Suffolk seeks investors for historic sites

Black Duck Lodge at Hubbard County Park in Black Duck Lodge at Hubbard County Park in Hampton Bays, which dates to 1865, is one of the first properties in a program to attract investors for renovation. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona, 2012

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The crumbling hunting lodge and boarded-up schoolhouse each will cost more than $2 million to restore. Suffolk County is about to find out who may be willing to take on the task.

By month's end, county officials hope to provide potential investors with formal "requests for expressions of interest" in a program that aims to save historic structures on parkland. Unable to afford renovations, the county seeks private parties to do the sensitive historical work in exchange for long-term, rent-free use of the sites.

Five properties were included in the program, approved by the county legislature in late 2011. Suffolk will begin by advertising the two it sees as having the most potential: Elwood Schoolhouse on Cuba Hill Road in Huntington, built in 1915, and Black Duck Lodge at Hubbard County Park in Hampton Bays, a baronial white Colonial dating to 1865 that financier E.F. Hutton used as a private hunting lodge.

"Every day that the buildings sit, the worse they get," said Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), who has led the effort.

Advocates of the program, modeled after successful curatorship arrangements in Maryland and Massachusetts, have said the Elwood schoolhouse could serve as office space, while Black Duck Lodge could operate as an inn.

Officials moved slowly in preparing the formal queries about interest -- a step before the bid process -- because they wanted to ensure they clearly outlined the complicated private-public agreements. The county, continuing as owner of the sites, would require specific kinds of historically sensitive renovations and would mandate some level of public access.

Parks Department Commissioner Greg Dawson said attorneys are finalizing the county's pitches to potential investors, with hopes of releasing them in the next three weeks. He said he expects numerous responses.

"We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't think it was viable," Dawson said.

If the first two sites in Suffolk's pilot program generate offers, officials will move forward with requests for the remaining three: an 1810 homestead in Nesconset, a 1920s vernacular farmhouse in South Haven and a Greek Revival home in Manorville.

Suffolk owns about 100 historic structures within parks, many sitting vacant with their roofs patched and windows boarded. Horsley said that although superstorm Sandy didn't damage them further, it showed the urgency in restoring the properties before they collapse.

"That's why I want to get this going," Horsley said. "There are plenty more lined up behind these five. They'll take work, but as I've been telling people, 'You fix it to historic standards, we'll pay the rent.' "

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