Common Sense Solutions – An Art Center on Barons South
This is the third of an eight-part digital series where I address my positions on a range of different town issues that Westporters care about. To see the first two of the series on traffic and school funding, please click here and here.
A few years ago, I led the fight in the RTM to have the Barons South property designated as open space for future generations of Westporters. That was a divisive issue as there were strong feelings on both sides. Now a new proposal has emerged for the Barons South property—to allow the Westport Arts Center to lease two unused residential structures to create a new arts center at Barons South. I have enthusiastically endorsed this proposal and, as First Selectman, pledge to exert my leadership to bring Westporters together to make it happen.
It’s hard to imagine a better use for these buildings, which have been empty since 1999, when the town acquired the property, and have cost the taxpayer a considerable amount of money to keep heated and secure. Westport has always prided itself on being an arts friendly town, and previous owners of Barons South included a famous illustrator and a patron of the arts.
The financial deal offered by the Arts Center is also hard to refuse. The Arts Center will save and restore the buildings as well as build a new access road and parking areas that will serve both park and Arts Center visitors. And the precious open space that so many fought to preserve will always be open to the public. In fact, more Westporters are likely to visit and appreciate Barons South if they can also drop in to see an art exhibit, and see the interiors of these interesting buildings that have been closed to the public for so long.
So what do we have to do to make this a reality? The various town bodies that must approve the project should scrutinize the details. That’s their job. It’s up to the First Selectman to champion the vision while making sure certain core values are promoted.
First, the open space must remain passive and open to all members of the public. Use of the existing buildings as an arts center will not interfere with that goal. In fact, nature and art can be perfect companions. But the town must commit to taking care of the land.
Second, we should be open to possible synergies with the Senior Center, which shares the property with these buildings. Having both the Senior Center and the Arts Center at Barons South offers a unique opportunity for our seniors and youth to attend classes together and share their appreciation of art.
Finally, we should use this opportunity to tell the story of how past and present Westport artists have contributed to the vibrancy and special quality of our community.
A public-private partnership on Barons South can work if there is a shared vision. If I am your First Selectman, together we can make this a reality.
Approved by John F. Suggs
H. Nordholm, Treasurer
Paid for by Suggs2017
Copyright © 2017 Suggs for First Selectman, All rights reserved.
Photos by Wendy Crowther