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$10 million make-over proposed for Jeffrey Mansion & Park
The Jeffrey Mansion Commission Jan. 17 unveiled a plan to double the space for recreation programs and private events at the 102-year-old landmark, along with enhancements to the park, at a cost of up to $10.5 million.
Messenger photo by John Matuszak
Architects are suggesting that this courtyard at Jeffrey Mansion be enclosed for use as an event center, part of a makeover of the mansion with an estimated price tage of between $8 million and $10.5 million. The Jeffrey Mansion Commission presented its report Jan. 17 to renovate the 102-year-old building and make it self-sustaining through increased revenue fron rentals.
Some residents at the public hearing objected to the addition of parking and permitting alcohol to be served at rental events.
"It sounds to me like you're advocating turning this building into a party house," Sam Shamansky said.
But advocates of the renovations emphasized that making the mansion a self-sustaining enterprise is the only way to save it without raising taxes.
The proposal is to fund the project largely through private donations and government grants. Management would be through an 11-member Jeffrey Mansion Commission Board, and funding would come through a not-for-profit Bexley Community Foundation.
"We are faced with the realistic fact that this place will disappear" without an increase in revenue for ongoing maintenance, stated Pete Halliday, head of the Bexley Heritage Fund and the driving force behind the plan.
The mansion, built in 1905 and deeded to the city by the Jeffrey family in 1941, is undergoing $1.3 million in exterior repairs. Electrical and ventilation systems are antiquated, and there is limited handicap access, pointed out Chris Masoner, a recreation board member since 1989.
|Jeffrey Mansion Commission Board membership
Recreation board - 2
Board of Education - 1
Bexley Historical Society - 1
Chamber of Commerce - 1
City Council - 1
Bexley Foundation - 5
Less than half of the mansion's space is suitable for recreation activities, he added.
| Mansion costs
1st floor $1.1 million
2nd floor $788,000
3rd floor $490,000
Special events area $833,000
Front entry drive $920,000
Landscape restoration $473,000
North woods parking $975,000
South woods parking $400,000
Meadow $1.35 million
Picnic grove parking $187,000
Activity Zone $511,000
Water's edge access $55,000
The proposal calls for increasing the available space from 11,000 to 22,000 square feet without a major addition, architect Robert Loversidge, of Schooley Caldwell, reported.
Much of that space would come from renovating the third floor and the basement, now used for storage, into meeting, office and event space.
The first floor could accommodate more private events, such as weddings, with the addition of a catering kitchen, Loversidge said. He suggested that a porch on the south side of the building could be enclosed to provide more seating.
The second floor could be used for the recreation department's preschool program, as well as conference rooms for corporate events.
The third floor would be reserved for the offices of the recreation department, with "much more space than they have now" on the second floor," Loversidge said.
An elevator would be installed to provide access to the upper floors.
The basement, which is actually at ground level, would be used for recreation programs and storage.
Loversidge also envisions enclosing a courtyard on the north side of the mansion to provide seating for 150 to 170 people for private events.
The architect wants to add entrances so that more than one activity can take place at the same time.
The cost of the mansion renovations is estimated at between $4 million and $5 million.
MSI designers have concentrated on the 32-acre park. That includes adding 85 parking spaces within a wooded area to the north of the mansion, and 40 spaces to the south.
The complete plans would result in a net gain of 93 parking spaces on the ground.
MSI landscape designer Kyle Albert explained that the north and south lots would be lowered, so that they would not be visible from the street, and the area would be reforested where trees are removed.
The south lot could improve the traffic flow around the mansion by providing a one-way exit on to Clifton Avenue, Albert said.
Other park improvements proposed include the construction of a permanent shelter at the south end of the meadow, along with a play area and parking where tennis courts now sit.
The tennis courts could be relocated near the pool in what is being designated as an "Activity Zone."
An improved, handicap accessible trail system is being recommended for the wooded area, along with a creek overlook shelter and access to the edge of Alum Creek for canoeing and fishing.
The park improvements are projected to cost between $4.75 million and $5.5 million.
Once the funding is in place, Loversidge estimated that the entire package would take a year to fully design, and another year to complete.
Opponents, proponents speak out
Resident and environmental activist Harvey Wasserman said he was "horrified" by the prospect of losing any trees, and also objected to the park becoming a commercial venture.
"It's a public treasure," Wasserman said. "A public space does not have to generate profit."
Other residents support the addition of parking.
Libby Koetz pointed out that the Bexley Women's Club stopped meeting at the mansion after many years because of the lack of parking.
Heidi Ackley, a mother of three, said her children have been endangered by vehicles backing up along the tight driveway.
"Something has to happen with the parking, something has to happen with the flow" of traffic, Ackley said.
Bexley City Councilman Jeff McClelland, chairman of the mansion commission that has been meeting since 2006, noted that the plans for the south parking lot are not set in concrete.
"If it's not a last resort, its plan C," McClelland said. "It can be phased in later, if it's phased in at all."
McClelland also offered assurances that there would be ample opportunity for further public input on the plan, which he expects will be presented to council in March.
Shamansky expressed concern about people who have been drinking alcohol leaving the mansion grounds and driving through Bexley's streets.
Barb Greiner, a Bexley Recreation Department supervisor, joined Shamansky in voicing those fears, calling alcohol and a public park with children "the worst mix in the world."
City Councilwoman Robyn Jones, a member of the commission, compared the serving of alcohol at the mansion to serving guests at home, with the host responsible for monitoring consumption.
Greiner also decried the neglect the mansion has endured in the 18 years she has been with the department. "If we had taken care of her from 1989, we wouldn't have this problem."
Shamansky also cast doubt on whether Halliday could raise the money needed.
Halliday said he has identified eight Bexley families with the capacity to donate $50 million toward the project. His goal is to raise $10 million.
"The funding is a no-brainer," Halliday said.
His plan is to have the foundation pay the principal on bond sales, with the city responsible for paying the interest.
He estimated that, by the end of the second or third year of operations, the mansion could be generating $300,000 a year.
Nothing is going to happen overnight, according to Halliday. "This is going to be a crawl, walk, run."
Private events will not supplant the recreation department, Masoner vowed. "Recreation programs and the recreation department will stay in this building."
Adopting the plan will be up to City Council, and it could even be subject to a referendum, Masoner suggested.
He believes that it deserves a fair hearing. "We want an opportunity to try, and we want an opportunity to succeed."
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