Council Approves Three STEAP Grant Applications
WETHERSFIELD - A vote regarding the Wethersfield’s application for three grants, a move that was approved 5-4, prompted a discussion regarding the future of the Standish House at last Monday’s Town Council meeting.
Members of town staff and the infrastructure committee want to apply for the Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grants--$450,000 for façade loan/redevelopment/demolition; $460,000 for exterior site work, ADA compliance, and painting of the Standish House; and $386,000 for the Solomon Wells parking lot--but the question raised by Councilor Stathis Manousos was whether the town should consider selling the Standish House.
“We need to ask the bigger question of whether or not we should even own this building,” Manousos said during a discussion before the vote was taken. “The town is saddled with all the repairs that are needed on the building and [with] capital improvement.”
The Wethersfield Historical Society is currently in a 50-year lease with the town for the building, which houses Lucky Lou’s Bar and Grille.
“The shell of the building isn’t their purpose,” Manousos said. “Now you have a tenant with no equity in the building shelling money into it. Not only could you get it on the tax roll, but there is a win-win opportunity for the town to shed obligation for the maintenance.”
The town has listed the grants in the order in which they are prioritized, with the Solomon Welles House parking lot falling third to the façade loan/redevelopment/demolition funds and Standish House, respectively.
“The first grant has the potential to bring in more tax revenue, which I think made it a much greater priority,” said Councilor Steven Barry. “The other two, it’s a close call.”
Established in 2005, the façade improvement assistance program provides 50/50 matching grant cost incentives of up to $50,000 for business owners to make exterior improvements to their buildings. The program is aimed at businesses along the Silas Deane Highway, Berlin Turnpike, and Main Street and has funded 25 projects so far.
“I think these are three good projects,” Councilor Donna Hemmann said. “I’m sorry, Solomon Welles is number three. I think improvements would be huge for events we have throughout the year. It’s used by the whole community and the parking lot’s a disaster. If there’s any moisture, it becomes a pond.”
Manousos suggested taking the Standish House off the application and focusing instead on the façade improvement and Solomon Welles House assistance--a revised motion that was voted down.
“I think it’s unlikely that we’re going to get three STEAP grants,” he said. “I think the first one is more bang for our buck, but I think we should limit it to two, and my second choice would be the Solomon Welles House.”
It may be worth a discussion, but that will certainly be a process, councilors said.
“I don’t think this is an item that we can just discuss at Town Council and make a decision without significant input from other parts of town,” said Councilor Gerri Roberts.
“I agree with you--that’s why I think it [the Standish House] should be removed,” Manousos responded.
Residents might not be so willing to part with the building, Barry said.
“It’s got historical significance to the town,” he said. “The Historical Society does great work with the town. It’s something people are proud of and a reason people come to town.”