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Stratford Loses Grant for Historic 'White House'

Town misses out on $7,500 grant approved for work on mansion in front of Shakespeare Theatre.

A $7,500 grant from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation could have helped pay for a long-term plan of action for the John Benjamin House, aka the "White House," the historic but shabby mansion that theatre supporters hope to transform into a center for the arts.

The money could have also helped pay for ongoing architectural work at the building, which sits at the entrance to Shakespeare Theatre on Elm Street, said Tom Yemm, chairman of Stratford's Historic District Commission.

It's not that the town's application for the $7,500 grant wasn't approved -- it was: "We have allocated $7,500 for a conditions assessment and preservation plan for the John Benjamin House at 1850 Elm Street, Stratford," reads a letter to Stratford Mayor John A. Harkins, dated Dec. 2011 (Read the letter in full as it is attached to this article as a PDF).

The money was never realized, Yemm said, because Harkins, as the grantee and "owner of the property," never signed on the dotted line.

"It appears a relatively small amount of money has been left on the table," Yemm said. As a matching grant, the town would have had to equal the $7,500 with either cash funds or in-kind donations, according to the language of the grant.

A message left for the mayor Tuesday was not returned as of late Wednesday.

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Yemm said the grant was officially rescinded a few weeks ago. That was after he called the Connecticut Trust and was told they did not hear anything from the town since sending out the letter of approval in Dec. 2011.

"We (the Historic District Commission) did a lot of work, we get a grant and all the town had to do was fill out a simple contract," Yemm said.

Stratford Town Council members in July 2012 approved a "local historic property" designation for the John Benjamin House, a move meant to better the chances at securing state and federal funding through preservation grants.

At that summer meeting, Council Chairman Joseph Kubic (R-9) asked: "If the [Shakespeare] theatre fails, can the White House be removed?" Town Attorney Tim Bishop said yes, it can, but there'd have to be "no reasonable alternative to demolition."

The town is currently considering a few million-dollar options for breathing new life into the long-shuttered theatre. A consulting group hired by the town for about $160,000 presented in April this year three options for redevelopment, which ranged in price from $3.2 to $30 million.

This week, Councilman Matt Catalano (R-3) said about $168,000 of funds bonded for Shakespeare Theatre has been spent to "shore up the White House."

In October, the Town Council . At that meeting, Kubic, who months earlier asked about the possible removal of the White House, said: "I understand this building. We've realized it's in good shape [and] going to be a gem for the community."

As of a couple weeks ago, the building still showed some severe damage, most notably a hole in the ceiling of one of the 13-plus rooms.

"It has some serious needs but it's been saved from oblivion," said Yemm.

Related Articles

PHOTOS: Restoring Stratford's 'White House' (About volunteer work being done at mansion.)

David December 05, 2012 at 04:23 AM
I agree with Ron and Tom Malloy- If you read the attached "study" there were so many requirements to get the money, we would have had to meet all their requirements to spend $7500 to get $7500 for a "study". If we failed on any of the grant requirements, we'd loose the $7500. The mayor signing that document would have taken a risk accepting that money, thus making the town liable. Sounds like our mayor made an EXCELLENT CHOICE in this case. Sounds like general mayor bashing. If you ever worked on Grants or read the book "Confessions of an Economic Hitman", you'd realize you don't get anything in life for free. They give you the money because they want something. We need to spend money to fix the house structure and preserve what is there. Study, crazy.
David December 05, 2012 at 04:29 AM
Editor: Jason Bagley please correct the title "Stratford Loses Grant for Historic 'White House" and "$7,500 grant..." To the title "Stratford Loses Study Grant for Historic 'White House" and "$7,500 study grant..."
David December 05, 2012 at 05:31 AM
Also, read the not eligible list below and note "construction" is not eligible. Also someone should call Hellen Higgins who forwarded the grant memo and find out who dropped the ball after applying for the grant. Ask that contact why that document did not get signed. Could that person have just never given the mayor the document? Did the Mayor just weigh the $7500 Assessment cost the town would have to pay verses his confidence the project would be successful? What's the track record of the person/team seeking the money and using town funds effectively? It's easy to drop tasks on someone else. I don't particularly favor or dislike our mayor, but I will give him the benefit of any doubt. Not Eligible: Projects from for-profit organizations or institutions, from the State of Connecticut or from individuals without an organizational or institutional base. Projects for general operating expenses or for purchase of office equipment for the purpose of general operations. Acquisition money. Costs, such as refreshments, associated with social events or fundraising events. Construction related costs. Projects already underway
Know what's going on December 06, 2012 at 09:59 PM
The town didn't have to spend a cent for a plan we DO need! The town could have provided "in-kind" services! And the WORST thing about this is the shills the "mayor" uses. Is he such a coward that he can't speak to the community he leads?
Barbara Northup February 22, 2013 at 05:37 AM
i WAS AN USHER AT THE THEATER IN THE LATE 50'S. I REMEMBER THE PLAYS, THE HIGH SCHOOL BAND CONCERTS, THE DANCING SCHOOL RECTALS, THE POLICE BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION SHOWS,..............EVERYONE AND ANYONE WHO WANTED TO RENT THE THEATER FOR ANY KIND OF PRODUCTION WAS WELCOME! AND THEY DID NOT COME.................... THE PARKING WAS HORRIBLE, PEOPLE HAD TO PLAN TO AVOID THE THEATER AREA BEFORE AND AFTER A PRODUCTION AND USE MAIN STREET! THE ONLY BUSINESSES THAT WERE HAPPY WERE THE TWO DINERS AS PEOPLE FROM OUT OF TOWN ATE THERE. iF YOU ARE OVER THE AGE OF 70, POST WHAT YOU REMEMBER!

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