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(Updated) Gura Building Use Committee Backs Arts Center Proposal

The recommendation will now be moved to the Southington Town Council after passing through the committee by a 4-1 vote on Friday morning.

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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DAVID June 15, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Stephanie Urillo and the rest of the Republican councilors who I hear do not support this project in the face of overwhelming public ,State and Federal support must have a hidden agenda concerning the Gura Building. Ed Pocock the former Republican head of the Town Council gave his word that group would be given the 18 months to raise the money. Did his word leave with him? I hope that the fate of the Gura Building does lie in the predetermined decision by the Republican councilors!
John Moise June 15, 2012 at 07:54 PM
David, If you believe the Town Council has predetermined this and will vote no then there is only one way to override the Town Council. If they say no then the group goes out and gets the required signatures for a Referendum on the building. This is what happened with the Charter Revision when the Town Council said no. It may be more work but if you have the support it should be no problem.
Arthur Cyr June 15, 2012 at 08:53 PM
Pretty tough for most citizens to understand the situation when committee members bend the truth, use wrong assumptions and/or flat out lie to the residents. Mr. Riccio said parking isn’t an issue now and wouldn’t be an issue in the future if the building were an arts center. "There is not a parking problem in downtown Southington,” Riccio said. “I’m tired of hearing it." He said that employees currently working in the Gura building will be moved to offices at the former North Center School, freeing up space in the Town Hall parking lot. Wrong! - NONE of the employees that work in the Gura Building park in that Town Hall customer parking lot! They park in the upper Berlin Ave parking lot that is restricted to Town Hall employees 8am-4:30pm. Mr. Riccio continues to add $50,000 to the demolition costs, claiming that is how much it would cost to grow grass in that small area. Inflated estimates! We do not need to add trees, water fountains, benches, etc, etc to that small area. And Mr. Chaplinsky was wrong about moving the Building, Planning and Engineering departments to the new North Center facility .What makes anybody think he is correct in his "professional opinion" regarding the Gura Building? Their "plan" is fantasy. There is NO STATE or FEDERAL support or funding for this dream renovation and their "proposed" annual operating budget is seriously flawed. And it was ONE year they had to accomplish this, not 18 months as they now want.
DAVID June 15, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Mr Cyr I'm sorry that you have your facts wrong. How do you know there is no State money? Did you meet with the state and receive that answer? Who's talking fantasy now? Also how can you say their support plan is flawed? Did you research this like they did or is this another of your Fantasy assumptions!. What is the big deal about giving them a opportunity? What does the town and tax payers have to lose? Answer nothing! And that's a true fact!
Arthur Cyr June 15, 2012 at 10:33 PM
Dear David NO-NAME. I sat at the meetings and heard all their numbers and promises. People can NOT simply produce lists of every state and corporate grant available to hundreds of projects in the state and make a list of the MAXIMUM amounts available as their "plan." Open your folder on all the "documentation" provided and read the projected annual budget. Oops, sorry, you probably don't have anything to look at because you didn't attend the meetings. Your turn - please post the amount of the State grant. That nobody has applied for and even the committee knows the amount of.
Lucy June 16, 2012 at 01:42 AM
Best of luck to SCCA in its pursuit of funding for the project. I hope the plans to renovate the building include providing handicapped access to the second floor. For as anyone who has a disability knows, if you are unable to manage the stairs, a representative is sent to the parking lot or a conference room on the first floor for assistance with your inquiry or paperwork. I also hope the practice of employees parking in the public lot, by which I mean vehicles bearing a town seal and SO municipal plates ceases. I may work some crazy hours but I see it Monday through Friday and twice on Thursdays! It happens routinely, on a daily basis. If employees are parking their personal vehicles in this lot for more than a quick 'pick up and delivery', the town management needs to end this practice. The situation will get worse not better once offices are moved to the new annex. I counted six town vehicles in the public lot when I went to renew my dog license. Nonetheless, best of luck to SCCA.
Arthur Cyr June 16, 2012 at 02:15 AM
The report today stated - "cultural arts centers are known economic drivers in their communities due to the pedestrian traffic they generate, the inherent retail benefits and overall unique environment they create." OKAY! Please go look at the closest cultural arts center and tell everyone about it's success! PLEASE! It is in Meriden. Right downtown. Better still.... GO there! Paint! Sing! Dance! oh.... wait..... you can't! It's empty. It's vacant. It's unused. Imagine that - in a huge city, they can't make a downtown Art's Center work. And for anybody that thinks this is a viable plan, I just reread THEIR financial plan, page 19 of the presentation. $500,000 in Community Economic Development Fund grants? (Really?) Or $600,000 from a Kresge grant? Is that like a K-Mart national grant? Or a $350,000 NEA (National Endowment of the Arts) Federal grant? I am not opposed to an Arts Center in Southington, however I am opposed to this proposed location and the proposed/estimated Public Funding that is wildly exaggerated and over estimated.
Phil G June 16, 2012 at 11:31 AM
I get a kick out of Arthur Cyr. When it comes to the HS turf project, anyone who says it's a political set up is crazy, how could you think this of our political officials, use your full name you deviate, etc., etc. And then you get this ... "Pretty tough for most citizens to understand the situation when committee members bend the truth, use wrong assumptions and/or flat out lie to the residents." You just gotta love this boy! Be that as it may, I will agree with him that this Arts Center is a lot of pie-in-the-sky and, for the membership, a very costly one for a small organization. This is a lot of money to renovate, a lot of funding that needs to come in, and a lot of on-going cost to keep the place viable. Stephanie Urillo, I wouldn't worry about the traffic problem. If the place is used one night a month plus an occasional special occasion, the Town can swing that amount of traffic. I agree with Art: Not opposed to such a Center but think it more appropriate to situate it somewhere else in a building that is more in keeping with budget and need. Going beyond this, if they even get the funds to get it going, I give it 5 years of life -- max --- before finances give out. [And, by the way, does this mean the North Center School renovation -- AKA the Eddie Pocock Memorial Boondoggle Building -- has another 18 months to complete?]
Arthur Cyr June 16, 2012 at 01:40 PM
To Phil G. - Now you have me confused. watch this past Wednesday's Board of Finance meeting, when I stated I felt deceived by the two budget presentations without any mention of a turf field. Regarding the next copied quote, I posted additional information from the Art's proposal. and it is FICTION. Funny you should mention the North Center renovations - it has been and continues to be the infamous Mr. Riccio and Mr. Chaplinsky of this Gura Committee that DELAYED the North Center project for nearly six months and then insisted on additional items costing somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 to the project. And they were and are wrong regarding most of their assumptions and opposition to that project.
Tony M June 16, 2012 at 09:13 PM
It is obvious that some one has an aggenda that does not address the economic situation of the country and Connecticut. Just where are the grants going to be comming from? An Arts Center Building in the center of town is ludecrous. Foot traffic?? Not by the average citizen in town. It will only benefit artists who do not comprise the majority. If you every stop to look at the traffic situation on Main and Queen Streets, they are mostly commuters who are eager to get home. They are not going to stop as they are just passing through. I would like to know, who will maintain the building pay utilities, taxes, insurance and, general upkeep. Tax Payers? I don't think so! Sooner or later, The Well Runs Dry. Just ask Governor Malloy if he will give the Commission any Money. Ha! Some one once said that there are many millionairs living in Southington unfortunately I'm not one of them. Members of the town council should not have been on this commission as there is a conflict of interest involved. The best place to have an Arts Center would be at the soon to be vacated Board of Education Building as there are many parking spaces available. Common people use some good common sense and good judgement. Of course those who own property in town want everyone to think that it will create foot traffic and local busineses will benefit not true. Perhaps, later in the evening and then only the restaurants and bars will benefit. Demolish the eye sore..
Tony M June 16, 2012 at 09:26 PM
When this goes to the Town Council, any member of the Arts Commission who it on the Town Council should recuse themselves from voting as there would definitely be a conflict of interest and of ethics.
Mary DeCroce June 18, 2012 at 01:18 PM
If you are all so convinced that financing is not possible then what would it hurt for the town to give SCCA 18 months to secure what we believe is definitely available. does it hurt the town? No, Does is waste taxpayers money? No. Is it going to threaten the fabric of our downtown because the building has to remain standing for another 18 months? No. what if the Art Center doesn't work; what horrible situation will that leave the town in? Oh, that's right. They have a fully renovated building they didn't pay a penny for that can be used for something else. Just give this project a chance, meet with me, look at the facts and not opinion. It started as a dream in 2008 but is now a well researched thought out plan that can work if the opportunity is given.
Arthur Cyr June 18, 2012 at 02:28 PM
I couldn't figure out why it HAD to be ONLY the Gura Building for this Art Center... until I realized that "business people" wanted the site, and getting it renovated at no cost to them and then available for purchase by them was the plan. And getting "friends" to declare that the Town Hall doesn't need the parking lot (by the Chairman of the Parking Authority!). Now it's another 18 months? You've already had a year to work on this, with little results. Let's be clear - I am NOT opposed to an Art Center. I am opposed to it being at the Gura Building site. Propose it in the vacant TD/Bank of Southington building on North Main, or the former Dominick the Taylor site on Eden Ave, or the yellow Allstate Insurance building on the corner of High Street and I'll be the first one to donate money. IF the answer is "It must be the Gura Building", then there is something wrong with your plan. And the financials are only the beginning.
Tony M June 27, 2012 at 02:41 AM
Arthur:; I will repeat what I have been saying for months, "Why not the soon to be abandoned Bd. of Ed. Bldg. on Beecher St.? There is almost 75 parking spaces. and the many classroom spaces.
Arthur Cyr June 27, 2012 at 03:56 AM
Tony M - Have you been inside the BOE building on Beecher Street? Three floors with no elevator. A building nearly 100 years old. A difficult building to rehab. And don't count the lower parking lot because its difficult to drive up and down to it. Another sell it or tear it down deal.

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