Pittsfield Councilors Vote No on Springside House Grant Match
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Two councilors' opposition to using $500,000 in free cash to match a national grant for the preservation of Springside House resulted in a negative recommendation from the Finance subcommittee.
In December, the city received a $500,000 Save America's Treasures matching grant for interior renovations to the mid-1800s Italianate mansion formerly known as Elmhurst.
An equal contribution from the city is a requirement of the award. Free cash was proposed for the allotment, as Pittsfield ended 2022 with a balance of around $17 million.
Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowksy and Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick voted to accept the grant but opposed using free cash for the match.
With Ward 4 Councilor James Conant absent, the vote was 2-2 with President Peter Marchetti and Councilor at Large Earl Persip III in favor.
"There is never a perfect time to do anything, things just don't line up correctly all of the time but I feel that could use this money for our city buildings," Kalinowsky said, adding that money should be put into buildings that are used on a daily basis.
The house has sat vacant since 2007 but headquartered the city's Parks and Recreation Department and other community groups for more than 50 years prior to that.
Kronick wants to see a more creative proposal for the funds. His suggestions included using Community Preservation Act funds, for which the application period has ended, and putting the cost in the city budget.
He said free cash is the taxpayer's money and his constituents want it to go back into their pockets.
"Get together with the mayor, find the money, get it out of CPA. If you want to come back and say you want to borrow it from free cash like you did with the airport, that's a proposal," he said, referring to a former appropriation for the Pittsfield Municipal Airport's easement project.
"I'm not against the project honestly, I'm not against using free cash for the project even. I am against appropriating from free cash and expending from free cash on it."
Finance Director Matthew Kerwood later clarified that putting the cost in the budget would not force the city to cut expenses in other places, it would mean that the budget increase by $500,000.
"And the question then becomes, given to the point that was just raised that we're not yet at the finish line, do you put it in the FY25 budget for how much, FY26 budget for how much, and continue to raise an appropriate?" he said.
"It's not an appropriate way to do this project."
He said the city could also issue debt and pay debt service over a period of time, which concerns Kerwood because there are talks of housing a tenant whose mission aligns with the city.
"Once this property starts to generate revenue, any debt that we issue here in the past or the future could be in jeopardy because we issue tax-exempt bonds," he explained.
"And the minute you start generating revenue off a project funded through tax-exempt bonds, you potentially put that tax-exempt status of those bonds in jeopardy."
Persip urged his colleagues to reconsider their stance, emphasizing the importance of historic preservation and the National Trust's interest in the project.
"What we've done in the past is not put money back into historic buildings throughout the city and we hear throughout time 'we should have kept this, we should have put money into this,'" he said.
"They're not making new historic buildings. This is money well spent, it's a one-time kind of expenditure and we get free $500,000 coming back and so, as we can address some of the issues with $500,000 in some of our newer buildings, I think we can save a historic building that is very unique in a unique space and get another $500,000."
He pointed to the historic buildings that have been lost throughout the city such as the Union Train Station that formerly stood on West Street and current efforts to repair or rebuild Wahconah Park.
"When it comes to funding projects like this, this is the time. We do have a great deal of free cash, I think this is an appropriate time, especially with the grant at our fingertips," Persip added.
"I don't know when again, if we turn down the grant because we can't fund it does National Trust come back and say, even look at our applications again? Because we can always go back to them for other funding things, outside the Springside House, other buildings. It's important to be on the good side of them,"
"Saving history is important and I can appreciate the argument of using the money elsewhere. But like I said, I don't think they're making any new historic buildings. This is one of a kind."
About $1.5 million in exterior renovations were completed a few years ago after restoration efforts were launched in 2013. If all goes smoothly, construction on the home's nooks and crannies will begin this year.
The estimate for full interior renovations totals $3.5 million and the plans were submitted to U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey. While the source of the remaining $2.5 million has not been identified, Mayor Linda Tyer is confident that it can be raised.
During open microphone, Joe Durwin, a former parks commissioner, spoke to the long-standing support and effort that has been put into the Springside House.
He joked that when this process started well over a decade ago, his gray hair was brown.
"In 2016, you'll probably recall, the Pittsfield voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative to actually increase their tax bill a little bit, specifically to support projects like this. In fact, Springside House was on all of the literature and stuff, so there was no mistaking the kinds of projects that people really understood that they were voting about," Durwin said.
"I think we're at this juncture because so many people have seen the almost no-brainer potential of having a 20-room mansion with this kind of satellite campus of buildings in the heart of our largest flagship park."
He pointed to the 65 years that the house functioned in a multi-use capacity that often exemplifies the "good old days" of Pittsfield.
"The winter carnival, Easter egg hunts, baseball, it came out of this building. This is the legacy of this building and that's something that is important and something that can be built upon and reinvented," Durwin said.
"This was the center of a park system that was nationally renowned and with your help, can be again so I think it's high time that we move forward with this project. We need to preserve Pittsfield history in a way that is building its future and Springside House is one of the places where that is going to happen."
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