It wasn’t a lightly negotiated process, but after nearly a year of discussions and planning Southington Community Cultural Arts will get the opportunity they’ve been seeking.
The approved a motion Monday that will lease the Gura Building to the SCCA for an 18-month period, allowing the group an opportunity to conduct a feasibility study and begin to raise money in an effort to privately fund renovations to the building into a fully functional cultural arts center.
“We are thrilled. I attribute this to both sides sitting together with a negotiating committee and really discussing the issues to come to an agreement,” said Mary DeCroce, president of the SCCA. “It’s a great feeling and a great birthday gift to see this coming to fruition.”
Monday’s approval, which passed 8-1 with Councilwoman Stephanie Urillo opposed, drew little discussions .
During that meeting, council members felt the two sides were still “far apart” in terms of their expectations according to Councilman Peter Romano, but each side was still willing to work together. Council Chairman John Dobbins said Monday that the two sides spoke following the meeting, however, and were able to come closer together.
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In the end, however, the two sides came to an agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding that highlights two separate time periods: and 18-month period for the SCCA to conduct a feasibility study and raise money and a potential lease agreement for a 20-year lease if the money can be raised.
The memorandum reads as follows:
The Town of Southington (hereinafter “Town”) through its Town Council and the Southington Community Cultural Arts (hereinafter “SCCA”) do hereby agree to lease property known as 93 Main Street, Southington, Connecticut and sufficient parking for a community arts center under the following terms:
1. The SCCA shall perform a feasibility study at its expense within a period of 90 days from the date of this agreement.
2. The SCCA shall raise in monies and in-kind services an amount equal to or greater than 80 percent of the estimate costs based on the feasibility study. The Town shall not be responsible for any costs of the raising of monies and in-kind services. This shall include but not be limited to any administrative costs.
3. The feasibility study shall be approved by both parties.
4. The 80 percent amount shall be raised no later than 18 months from the approval of the feasibility study. If the SCCA is unable to raise the required 80 percent within the 18 month period, this memorandum of understanding and perspective lease agreement shall be null and void.
5. Prior to the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the SCCA shall document to the Town Council an amount in escrow equal to or exceeding $100,000 to be used for operating funds.
6. Upon the SCCA’s raising of the aforementioned 80 percent of the amount of the feasibility study, the Town shall execute a lease for a term not to exceed 20 years based upon the standard Town lease whereby the rental shall be $1 per year and the SCCA shall be responsible for all expenses of the building including but not limited to taxes, if any, insurance, administrative costs and maintenance.
It is clearly understood by the SCCA that the Town shall have no financial obligation during the fundraising period and the term of the lease.
Town Councilwoman Dawn Miceli, who served as one of the members of the negotiating committee and chairwoman of the Gura Building Use Committee, said she was pleased with the end agreement and believes all parties worked well to come to the final memorandum.
“The negotiation team worked very quickly, succinctly and cooperatively. With fewer voices around the table, I believe that reasonability prevailed,” she said. “All the group wanted was a chance to raise private funding for the building.”
The project has been a highly controversial one from the beginning, due in large part . Costs could also prove to be hard to meet – the SCCA estimates that it will cost about $1.2 million to renovate – and would include considerable asbestos remediation.
Urillo said Monday that she fully supports the development of an arts center and hopes to see it succeed, but she just doesn’t feel the Gura Building is the right location. She said that she would have preferred to see them look for something along Center Street. She said she also has concerns regarding the available parking near the Gura Building.
“Having (an arts center) somewhere along center street would provide an easy walk from all downtown business and nearby restaurants and there is plenty of parking nearby,” she said.
DeCroce said that although the agreement is a great first step, it’s just that: a first step. She said there is still a lot of work to be done and the next step will begin immediately and that is to determine who will be conducting the feasibility study.
The SCCA has already spoken with one architectural firm regarding the study and will be interviewing with another soon. The names of the firms involved have not been released.
“We are going to get moving and get things underway as quickly as possible,” she said.
In Other Notes…
After the turbulent meeting on Aug. 19, Councilman Al Natelli Jr. took a moment on Monday to issue an apology to anyone who may have been upset by comments he made in regard to concerns over the arts center proposal.
Natelli said he never meant for anyone to feel attacked or criticized and presented Miceli with a yellow rose of friendship.
“Offending anybody, hurting anyone’s feelings, that was not intention or what I meant and I apologize for that. I’m sorry,” he said.