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Evanston residents battle Pritzker's plan to turn lakefront mansion into hotel

Thursday, July 18, 2013

There is some strong criticism for a plan by hotel heir James Pritzker to turn a landmark mansion in Evanston into a high-end hotel.

Some residents are voicing concerns that the plan would limit the public's access to the lakefront property and its beach.

Hundreds of Evanston residents are voicing their opposition to Pritzker's plans for the historic mansion. For the past 46 years, the Evanston Art Center has called the Harley Clarke Mansion home. But the center has outgrown this lakefront Sheridan Road space, so it wants to move out and hotel heir Col. James Pritzker is anxious to move in.

Pritzker is proposing to buy the property from the City of Evanston for $1.2 million and turn the aging mansion into a high-end boutique hotel.

"If this land is allowed to go private it would be the only private hotel on Lake Michigan in all of Illinois," said Barbara Janes, Evanston resident.

And that is why so many residents are against the Pritzker project, because it involves a prime piece of public property.

The mansion sits next to a park and what many residents consider a gem, the tucked away lighthouse beach.

"The building is important but maintaining the integrity of beach front land, that's what we want to preserve for future generations," said John Moore, Evanston resident.

Residents fear selling off the property to private interests will open the door for more development along the lakefront. So to prevent it from happening, Barbara Janes and others have spearheaded a grassroots campaign to fight against it. Besides a Facebook page and an online petition, close to 1,000 yard signs have been distributed throughout Evanston.

"We have enough creative talent in the city to figure out a way to rehab that building and to put it to good, positive public use," said Janes.

Neither Pritzker nor the City of Evanston had any comment on the project, but the subject will be on the agenda at Monday night's city council meeting.

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