The Gold Coast's historic Cedarmere mansion -- kept closed for years by Nassau County for lack of money -- will soon be restored and occupied by a private nonprofit.
County lawmakers last week approved a permit agreement with the Hagedorn Foundation that allows it to use the former home of poet William Cullen Bryant as office space for the next four years in exchange for $200,000 for renovations.
Cedarmere, Bryant's Roslyn Harbor retreat from 1843 until his 1878 death, was given to Nassau by Bryant's great-granddaughter nearly 40 years ago, on the condition it become a public preserve and memorial to the prominent 19th century poet and activist. The parks department opened a museum there in 1994, but it closed in 2008 amid county fiscal woes.
Aides to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said the interior of Cedarmere's main house has fallen into disrepair, and that the nonprofit Hagedorn, which seeks to "support and promote social equity on Long Island," will make the needed repairs at no cost to taxpayers.
At the end of the four-year agreement, "We will essentially have a brand-new, historically restored mansion," Gregory May, Mangano's legislative liaison, told county lawmakers last week, noting that the charity won't need to renew the use permit because it plans to spend down its remaining endowment and disband by 2018.
Parks officials said the deal had the support of the Friends of Cedarmere nonprofit, which contracts with Nassau to maintain the estate's public garden.
But Friends president John B. Dawson Jr. said he expects that portions of the house will still be made available for public events when the foundation isn't using them -- and that the site would revert to a public museum use after the permit expires.
"They haven't been, in our view, used the way they should be," Dawson said of county historic sites that are rented as office space. "Certainly, we are clinging to the hope the Bryant home will again be used as a museum, as the donor wanted."
The Port Washington-based Hagedorn Foundation will occupy 4,000 square feet of the main house, leaving some portions accessible to Friends of Cedarmere. Hagedorn executive director Darren Sandow, said he intended to share the space as much as possible.
"Everything kind of came together," Sandow said, noting the foundation is losing its lease and needed new space. "We get to restore this amazing property with a very rich history and give it back to the county once we close our office."
The foundation was started in 2005 by Amy Hagedorn after the death of her husband, Horace, founder of the Miracle-Gro plant food company and a longtime local philanthropist.
Miracle-Gro merged with Scotts in 1995, and is now led by James Hagedorn, Horace's son. James Hagedorn and his wife, Karli, also have a stake in historic county sites through their Friends of Sands Point Preserve -- which contracts with Nassau to maintain the 216-acre Guggenheim estate.
James and Karli Hagedorn are active political donors. Since 2009, they have given Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, a Democrat, $133,000; $26,500 to Mangano, a Republican, and $50,000 to the local GOP club run by Mangano's top deputy, Rob Walker.