, "This is our land." He's right.
Another Evanstonian, Alex Block, started a petition earlier this month calling for preventing Prtizker's land grab on Change.org.
|Beach adjacent to the mansion|
Negotiations of the sale have occurred mostly behind closed doors. [Emphasis is Block's.] Terms and conditions of the sale have been discussed in closed session meetings. Recordings of those City Council discussions have been destroyed despite a state law which requires their preservation. And while the City claims the sale may return long term tax revenue, no study has been conducted to confirm that assertion. Still, the City is considering the offer.The Evanston Patch says the Colonel is "the final bidder" on the mansion.
If Evanston doesn't wish to own or maintain the mansion, then my tipster says the city should simply tear it down. I agree. Evanston needs more open space on the lakefront.
As for Pritzker, Lake Michigan has 1,638 miles of shoreline. He can build his boutique hotel somewhere else.
UPDATE 9:00pm: The Colonel is financially politically active, and most of his contributions go to Republicans. But wrong is wrong, regardless of political affiliation. However, the James N. Pritzker Political fund wrote a (gasp!) $4,400 check to the campaign of Illinois' hapless Democratic governor, Pat Quinn, in 2010.
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