The Southington Community Cultural Arts center has passed one hurdle on it’s way to securing the Gura Building as a potential location for a downtown arts center after a committee passed a recommendation Friday morning suggesting it is the best option for the town.
Members of the voted 4-1 to approve the recommendation, which would give the non-profit 18-months to secure the money necessary for remediation of hazardous materials and funds or services to renovate the interior design and exterior façade of the 91 Main St. location.
“This is a great thing, to see this process extended to the (Southington Town Council) is good but we still have work to do,” said Mary DeCroce, who has spent the last two years building her own committee in an effort to secure a space for a cultural arts center in town.
“We’ve done a lot of work already, a lot of research. We need to continue to educate the public and hopefully we will be able to show the council that this is not only a good project for the community, but one that is certainly viable.”
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The measure approved by the committee will turn the building over the SCCA for $1 per year. The organization would then be responsible for completing the upgrades, which are estimated at around $1.2 million, as well as maintaining annual operating costs for the arts center.
If the organization is unable to obtain enough grant funding and donated services for renovations within an 18-month period then the committee would reconvene and determine the next step in the process, whether that be demolition or sale of the building, said committee chairwoman and Councilwoman Dawn Miceli.
The committee voted largely in support of the project after an hour-long meeting at Friday, but the recommendation was not without contentious discussion as Councilwoman Stephanie Urillo presented concerns regarding traffic and the organizations business plan to make the project work.
Urillo, who voted in opposition, said she was in favor of seeing an arts center developed but felt the Gura Building was “just not the right location.”
“I need to start by saying I am in full support of developing an arts center, but I have concerns regarding this location,” Urillo said. “Main Street, running north to south, is a throughway and the impact this could have on traffic could be detrimental to the downtown area.”
Urillo said she believes that the busy plan is incomplete, as several grants would require a 25-year loan and there is no guarantee that the organization could provide enough to maintain operating costs would could exceed $100,000 annually. She added that there could be better locations, including the Beecher Street that will soon be vacant as well, saying she does feel that it would also provide economic benefit to the downtown area.
“Things may all seem rosy in the beginning, but this is a difficult task to raise not only the money to renovate, but to sustain operations for 25 years,” Urillo said.
Miceli and Paul Chaplinsky questioned the concerns, however, saying the charge of the committee is not to approve a business plan but simply to determine the most viable and beneficial use of the building for the town of Southington.
John Myers, a member of the committee and executive director of the , said he further believes there is enough support to justify the business plan.
During and earlier this week, members of the committee came out in full force to support the SCCA’s mission. The meetings each drew more than 50 people as residents encouraged the committee to decide in favor of attempting to develop the arts center.
“I’ll admit that, in the beginning, one of my primary concerns was the financial plan,” Myers said. “I’m now confident that with the grant funding available out there, they will be able to make this work.”
“They aren’t asking for an extended contract right now. What they are requesting is an 18-month period to secure the funding. The 18 months will fly by and for the town to tear this building down without giving them a shot just doesn’t make sense.”
Committee member Michael Riccio, who previously owned property in downtown Southington, also said he does not agree with concerns that parking could be an issue and feels that renovating the facility as an arts center would be instrumental in helping spur more downtown activity and foot traffic.
Riccio also said he could not support the demolition of the building, a project which would cost the town $258,900 not including the installation of lighting and annual maintenance to create more green space where the building once was, because costs for such a project were “astronomical” while eliminating valuable space in the downtown area.
He said that the building, while no longer suitable for Southington Town Hall offices, is “far from falling down” and that studies recommending demolition were completed when just two options were available: to renovate the building for town offices or tear it down to make way for town hall expansion.
“This is a win-win concept. It will cost the town nothing and will serve as an economic driver. Foot traffic will come, people will use it,” he said. “To take a building out of the downtown area that will bring foot traffic is 100 percent against everything we’ve done with the Renaissance Project.”
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