Saturday, April 28, 2007

Milton Women’s Club

The Milton Women’s Club has offered to donate its function hall at 90 Reedsdale Rd. to the Town. The Club has found it difficult in recent years to operate and maintain the facility, and hopes by giving it to the town to preserve the building as a community resource while being able to use it for its meetings.

The facility sits on just over an acre of land with about 6000 sq. feet of built out space. The assessed value is just over $1 million. As a non-profit, the Women’s Club pays no taxes on the property.

The Selectmen have scheduled a Special Town Meeting within the Annual Town Meeting to discuss an article requesting authority to acquire the gift from the Women’s Club. The Warrant Committee has made no recommendation as it waits for more information on the proposal.

All sides seem to agree that accepting this generous gift must be coupled with a mechanism guaranteeing financial self-sufficiency. The town simply doesn’t have the money to fund the operational costs of running the center or for immediately needed renovations and repairs. Nor does it have the financial resources for ongoing maintenance over the years for this 75 year old structure. We struggle with adequate maintenance of our current town buildings.

One idea being floated is accepting the property and leasing it to MPEG Access Inc. This is a private, non-profit entity formed to take over the running of the local cable access services. Currently these are required of Comcast as part of their license to operate in Milton. They wish to extricate themselves from this requirement. To do so they must provide the town with a substantial benefit. It’s hoped that such a benefit would be a sum of money sufficient to undertake necessary renovations, [$150,000-$200,000] and provide a stream of revenue to cover the annual operating expenses of the building.

The problem is that no agreement with Comcast yet exists. Nor is it likely to exist by the Special Town Meeting. I think the town meeting needs to see a well constructed pro forma which convincingly shows that sufficient upfront revenue and ongoing revenue exists to make the enterprise financially viable on its own. I don’t see how this can be done in the next week or so. Perhaps it would be better to put this off until a possible Fall Special Town Meeting.

I’d also like to know what alternatives to MPEG might be financially viable. Some of the current tenants utilize a temporary liquor license for events. As we’ve discovered with the Council on Aging, the costs and complications of doing that once it is owned by the town might preclude such use and decrease the center’s attractiveness for certain events.

Even under the MPEG scenario, would they require the entire 6000 sq. feet for their operations? It seems too bad to not utilize the large, commercial kitchen and the performing stage for other town uses. It would also provide additional sources of revenue.

The Warrant Committee will be meeting this week to discuss this issue further.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if the Milton Junior Women's Club was approached about taking over the property? They seem to be an active group capable of organizing successful events such as the Milton Road Race.

It would be nice if the town had some time to wait and see how things play out with Comcast. If the Milton Women's Club isn't paying property taxes, is it the cost of utilities that would need to be covered in the interim (or are there more factors)? How much money would it cost to keep it afloat for a while?

I'd love to see the space maintained. In addition to hosting functions and meetings, it would be nice to have cooking classes and dance classes or Karate there.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

The Women's Club approached the town some months ago. It has been the topic of executive session real estate acquisition discussions until recently.

The club lists it's annual operating costs as $22,000 and revenue of $27,000 plus. I would imagine that utilities and insurance are the bulk of the costs.

Unfortunately such a tight budget doesn't permit any investment in the place, or enough revenue excess to take out a loan to undertake renovations. Even under the planned renovations of $150,000-$200,000 its my understanding that this does not include adding air conditioning. The lack of this feature makes it unattractive for rental during hot weather months, a major time for weddings, receptions, etc.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what will happen to the womans club when they give up their building?

6:30 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

The club itself is no longer very large. They want the town to take over the building and allow them to continue to have their meetings there. Other than meetings, the facility was essentially something they used to promote community events.

If the town decides not to accept the gift, it would appear that the Women's Club will have to sell the property.

6:44 PM  
Anonymous JCC said...

Its a great facility - but it lacks the one big thing that all commercially viable spaces need: convenient parking! We know where that discussion leads in this town...However, that could potentially be solved by clearing out some of the land out back.

I recall that The Milton Jr Women's Club had been asked but turned it down as its charter is charitable and hasn't the necessary funds to purchase and maintain it outright.

It would be nicer if they could gift it to them jointly with the Milton Players. That way there could be more potential benefial uses to the town, without town liability and restrictions. Or maybe we could take it a step further and actually start a Milton Center for The Arts.

Concord has somthing similar to this in their town center and its where all sort of arts-related things take place from theatre,cooking classes, dance classes to music lessons - Walden Arts Center. Its self-sustaining place where groups pay annual fees. Seems to work great, and has done so for 30+ years. Lexington also has one,(Hayden Recreation Center) and as most kids are dropped off for their programs, parking isn't that big an issue. Nighttime classes
seems to have sufficient parking.

Anyway, its an idea. Thought it might be worth pursuing.

Anyone else? I guess this would potentially take revenue away from the town if it was town owned, but if all the liability and maintainance costs are too high wihtout a viable long term vendor then maybe another option can be considered...


7:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

jcc, I like the joint gift and Milton Center for The Arts ideas. Maybe there is grant money that could be pursued?

8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope I'm not the only one who anticipates that we can use this building for some type of youth facility. While I love the idea of a Center for the Arts, I think this town has been desperate for a youth center for years. I envision an after-school type of "club." Fee-based if necessary. Kids could actually walk there from Pierce (and even MHS) so no parking needed. You could have fitness equipment, sofas, game tables, some computers, maybe quiet areas for homework clubs and/or tutoring.
I'm sure plenty of parents would gladly pay dues to have their kids engaged in a positive manner after school. The kids would even be out of there by, say, 7 p.m., so other groups could use it at night. I know there are some problems with this use ... people seem to hate the idea of more than two teenagers gathering in the same place, but come on, give the kids a safe environment to hang out and we might actually look at our young people as community assets and not a generation of TV junkies and video game addicts!!

9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great idea, will take a lot of work an committment from Milton parents but could be done. betsy

11:03 PM  
Anonymous JCC said...

I was thinking of it as a youth facility, I was just selfishly desiring a more arts-orientation. We seem to be a fairly sports-oriented town and kids constantly have to go out of town to participate in drama and music. It could be just one of the things that a youth center could do. The commercial kitchen could support cooking classes. We need to keep kids busy, and its a great central location for so many reasons. Would it be appropriate to present this as an option at a selectmen's meeting or do we need to bring in strong financial incentives to do so? I'm numeric dyslexic so that's not MY forte!!

11:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the issue at hand is that the building needs repairs and updating that could run upwards of $250,000. I don't think that the town should get into the youth center business. They tried it before and it failed. In order for a youth center to work, it needs constant attention and focus. If Milton wants the property, they should lease it out to an organization that has the capital and the focus. I love the idea of a youth center, we just need to find an organization that could make it happen.

7:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the town has tried and failed at the youth center "business," but that was at least 20 years ago. Back when East Milton had a bowling alley, a movie theater and many of the churches had strong CYO participation. These days, there's not much out there for our kids. Yes, the money is a problem. That's why I think we should involve, say, the Boys and Girls Clubs or propose a local YMCA mini-facility. Also, there seems to be at least some grant money out there for projects exactly like this one. I'd hate to think that because this didn't work out for us 20 or 30 years ago, the idea is doomed. Hope you agree.

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think that the bowling alley and movie theater (both in East Milton, while the Youth Center was near where the Senior Center stands today) had as much to do with the failure as the fact that the youth center was housed in a dilapidated building and was not well supervised. If you just provide a building and a few people to chaperone kids who are just sitting around, what is to keep the youth from becoming bored immediately? I'm not saying that the idea is doomed, I just don't think the town should be responsible for making it happen other than approving the use of the property, because the youth deserve special attention that the town does not have the expertise to give. It would be better served if run by an organization of dedicated individuals who have experience working with youth and programming youth activities. Something like the Boys and Girls Clubs is on the mark.

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Milton should (and can) find a way to accept and use this gift appropriately and in my mind it does not require a single use, there are plenty of good uses to go around. I think we have too many single use resources and these just lead to people putting up walls for other groups to benefit. If we can't pull off a youth center right away, how about a regular (weekly/monthly etc) youth event or program. The idea of moving the broadcast studios into that location and not to the High School (which I thought was the plan) seems odd. This studio, coupled with the sound labs and equipment that we have already bought would provide students (and other voluteers) with great opportunities to learn new skills and perhaps even future jobs as camera/sound operators, producers or on-air talent. There is certainly room in the current broadcasting schedule for some new ideas and programing. Does anyone know MPEG's plans along these lines? Are they planning any outreach for new ideas and programing? Will the town have any say on future management of this group or are we creating another fiefdom and now looking to provide it with a castle to operate from to the detriment of many other groups/constiuencies that could benefit from this gift to the town???? Just thinking out loud, JJC.

10:20 PM  
Anonymous Jessica said...

I think that everyone reading should be reminded of a few important facts - this clubhouse is presently owned by the Womens Club. If they decide to gift it to the town, it is their decision. If they decide to gift it to the town with certain provisions/restrictions, again - it is their decision. Although everyone has great ideas and plans for such space, it should be noted that the decision is in the hands of a few hardworking women and should be left that way. Moreover, it should be noted that the Club could easily sell it on their own for a large profit but the goal seems to be to be able to maintain their meetings there. Further, I believe they have incorporated the juniors in this plan as well (so that they also have a place for meetings.) If it is sold to a private entity or made into a full blown center of some sort - this goal may not be achievable. Also, the approval sought at town meeting is simply for the town to enter into negotiations with the Womens Club to discuss a possible agreement. This approval process through town meeting has little to do with anything beyond that. Indeed further information is needed down the road as to what the space should be used for and what the town can afford - at this time, permission to speak with the Womens Club about a possible agreement should be afforded.

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

jessica, I don't think that we have forgotten the facts. We are trying to focus on the possible acquisition of the property by the town by exchanging ideas. I don't think it hurts to ruminate about the possibilities. The town, like the Milton Women's Club, cannot afford the costly repairs on its own so naturally we have to think about how to make it work so that it is best for everyone. If the negotiations result in an agreement further down the road, it would be nice if Milton residents could bring some of their ideas to the table. I don't think that converting the building's use for a cable studio, youth center, or multi-use would preclude both women's clubs from continuing to hold meetings there, especially if it is a condition of the acquisition in the first place.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was my understanding that the Women's Club had already made the decision to offer this building to the town. I could be wrong, but it was also my understanding that the only provision the Women's Club asked for was they they be able to continue their meetings there. I don't think the Women's Club asked for the final say as to what type of facility this building will house. I think it's up to the town (us!) to decide whether or not to accept the gift, and this decision is contingent on whether or not we think we can put it to good, self-sufficient use. So let's keep the ideas flowing ... we're doing our civic duty here!

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please note - that it is incorrect that the only provision the Womens Club requested was for meeting use. Again, it is great to float ideas but the important issue at hand is that the town approve the rights to speak with the womens club. As for the use, that is a little down the road (as someone mentioned). In addition, the womens club is currently renting it with a profit and is in a much better financial situation than it seems to everyone. The decision to possibly gift it to the town must have been and continue to be a very difficult and well thought out one. There seems that there is always the option of selling it privately at a great financial gain to the Club. This furthers the importance of the Womens Club's wishes and the need for all to be mindful of their requests. Of course, these comments are not meant to signify any detriment to the town but that the ideas of the Woemsn Club should weighheavier than that of other residents.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

A couple of points about some of the comments.

1) The wording of the article for the town meeting seems to clearly authorize the Board of Selectmen to do more than merely negotiate with the Women's Club. It reads:

"To see if the Town will vote to authorize the Board of Selectmen to acquire a parcel of land with the buildings thereon owned now or formerly by the Milton Woman's Club...".

The Warrant Committee comment begins:

"If the article is approved, it would allow the Board of Selectmen acting on behalf of the Town to acquire the property at 90 Reedsdale Rd."

2). While the current rental income exceeds annual expenses, that is partly because maintenance is not being carried out, for lack of funds.

3) While it is certainly the Woman's Club's right to insist on certain provisions for the gift, it is the town's right to insist on whatever it wishes before accepting it.

I think the Club would be a fine town asset. But I find it hard to believe town meeting will authorize the acceptance of it without a clear plan for addressing the financial concerns.

Certainly the Selectmen should be given authority to negotiate with the Women's Club to see if their needs can be met while considering some of the other ideas for use which people have.

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stand corrected. The Women's Club did, indeed, make two additional provisions to the gift of their property. They do not want the town to re-sell the property to a commercial enterprise and they would like the Milton Players to remain as tenants. (Also, they want to continue to hold their meetings on-site.) Of course, they could sell this building privately and use the profits however they see fit, so this surely is a generous gesture. And you're right -- the wishes of the donors should weigh heavily in the decision-making process. I just think it's important for the town to ponder the many different uses for this building before anything is finalized. Of course, I think we should authorize the town to enter negotiations, but not vote on any specific usage until the fall at the earliest.

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it just me or does anyone else find it strange that MPEG has a fully developed business plan which includes the use of the Women's Club property? Did they know it would become available? Also, who are these folks? Has the board of directors been named? I think we need to know a bit more about MPEG before we hand over our cable acess operations (and a big chunk of Comcast money) to them. Did I miss something?

7:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it disconcerting to negotiate without a viable plan with sufficient analysis of financial risk. It seems the best of intentions could lead us to aquire a property that will result in a net loss to the town.

Without a plan prior to negotations I intend to vote this as polite "no thank you".

10:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Anonymous (comments left at 9:02pm) - Your comments are much appreciated and quite perfect in my mind!!

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should have some faith in your Selectmen - which one was recently elected - in that once the negotiations start - if a viable/cost effective for the town is not feasible - they will decline the offer. The entire town doesn't have to weigh in on all decisions - that is what we have elected officials for. The thought that someone would vote a no thank you (even though politely) to enter negotiations is certainly a way to make sure the town gains nothing. It seems sensible to me to at least let the exploration process begin with the thought that nothing would be finalized without being scrutinized on all levels.

11:04 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

I think the post at 10:58 illustrates the difficulty of addressing individual posters comments when simply using "anonymous" to post.

You can still protect your anonymity while using a nickname, initials, or some way to refer to you so that we know who is talking to whom.

11:10 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

The entire town doesn't have to way in on whether to accept the Women's Club property, the Town Meeting does. That's why the Selectmen are required to go to them. It is not their call. Exercising their proper authority and responsibility, the TM should satisfy itself as to the financial liabilty of the transaction.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

I also want to reiterate that it is false to suggest that the Warrant Article merely gives the BOS the go ahead to negotiate. It gives them the power to close the deal.

If the town is going to acquire property it is the Selectmen's duty to understand the wishes of Town Meeting, both about the financial implications, and about what they might want the Selectmen to pursue in negotiations.

11:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11:04,

My vote gives me the right to decide for myself as to the appropriateness of this endeavor. No business would enter obligations without a business plan and last very long. Blind trust in elected officals, whether new or not, is not for me and undermines the whole point of voting in my opinion. I appreciate the offer, but "no thanks" is my vote until I see the required forethought to change my vote as determined by me. It's essentially a vote for fiscal responsiblity before entering into obligations. Others may see things differently.

12:49 AM  

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