Sunday, June 23, 2013

Col. Pritzker plotting Evanston lakefront land grab for boutique hotel

Col. James Prtizker (Ret.)
(Photo courtesy of Forbes Mag.)
Unlike its massive southern neighbor, Chicago, very little of Evanston's lakefront is publicly-owned. One such spot is 2.5 acres of city-owned land just north of the Grosse Point Lighthouse on Sheridan Road. The Harley-Clarke Mansion, which hosts the Evanston Art Center, sits there.

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.

Harley-Clarke Mansion
As for the mansion, if the Colonel gets his way, the hotel will have 57 rooms, along with meeting space and a ballroom. An annex of undetermined size would also be built--which will include a 200 space underground parking garage. The 25-space above-ground lot--where I parked my car yesterday evening--would be expanded to 35 spots. How generous.

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
Beach adjacent to the mansion

He writes:
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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Mary said...

The property was never really on the market- the city issued Request For Proposal based on certain criteria to see what possibilities might be out there for this property. The only people who knew it was potentially available for alternaive use were those who follow Evanston politics.

The proposal for property from the developer includes purchasing 2 acres of lake front property. The mansion cost $500,000 to build in 1929- which would be about $6.8million today just for the house, conservatory and coach house.

This in one of the most beautiful locations on the North Shore and should remain in the public domain. What the city needs to do is bring together creative people who care about the mansion, property and lake front and come up with a creative way to turn the property into a place for public use. There is a group which has come together to raise awareness and to stop all talk of selling that property or any Evanston Parks and Lake front properties. Developers can buy other property- the city should not be relinquishing control of our most valuable land to any developer.

Anonymous said...

Do not let our city leaders sell out the taxpayers. We must not give up this property!

Strong city leadership would cut the budget to live within our means. Weak leadership would sell our finite resources to make ends meet for the immediate future, but not solve our long-term budget imbalance.

Speak up before it's too late!