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Wickford Art Assoc. On Expansion: ‘A Hope & A Dream’

Board president Judith Anderson says WAA is hopeful it can expand its building but also realistic.

Wickford Art Association. Credit: NK Patch
Wickford Art Association. Credit: NK Patch

According to Wickford Art Association President Judith Anderson, plans for expansion at the Beach Street location presented to the Town Council two weeks ago were just that – plans.

“We’re in the development-design stage and that’s it,” said Anderson Friday. “That is what it is at this point – a hope and a dream.”

The WAA came to the Town Council Nov. 25 with plans that would triple the size of the building, located at 36 Beach Street near the Beechwood Senior Center and the Town Beach. The catch is the organization’s building is on town-owned land. WAA is 24 years into a 50-year lease for which it pays $1 a year. The association is responsible for bills such as electricity, heat and water, and is required to pay taxes.

The organization is looking to expand because, Anderson said, they have outgrown the space.

Earlier this fall, WAA representatives talked to Town Manager Mike Embury and Public Works Director Phil Bergeron about their plans. Embury said he encouraged WAA to present their proposal to the Town Council before going any further.

“Get in front of the council now and then it’s going to be up to the council to decide,” Embury said he told them.

The fact that the building is on town-owned land could make getting a loan more difficult, so WAA representatives said they were hoping the town would consider letting it acquire the land.

“At this point, the council only listened to their presentation,” said Town Council President Liz Dolan via email. ”We need to sit down for a conversation with them and go over their options. WAA is a fantastic group and we certainly want them to be able to expand to meet their needs, but a sale of this public property would be controversial for sure. Perhaps we can help them find another location that suits their needs.”

Sale of the land would need to be approved by voters.

While WAA’s Anderson said the organization was in the early stages, she noted they’d talked to their neighbors in the area – residents and the board of the senior center – and people have been universally positive.

“We’ve gotten support everywhere we’ve turned,” said Anderson.

“I will reach out to them next week to set up a meeting,” said Dolan. “For now, their proposal is just that … a proposal.”
CompassCarrier December 09, 2013 at 07:27 AM
Well, Judith, you haven't gotten "support everywhere you've turned" based on the postings here. And Dolan is right when she said "Perhaps we can find them another location that will suit their needs". Frankly, this town is made up of more than the people who live near the building and the people who attend the senior center. There are a lot of people in this town who would be SHOCKED to learn that you are paying only $1.00 a year on that lease. And Mr. Embrury, this is "not up to the council to decide"....it's up to the taxpayers. And the WAA better brace themselves for a tough fight on this one.
Jeff Crawford December 09, 2013 at 07:31 AM
"said the organization was in the early stages, she noted they’d talked to their neighbors in the area – residents and the board of the senior center – and people have been universally positive". So the residents of the area and the board of the senior center knew of the proposal before the Town Council was presented it two weeks ago, and every one is universally positive??? That's not the comments I read last week in the Patch. I think it was more like 95 to 5 against the project for lots of reasons. My vote is WAA to pay at least $500,000.00 for the land up front. Since they already got 26 years for nothing and there's 24 more to go, it's a bargain.
CompassCarrier December 09, 2013 at 08:20 AM
Elizabeth: my next question would be: how much does WAA pay in property taxes. I've tried to find the info online and can't. I'm going to venture a guess that there is another sweetheart deal lurking there, too. Also. Judith Anderson: nice that you are talking to the neighbors and the board of the Senior Center......I'd like to know when you are going to hold a meeting for the public to attend.
underwhelmed December 09, 2013 at 08:23 AM
I am interested in the taxes that the WAA pays. A search of the Vision Appraisal tax base does not produce any results for the WAA. In this day and age of extremely tight municipal budgets it is necessary to keep a watchful eye on all tax revenue and the expenditure of each tax dollar. The eye of the taxpayers and their elected officials has certainly not been on the ball here or has it? This organization should not be given any special rental or tax rate treatment from the town. The line of people to rent water front property for $1 a yr would stretch beyond eyesight. I dare say this parcel met fetch even $3/yr. This is not a public service organization such as the food bank. They are a private membership organization. My questions to the WAA officialdom and their attorney still stand unanswered, I am not surprised. Their patronizing, holier than thou approach got run over like a pebble in the street. My guess is that the tax payments are also quite minimal, maybe the crayons and chalk are taxed for $1/yr. Ms. Andersen's assurance that they have gotten support everywhere they turned, seems to me to hold as much water as her director's statement about having faith. Translation--don't ask questions--we know better--it will be a wonderful improvement for the members of WAA so don't rock the boat. As for the public interest--well you know how that is--you all just pay the bills, as usual!
CompassCarrier December 09, 2013 at 08:40 AM
Take a look at the Jamestown Art Association's location. Doesn't look like they need a big, fancy, 3-story freebie: http://www.jamestownartcenter.org/aboutus.html
MeanE December 09, 2013 at 12:45 PM
http://www.wickfordart.org/membership/meetings/2013/Oct2013SpecialMembersMeeting.pdf They had a special members meeting on October 9th, their wording doesn't seem like they think it is a hope & a dream. http://www.wickfordart.org/about-history.html In addition, on their history page it states: Plans to enlarge the gallery are currently being reviewed and a building fund has been established. Anyone interested in donating to the building fund can mail a check made out to the Wickford Art Association at the Wickford Art Association Gallery, 36 Beach Street, Wickford RI, 02852–please make a note on the check indicating it is for the Building Fund. They seem very confident on their site.
CompassCarrier December 09, 2013 at 01:26 PM
You send your check in first, MeanE......I'll be right behind you! LOL! ;o)
MeanE December 09, 2013 at 01:35 PM
@ Compass - I'd rather cover their lease for a year, I think I have that amount of change in my truck cup holder right now! LOL
seed and soil December 09, 2013 at 01:37 PM
As much as supporting this wonderful group of creative folks would be, as a taxpayer I am positively shocked to learn the fact of the $1 a year land lease to a private group. This Patch piece will hopefully open a few eyes to this HUGE inequity. At fair market value, NK could generate some much needed tax revenue from the property lease and building rental at that prime bay front location. The WAA is a wonderful group with an honorable mission, but I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Dolan's suggestion that the council offer support in new location sourcing . Possibly relocating to one of the vacant buildings along the Post Rd corridor might help infuse more life into that area in the same way as the Biomes Center! But it is totally irresponsible to expect the NK taxpayer to continue blindly subsidizing a private art center as we have been doing unknowingly all these years.
NK Parent December 09, 2013 at 02:54 PM
I'm not a member of the Wickford Arts Association but I'm a little surprised by all the vitriol lobbed their way in this thread. It's one thing to be against the building of a new arts center but I've always appreciated having an organization in town that offers art classes and organizes the annual arts festival. Aren't they a non-profit arts organization? Getting facilities donated by towns or even lowered taxes is pretty standard for organizations of this type. Would you prefer the town develop the property into a nice new Dunkin Donuts? Actually, strike that, I don't want to give the current town council any new ideas.
CompassCarrier December 09, 2013 at 04:38 PM
NK Parent: How about they pay a fair lease amount? Just because you like art classes and the art festival, doesn't mean the rest of us should subsidize it. Can you honestly tell me that one dollar a year is a fair amount for them to be paying when they have 200K sitting in their accounts (check out the tax return MeanE posted here)?
MeanE December 09, 2013 at 05:09 PM
@NK Parent Can you name another facility where the town leases the land for a $1? The only place I can think of that may fit the bill is the Food Pantry, but I don't know what their agreement is. The "vitriol" as you called it is for the gall of an organization to ask for prime real estate to be given to them for a song & dance, when they already lease said prime real estate for a $1 a year. A MUCH LARGER structure at a site that is designated for the greater population of North Kingstown, not a VERY SMALL percentage of residents and non-residents that use their arts center, is not needed or wanted at the TOWN BEACH! I don't think anyone is suggesting that a DD is granted rights to the property. But why does the WAA get a prime location for a $1 for 50 years. I would think there are other non profits that would want that sweetheart deal, don't you? The Y is a non-profit, I would think they would love to have that building at the Town Beach for a Buck! I have no problem with what the WAA provides, arts are a good thing. However, as others have said, if you want to grow to such an extent, do so elsewhere in town. The Old Wickford Flower shop (Landmark Buliding In Historic Wickford. 4 Levels Includes 3 Bed Resident Apartment. 2,100 Sqft Custom Greenhouse, Over 4,900 Sqft For Retail Or New Use.) seems like it has enough room for them, and they could utilize overflow parking at Wilson Park.
CompassCarrier December 10, 2013 at 08:18 AM
Actually, MeanE, in the center of Wickford is a great location.
CompassCarrier December 12, 2013 at 12:21 PM
Elizabeth McNamara: Any idea of what the WAA is paying in taxes??????
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) December 12, 2013 at 12:57 PM
Compass Carrier, as a nonprofit, WAA pays no taxes, according to the town finance director.
CompassCarrier December 12, 2013 at 01:53 PM
Elizabeth: But your article states: "The association is responsible for bills such as electricity, heat and water, and is required to pay taxes."
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) December 12, 2013 at 03:05 PM
CC, I guess I'd better fix that. I was mistaken. Thanks.
CompassCarrier January 02, 2014 at 09:03 AM
Elizabeth: in the article Dolan states, "“I will reach out to them next week to set up a meeting,” said Dolan. “For now, their proposal is just that … a proposal.” Do we know if Dolan ever set this meeting up? And if she did, what transpired.......

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