Council, SCCA ‘Far Apart’ on Gura Building Proposal

Discussions on whether the town should lease the Gura Building the Southington Community Cultural Arts was tabled by the town council Monday and whether a compromise will be reached hinges on funding, phasing details.

Members of the want to see Southington Community Cultural Arts raise all the money for the $1.2 million renovation of the Gura Building in just 18-months and complete construction in a single phase. Volunteers with the SCCA said for a non-profit to succeed in this venture, both fundraising and construction would have to be done in several phases.

If a compromise is to be reached to allow the Gura Building to be used as an arts center, then the two groups will need to meet somewhere in the middle. Right now, however, it appears that the two are still “far apart.”

“There is still a lot of work to be done and it seems both sides would benefit to sit down together and go over details and expectations,” Councilman Peter Romano said Monday just before the council voted to table a vote. “I did not realize that we were this far apart."

The council voted unanimously Monday to table the vote for further discussion, and so that perhaps compromise could be reached.

Monday’s council meeting proved to be a heated one with several frieworks as Republican leadership on the council presented a series of stipulations for a vote that SCCA member Peter Veronneau said would “kill the entire project.”

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A Set of Strict Stipulations

The motion, presented by Romano, included requirements that the SCCA not only raise all the money for the project at no cost to the taxpayer, but do so entirely within the 18-month window being granted by the council.

The construction would need to be completed in a single phase and the SCCA would be responsible for all maintenance costs for the building, including heat and electricity, during pre-construction of the building as well. In addition, the town would be cleared of all liability on the building as soon as the agreement is reached.

Democrats on the council – Dawn Miceli, Christopher Palmieri and John Barry – each expressed concerns that they were not apprised of these added stipulations prior to the meeting. Furthermore they, along with Veronneau, expressed that the new requirements were not only unfair, but impossible to meet.

“This project is doomed if we are asked to comply with this,” Veronneau said. “We cannot raise the full amount of money in just 18 months. We never said we could.”

“What we had agreed on, in meeting with everyone over the last several months, was for the first phase to include all remediation and exterior renovations and to carry on from there. You can’t raise that kind of money all at once. Grants aren’t all available at once. It just can’t be done,” he said.

Emotions Running High

Over the past two months, discussions regarding whether to lease the Gura Building to the SCCA have led to an emotional response from almost everyone involved regardless of where they stand.

In late July, being set forth and felt that the Republican members of the council have forced the non-profit organization to “jump through more hoops than would be required of any private entity.”

The two have also expressed concerns that the latest set of requirements and concerns, which were put in writing by Romano following a July 11 meeting, were politically motivated and not entirely focused on doing what’s best for the community.

Read the complete recommendation made by Romano in the PDF attached above.

A four-page response to Romano's written concerns was provided to members of the council at 10 a.m. Monday morning.

Council Chairman John Dobbins and Romano each said that the accusations regarding political influence couldn’t be further from the truth.

“We as a council have a fiduciary responsibility. This is not about whether we support the SCCA – no one here is opposed to the development of an arts center,” Dobbins said. “This motion, with stipulations, is a compromise that will allow the SCCA to pursue their goal and protects the taxpayers of Southington.”

The comments led to objections from the Democrats – who were not allowed to speak as Dobbins read through his statement – and things only became more heated when Councilman Al Natelli Jr. questioned the motives of the Gura Building Use Committee and Councilwoman Dawn Miceli in presenting their recommendation to the council.

Natelli said he believed the committee went beyond the scope of their responsibility in presenting the SCCA plan and recommending that the building be leased to the SCCA as opposed to simply suggesting it be leased to a non-profit.

He further questioned Miceli’s role in the committee overstepping the charge given in December 2011, saying it was impartial given she had previously worked as a board member with the SCCA.

“Policy should be made by the council. To recommend who the building be leased to was not within the scope presented to the committee,” he said. “I also question whether the committee explored other questions related to this project.”

Miceli spoke only briefly to the accusations, saying that the committee was bipartisan and noting that others including former Councilman Michael Riccio and Planning and Zoning Commission Vice-Chairman Paul Chaplinsky were in full support.

Fellow Democrats on the council, however, were not as gun shy in offering a response.

“This is out of order! This is a personal attack on one of our colleagues and it is totally unacceptable,” Barry said. “We can disagree on the Gura Building, it’s a controversial issue and we understand that, but this speech, type-written and read verbatim, is over the top. If you don’t like the plan, express that, but don’t go after our colleague who is volunteer on the council.”

Natelli’s letter also led to jeers and negative reaction from the audience, a few of which had expressed continued support during the public communication portion of the meeting earlier in the night.

Councilors and audience members alike expressed concerns that Natelli’s statements were not only a personal attack on Miceli, but were also incorrect as it related to how the committee reached it’s recommendation.

A History of the Committee Recommendation

Before the committee was formed, Miceli spoke at length with former Council Chairman Edward Pocock III and Mark Sciota to make sure there was no conflict of interest in serving as the committee’s chairwoman. She had been serving as a member of the board prior to serving on the committee.

The two told her that not only was there no conflict of interest, but that she was the right person for the job because she was passionate about developing an arts center in town and was an established volunteer with many groups in the community. Miceli promptly stepped down from her role as an SCCA administrative board member before taking on the challenges of the committee.

to determine whether to recommend selling the building to a private entity, lease it to a non-profit or have it demolished in place of parking or park space.

After going out to bid, which was part of the committee process, Sciota said there were no private entities that expressed interest and the SCCA was the only non-profit who was interested in leasing the building. and did not include any paving or instillation of parks materials once the building was demolished.

Christina Simms, an SCCA board member who reinforced a message that DeCroce has delivered during the past three council meetings, said the council needs to consider the request for what it is – a vote to simply give the SCCA an opportunity.

“All we are asking is for you to give us a chance to work with the people of town for something the town would like to see. That’s all we are asking for. All we want is a chance,” she said.

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Agnie P August 14, 2012 at 10:37 AM
One has to question the objectivity to the objection that the Town is placing a heavy burden on Arts by mandating that they 1) raise the renovation money for the project in advance and 2) support their on-going costs of occupancy before the project is given the go-ahead. Also, one has to question the candor with the public by the various supporting parties of the need for a local organization to expend $1.2 million to renovate an otherwise decrepit building when there are many others (for example, the old Blockbuster building downtown) that could be renovated and operated for much less cost. It strikes me, also, that the taxpayers are going to be taken for a ride for the sake of someone's private interest if the Town agrees to this deal short of some real money on the table and a number of restriction as to use of the facility. Either the Town renovate this building for its own use (which in the past has been ruled out - why else are we having this conversation?) or the building be demolished and the land converted to added parking or a park for the general public's use. In all fairness to SCCA, had they wanted to put in a sport complex on this site, it would have gone ahead without much objective scrutiny just like the re-turfing project at the high school. Ah! Perhaps they should rethink their approach.
John Moise August 14, 2012 at 11:36 AM
First Stef Urillo now Al Natelli. Natelli should be ashamed of himself. Does he know the meaning of conflict of interest. What monetary gain is Dawn Miceli getting? Answer- none. With Natelli's thinking he should not be on the self insurance committee as he is a Dentist which means he is a doctor. We wouldn't want a doctor's knowledge on the self insurance committee,would we. And Stef, aren't you on the Health committee that hired the new health director. Under your thoughts you would be a conflict of interest as well because you are a dentist doctor and this is your field and you and your committee hired the new health director, didn't you? This is unreal and the people of Southington should take note of how political Natelli and Urillo have become. To attack a council person on the floor both should be reprimanded. Al and Stef please read the bylaws of the town council and see the violation that you have committed. You have both crossed the line and are unbecoming of a Town Council member. The Chairman Dobbins should have stopped you both dead in your tracks for being out of order. The former chairman Ed Pocock III would have done so in a heartbeat. Dawn Miceli is a Counciwoman that was put on the Gura Building by Ed Pocock, Al and Stef if you thought this was conflict then you should have spoke up last year not at the 11th hour. The Gura project has gone on long enough. Give the group the Gura building for 18 months if they can't raise the money then raze the building.
DAVID August 14, 2012 at 11:54 AM
Natelli's vicious attack on Dawn Miceli is an embarassment to ths town. He owes her a public apology and then should resign as a council member. The other Republican councilors silence on this only showed their support of Nateli's statement!
Ana F August 14, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Read the minutes of the SCCA meetings, Miceli NEVER stepped down, she was at every meeting with the exception of the January meeting. That the subcommittee would pass the recommendation was a foregone conclusion before one meeting was even held. Talk about unfair!
Southington Phoenix August 14, 2012 at 03:13 PM
The circus came to town at yet another Council meeting. These people must really believe that the citizens of Southington are idiots. Blatant partisan bickering, completely unprofessional personal attacks and conduct unbecoming of anyone who holds public office. What happened to civility and respect? A rudderless ship has a much better chance of avoiding a rocky shoal by dropping anchor. Not this ship, they raise more sails, crashing even sooner and harder. Sometimes when you attempt to leave no stone unturned, you begin bending down lifting up pebbles to see if anything is under them, that's precisely when a giant boulder falls and hits you in the head. There's a difference between due diligence and micro management. You were elected to make policy and legislation, not manage every detail of Town government, that's what we pay professionals to do. Great men learn one thing early on, they learn that they don't know everything. It would serve you well to show the people of Southington a little more humility and a lot less hubris? Furthermore, are you really that concerned that the taxpayers of Southington might spend a little money supporting the arts? There's never any concern about the taxpayers regarding the cost of sports related activities, it's full speed ahead there.
sandra voorhees August 14, 2012 at 03:15 PM
If the Gura building was not able to be renovated by the town, I am of the opinion that it should not be leased or rented or in anyway used by another entity. Remove the building and use the space for much needed parking and as a place for people to sit and relax while they are downtown. As someone else suggested, why not the old blockbuster building? Less expensive, more parking, Makes sense to me.
Diann Thomson August 14, 2012 at 03:32 PM
What a disgrace our Republican town councilmen and women are! Nothing but BIG bullies! I hope everyone remembers them in November - none of them should think they represent the people of Southington with how they act!
Ana F August 14, 2012 at 06:39 PM
The only thing that disgraceful is the SCCA trying to push through what it wants without regard for the taxpayers of Southington. The members of the town council are doing what the people who elected them want them to do. Stop trying to make it seem as if they are trying to stop the arts in Southington. They are not. They simply want to make sure whomever goes into the Gura building can be financially responsible for that building and all that it entails without further taxation to the citizens of this town. What is wrong with that?
DAVID August 14, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Hey Ana what is the cost to the Southington taxpayers from SCCA???- $0 They are asking for nothing! I think you got you facts messed up-The Republican councilors want to knock down the building at a cost to the taxpayers of over $250,000!!!
Lucy August 14, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Wow...I hope everyone goes to their neutral corners and calms down.
Ana F August 14, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Oh, I didn't know the discussion was about knocking the building down. Did the Town Council vote to do that? Have the Republicans said that is what they want to do? I never said anything about SCCA costing anything. Read what I said "They [the town council members] simply want to make sure whomever goes into the Gura building can be financially responsible for that building and all that it entails without further taxation to the citizens of this town." Please learn to read accurately before commenting.
Godfrey Caleb August 14, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Godfrey Caleb Five years ago, I made this town my home. Many towns in Ontario Canada have torn down beautiful historical buildings in the name of progress. Those towns have lost their charm forever. Housing the arts downtown in the Gura Building could preserve some of our town history. Through the arts this location could also allow us to promote multicultural events. What better place for all of us to learn about diverse cultures. We have so much to learn from one another, don't throw this opportunity away. History will either remember you as great visionaries who made a difference or forgotten politicians with a town job staging prepared comments and insults. Shameful.
Godfrey Caleb August 14, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Ana, If the councilors contributes the $250,000.00 towards the renovation of the building instead of paying for knocking it down, wouldn't that help the SCCA further to reach their goal with less burden to tax payers?
Raymond J Gorman August 15, 2012 at 01:49 AM
The comments that I am reading from people that I know, and about people that I know, are quite disconcerting. The tabling of this discussion by the Council was a wise and appropriate move. It will afford everyone a period of time to think, reflect and then do what is best for the Town. One option that should be considered is for the Town to establish a fair market price for the Gura Building and entertain offers from the public to purchase it. If the Arts Council purchases the building from the Town then the Arts Council can renovate over time to the extent that they can raise the necessary funding. The Town would have no liability for the property once it is sold, but could still oversee the appropriate use of the space via zoning requirements and monitor its condition through fire/building/health inspections. In either case of leasing the space or selling it to a non-profit Arts Council, the property will not generate tax revenue anyway.By selling the property the Town would not incur any future liability if the Arts Council failed in its fundraising.Lets assume for the sake of discussion that an idependent appraisal of the property comes in at $750,000. If the Arts Council cannot raise enough money for a substantial down payment and secure a mortgage for the balance, then perhaps they have set their sights to high and an alternative location should be pursued.
Cliff August 15, 2012 at 11:32 AM
Oh, so that's the game, eh? Make such a circus of this that we throw up our hands and say, "Hey, here's a middle ground - you buy the building for cheap and renovate it when you have time." Now that's brilliant, Mr. Gorman! Ever take a look at the arts "building complex" in downtown Plantsville. Just what we want to enhance our "look" in downtown Southington -- urban blight right in front of the town hall. That'll bring new residents and business to town -- NOT. I like the idea of making the place a park -- for all the town to enjoy!
Martin DeC August 15, 2012 at 12:40 PM
What I like about Dawn Micelli in all this is that she is very upfront and unashamed of her conflict of interest from being on the Council and the SCCA Board and pushing for the building lease. This woman thinks outside the box in having no regard for the propriety that was exacted from guys like Matt Florian when he failed to recuse himself in his position with the Parking Authority. These ethical "niceties" just don't apply to her and she's being the good advocate of her private interest in taking full advantage of the opportunity! Way to go girlfiend!! I'm betting there's even more such forward-thinkers in this debate.
Batiste Zgombickq August 15, 2012 at 02:33 PM
I second Sandra Vooheers thoughts: if the building was too far gone to warrant renovation to continue to be used by the town, then how is it now possible to repair/renovate it in order for the Arts Council to use? Another example of the citizens of this town being taken for a financial ride. We are spending what will amount to $8m dollars renovating, leasing and then re-buying the North Center building for the services that are currently being housed in the Gura building and the Board of Ed building (all done WITHOUT a vote by the citizens of this town). Yet the Arts Council seems to think they can renovate the building for about $2m. Why can they do what the Town Council said was impossible? The citizens of this town need to start inundating our towns elected officials with letters, emails, phone calls to let them know we've had enough of business as usual. At this point I don't trust anything from the Town Council or Board of Finance when it comes to fiscal decisions-they only seem to keep spending my money without my consent. MMMMMMMMM, sounds more and more like the federal government!
Tony M August 16, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Please everyone: Do not confuse The Southington Arts Council, Inc. with Southington Community Cultural Arts as we are two separate groups. The Southington Arts Council, Inc. will be celebrating its 30 year anniversary this year. We will appreciate it very much if those people who have benefited from our many activities over these years, to please let us know. Thank you.
Tony M August 16, 2012 at 08:31 PM
I suggested turning the building onto a Sports Museum. There are more sports orgainzations in town that would benefit. Think of the well know peiple who have gone on into Major League Baseball, Rob Dibble, Carl Pavano, and a recent SHS graduate Romano who is in a farm team. Football players , Soccer, Little League Baseball, Midget Foorball to name a few. If it's foot traffic you want in town, then my suggestion would provide it.


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