Washington pavilion sale heads to residents for another vote
WASHINGTON — Residents will again be asked to consider the sale of a historic pavilion in the center of New Preston, after the town attorney decided the town can sell the building for private use.
The special meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Bryan Memorial Town Hall.
Under the proposal, Plain Goods, a local business adjacent to the Harry O. Erickson Pavilion Hall, would purchase the building for $140,000.
The Board of Selectmen and an ad-hoc committee selected the Plain Goods proposal from among three bids earlier this month.
The owners, Andrew Fry and Michael DePerno, plan to restore it and house their retail operation there, which has outgrown its existing space. They will set aside a portion of the building to be used as a visitors center, promoting the recreational, natural and historical
“We’re hopeful and we’re excited,” DePerno said. “We really want to restore the beautiful building and make it available to the public.”
Meanwhile, a group of residents has submitted another proposal, calling for the selectmen to keep the building and reject all three bids, including one from business owners that would turn the building back into a community center. The group proposes setting up a special fund that would use donations to renovate and maintain the building. The group raised about $311,000 in committed pledges in 10 days.
First Selectman Mark Lyon said the community would be better served if a private entity bought and restored the building. He said it will cost thousands to restore the building and the limited septic and parking prevent it from being a community center. He said there are a number of places in town for people to gather.
“The reason we’re selling it is because we don’t want to be responsible for the building anymore,” Lyon said. “We spent a fair amount of time seeing if there was a municipal use for the building, and we don’t have one.”
The vote to sell Harry O. Erickson Pavilion Hall was originally scheduled for March 24, but the 230 or so residents gathered voted to delay the sale until the town could research documents from 1940 that would determine if it was legally allowed to sell the property for private use. During the meeting, Edwin Matthews said the deed required the building to remain for community use.
Matthews, one of the residents who filed the new community proposal, said this bid process has inspired the people of New Preston to take responsibility for the long-vacant building and use it, as well as maintain it.
“It’s about valuing the community, as well as preserving a historic structure,” he said.
He said residents are upset by the overall process. He said the selected bid was given an extension when other applicants weren’t and the first two bids weren’t sealed.
“There are lots of folks who care about this building who would be willing to contribute and have contributed significantly,” he said. “It’s a shame to privatize this public facility.”
Lyon said they followed the proper procedures for selling the building and added provisions to protect the historic exterior for future owners.
Matthews and other residents and business owners who submitted the other proposal, worry about what will happen to the building if the new owners sell it in the future.
But DePerno said they have no plans of leaving and suggested offering the building back to the town as first offer of refusal if the town would like.
“We’re not planning to go anywhere,” he said. “This is our flagship store. We’re dedicated and committed to Washington, Conn.”