The East Hampton Town Board has approved turning over the operations of two historic properties to a nonprofit — free of charge and without seeking public bids — even though the town spent at least $4 million to purchase and restore the properties.
The board recently voted to authorize two 10-year license agreements with the nonprofit Peconic Historic Preservation Inc. to maintain and use Brooks Park Home and Duck Creek Farm for arts programming and performances.
The license agreements — which have two five-year renewal options — were awarded for “zero dollars” in the Thursday vote. The nonprofit will be responsible for the costs of maintaining and managing the properties in Springs.
Robert Strada, executive director of the Amagansett-based nonprofit, said Tuesday that the group’s costs will be “far from zero dollars,” noting that just weatherizing the buildings could cost at least $1,000 a year.
The town purchased the 11-acre Brooks Park property — where abstract expressionist artists James Brooks and Charlotte Park lived in the mid-1900s — in 2013 for $1.1 million. In 2016, officials allotted approximately $362,000 for its restoration, which has not been completed.
“We plan to turn it into an artistic, cultural center for the community,” said Strada, who is also a partner at the Strada Baxter Design/Build firm.
The license agreement for Duck Creek, which was operated by the Edwards family from 1795 to 1902 and purchased by abstract expressionist artist John Little in 1948, is still being negotiated, said Strada, who is also the former chairman of East Hampton’s public access station, LTV. The town purchased the 6.7-acre property for $2.5 million in 2005 and allotted $212,000 for the farm’s restoration in 2015.
Both properties are owned and “operated” by the town, but they are largely unused. They were purchased with funding from the Community Preservation Fund, which uses a 2 percent tax on real estate transfers in the five East End towns of East Hampton, Riverhead, Shelter Island, Southampton and Southold to preserve open space and historic properties.
Martin Drew, a Springs resident, said at the town board meeting that he was concerned about the low cost of the license agreements.
“I’m just wondering, how many buildings do we have to give away?” Drew said.
Deputy Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, who sponsored the resolutions for the license agreements, said the board reached out to multiple nonprofits in the past two years, but “it was difficult to get somebody to come forward” to run the properties.
“It’s very historic, and we wanted to make it available to the public to use,” Van Scoyoc said. “But rather than take on the additional expense of having town staff to manage these properties, we thought it would be better for a nonprofit to operate it for us.”
License to thrill
The license agreements allow Peconic Historic Preservation to run the properties, which the public can also use for recreational purposes, officials said. The facilities will host artistic activities that include:
- Art exhibitions
- Poetry readings
- Musical, dance and theater performances