CERES — The Whitmore Mansion is not the self-sustaining historical venue the City Council and staff hoped it would be when the city bought it in January.
During the first 10 months of ownership, the city has paid $8,400 for utilities, maintenance and repairs, and is estimated to continue paying about $10,000 a year.
The Whitmore Mansion Foundation, a nonprofit public benefit corporation, contracted with the city to take responsibility for the operations of the 110-year-old home in February.
“When we started on this process, I thought it would be not too difficult for the foundation to grab ahold of it and run with it, but it’s not that easy,” Mayor Chris Vierra said during a study session Tuesday. “This was the gem of the city and it’s something we didn’t want to lose, but we didn’t want it to be a financial drain on the city either.”
City staff presented seven options to the council, including selling or shuttering the mansion, but the council agreed to continue contracting with the foundation in hopes that 2014 will be a profitable year that will see the city reimbursed for previous expenditures.
This year wasn’t easy for the foundation because city officials didn’t want to disrupt any events booked at the 7,000-square-foot home before the city bought it in a short sale for $482,492.
The previous owners, Cary and Nancy Pope, stayed on as vendors until June, the last month an event had been booked at the mansion.
They paid the city and the foundation nothing for weddings and other events booked before the city took ownership, as they were contractually obligated to share the profits only from new events. There were none, and the Popes decided to retire in July and sell nearly all the contents of the mansion during an estate sale in August.
The Popes did leave some items to the foundation, and several benefactors bought others, to be kept in the mansion.
Since then, foundation board members and volunteers have done cleanup and minor maintenance at the site, and the board is creating a fee schedule for 2014 events. The foundation has taken over all operations of the facility and has rented it out for several small events, amounting to $500.
Foundation President Lisa Mantarro-Moore suggested to the council that events be limited to fewer than 100 people to preserve the interior of the mansion and its grounds. Restrooms are one of the biggest concerns, she said, because they are available only inside the mansion and require an attendant to be present.
Mantarro-Moore presented several fee suggestions to the council, including $500 for six hours of garden rentals and $100 for a photography session.
“We hit a snag, and the snag really upset me, that the owners were supposed to be out of there in June but didn’t leave until August,” said Councilman Mike Kline. “I still feel that it is a big burden for the city, but we made a commitment. As the year progressed and the previous owners were there, the foundation didn’t have the opportunity to book it for the busy season.”
The council agreed that the foundation did what it could under the circumstances and gave Mantarro-Moore the green light to proceed with creating a fee schedule, work with new vendors and address issues such as the restrooms so she could start booking events for next year. She will report back to the council in a few months.
Mantarro-Moore said she has received about 13 calls since August from people interested in renting the mansion next year.