Jonah Meadows, Patch Staff
Thu, Aug 29, 2019 at 2:23 pm CT | Updated Tue, Oct 1, 2019 at 6:06 pm CT
Last year's demolition effort may not have met the required funding level, voiding the agreement, newly released records show.
EVANSTON, IL — Records of donors to the abortive effort to demolish the city-owned Harley Clarke mansion and coach house show that nearly 88 percent of the funding came from the seven top donors. More than half of it — a total of $252,000 — came from a single donor, according to records released by city staff more than nine months after Patch requested them.
The records show several donors cut multiple checks to the effort to raze the 90-year-old French Eclectic lakefront local landmark at 2603 Sheridan Road in what the city described as "Natural Site Restoration" in a memorandum of understanding approved by a 5-3 vote of the Evanston City Council in July 2018. Two donors each wrote three checks toward the effort as the deadline for the fundraising push drew closer. The teardown effort was spearheaded by a local citizens' group called Evanston Lighthouse Dunes. The agreement between five of its members and the city called for the city to handle demolition, tree removal and site grading in exchange for a one-time donation of $400,000, which was aimed to cover the cost. After it was done, the agreement said the group would kick in another $100,000, which would include any unspent money from the original donation, to fund future landscaping costs.
According to a spreadsheet of donations provided by an attorney for the city, the total amount of deposits processed on Nov. 2 or prior was $396,915.
That falls short of the $400,000 required under the memorandum of understanding — and the $402,000 in donations the city reported receiving at the time. According to the Aug. 27, 2018, agreement the group had 60 days — until Oct. 27, 2018 — to provide $400,000 into a city account.
"If the money is not funded within 60 days of the Effective Date, the agreement will be null and void," the memorandum stated. The city has not provided any records showing that the required money was in the account before that deadline. But the agreement was never declared void. Instead, the Evanston Historic Preservation Commission on Oct. 23, 2018, unanimously rejected a request for a demolition permit from the city manager, who sought it pursuant to the agreement. Commissioners said the city failed to provide evidence to meet the standards for demolition of a locally landmarked structure.
In the Nov. 6, 2018, election, Evanston residents voted 80 percent to 20 percent to "protect from demolition and preserve" the mansion "at minimal or no cost to Evanston taxpayers" in a non-binding referendum. The City Council then voted on Dec. 10, 2018, not to overrule the preservation commission's finding. At no point did city officials discuss that the agreement may have been void due to a lack of funds. Meanwhile, the city withheld records of who had donated how much money and when they had done so. Evanston resident Nancy Sreenan and Patch both appealed the city's assertion that disclosing the financial donations would be an "infringement on the privacy rights of the donors' financial position to donate a small or large amount" and that "donation amounts are personal in nature, disclosure of which is objectionable to a reasonable person."
The attorney general's office disagreed, finding significant public interest in the funding of the demolition project. Assistant Attorney General Chris Boggs also noted that the memorandum of understanding makes no mention of the amounts being confidential and explicitly provides for the list of donors to be published by the city. In response to requests for review of the city's action filed by Patch and Sreenan in October, November and December of 2018, Boggs issued an opinion Aug. 15 in which he requested the city provide the records to Patch and Sreenan. Since then, the city has provided 61 pages of scanned checks and a spreadsheet. UPDATE: On Sept. 5, after this article was published, city attorneys provided another spreadsheet. The updated spreadsheet, which an attorney said she was not aware of at the time of the attorney general's opinion, reflected a $5,000 wire transfer from Liz and Jeff Coney and $70 in cash donations that, when included, brings the total amount collected to $401,390. All the donors who gave $1,000 or more are listed below by size of checks and by date. There were 65 donations below $1,000, according to the spreadsheet provided by the city, which included three cash donations, none of which exceeded $25. All dates are in 2018 and are noted as they are written on the checks:
$250,000 — Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation, Check No. 1, Aug. 10
$25,000 — The Mirapaul Foundation, Check No. 1, Sept. 7
$15,000 — Ross Hill, Aug. 15
$10,000 — Ingrid and William Stafford, Check No. 1, Aug. 9
$10,000 — J.P. Morgan Securities Charitable Giving Fund, Sept. 6 (Noted as "Coney")
$10,000 — Joseph and Margaret Flanagan, Check No. 1, Oct. 8
$10,000 — Joseph and Margaret Flanagan, Check No. 2, Sept. 13
$7,000 — Marya Frankel, Check No. 2, Oct. 8
$5,000 — Candice and Robert Dalrymple, Check No. 1, Aug. 17
$5,000 — Amylu and Richard Kurzawski, Check No. 1, Aug. 16
$5,000 — The Mirapaul Foundation, Check No. 2, Sept. 27
$3,000 — Elizabeth Tisdahl, Sept. 7
$2,500 — Nicole Kustok, Check No. 1, Aug. 14
$2,500 — Ingrid and William Stafford, Check No. 2, Oct. 25
$2,000 — David Cherry and Paula Twilling, Aug. 14
$2,000 — Kelly Marcelle, Check No. 1, Aug. 14
$2,000 — Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation, Check No. 2, Oct. 26
$1,500 — Athru Partners, LLC, Oct. 11
$1,500 — Nicole Kustok, Check No. 2, Oct. 23
$1,000 — Marc Rolfes and Susan Comstock, July 24
$1,000 — Marya and Peter Frankel, Check No. 1, Aug. 12
$1,000 — Adam Goodman, Aug. 21
$1,000 — Timothy Davitt and Kelly Marcelle, Check No. 2, Aug. 27
$1,000 — Edward and Rachel Matthews, Check No. 2, Aug. 31
$1,000 — Karl Peters and Mary Wellensiek, Sept. 26
$1,000 — Joan Cherry and John Cara, Oct. 2
$1,000 — Candice and Robert Dalrymple, Check No. 2, Oct. 16
$1,000 — Edward and Rachel Matthews, Check No. 1, Oct. 16
$1,000 — Fidelity Charitable (No name), Oct. 17
$1,000 — Elizabeth Robinson, Oct. 18
$1,000 — Edward and Rachel Matthews, Check No. 3, Oct. 23
$1,000 — Linda Matthews, Oct. 23
$1,000 — Amylu and Richard Kurzawski, Check No. 2, Oct. 25
$1,000 — Candice and Robert Dalrymple, Check No. 3, Oct. 25
The city issued a request for proposals for a long-term lease of the site to both nonprofit or for-profit entities on May 16. A second community meeting about the site is set for Nov. 5. The final versions of the proposals are due Feb. 28, 2020. The City Council expects to consider the proposals on March 23 and may award a lease on May 1.