Johnsburg leases Tannery Pond Center to not-for-profit to operate it & cap town’s cost

By Maury Thompson, Special to The Chronicle

The Tannery Pond Community Center in North Creek has a new structure that will reduce the Town of Johnsburg’s expense and enable a hoped-for infusion of private contributions and grants.

The Town Board on Oct. 17 unanimously approved a 20-year lease of the building to Tannery Pond Center, the not-for-profit group that has been organizing arts events and exhibits at the center.

Benefactors Woody and Elise Widlund built the Tannery Pond Center for $2.6 million in 2002 and donated it to the town.

Johnsburg will continue to own the building. The not-for-profit will take over responsibility for operating the center.

As a non-profit, people will be able to make tax-deductible contributions, and it will be able to apply for grants typically not available to municipalities, advocates said.

To demonstrate the potential of private contributions, Johnsburg philanthropist Glenn Pearsall offered in November 2021 to match up to $75,000 in private contributions over the next year.

The match was met and exceeded, for a total of $151,000.

In 2024, year one of the contract, the town’s expense will decrease from $95,000 in the proposed 2024 town budget to $75,000, said Councilman Justin Gonyo, at the Oct. 17 Town Board meeting.

The town’s expense will decrease in annual increments until it levels off at an estimated $22,500 in the sixth and subsequent years of the lease.

Some town residents voiced skepticism of the lease, and of the town’s expense, contending that more people from outside Johnsburg attend events than residents.

Critics said government should not be subsidizing a private operation.

Supervisor Mark Smith said the Town Board should “look at it as more of an investment.”

Mr. Smith, an interim appointee as supervisor, lost the Nov. 7 election to Republican Kevin Bean, 429-360, in the preliminary unofficial tally.

Mr. Bean, who says the lease was not an issue in the election, tells The Chronicle he is supportive of the intent and terms of the lease, but he felt the public was not sufficiently notified of the terms in advance of the Town Board vote.

“I happen to love the arts,” notes Mr. Bean. “I believe that we need to be as transparent as possible.”

Anna Bowers, president of the Johnsburg Business Alliance who won a seat on the town board in the Nov. 7 election, said in a telephone interview, “I think it’s a mistake to talk about Tannery Pond as a business. It’s a non-profit.”

Supporters of the lease said it provides a mechanism for non-residents to pay a portion of the building’s costs.

Some suggested the center would close if the lease agreement was not approved.

The lease includes a list of maintenance and improvements which the town and non-profit organization agreed on.

“The town has been unable to invest enough to take care of it adequately,” said Councilman Pete Hoskins.

“The reality is these repairs are needed whether this agreement moves forward or not,” said Councilman Gonyo.

He said improvements necessary for public safety will be priorities.

“So we’re going to repair fire doors before we talk about new carpeting, just as an example,” he said.

Town government and local non-profit organizations will continue to have use of the building for meetings free of charge, and each household in Johnsburg will have free use of it once a year for birthday parties and family reunions, etc.

The center’s annual report says that in 2022, events accounted for 21% of the building’s use, and other non-profit organization events another 21%. Government meetings accounted for 16%, other community uses 42%.

It said the building was used a total of 647.25 hours, an average of approximately 12.5 hours per week.

The lease was in the works for years.

In December 2020, Cedarwood Engineering completed a report of necessary maintenance and improvements, and a “Futures Committee” was established to evaluate options for funding.

In July 2021, the Futures Committee recommended a lease arrangement. In November 2021 the Town Board voted to begin negotiations, which were completed in February 2022, before former Andrea Hogan resigned in January of this year.

“It’s sort of been an ongoing process of negotiating the lease,” said Candice Murray, executive director of Tannery Pond Community Center.

The lease the Town Board approved on Oct. 17 revised the version former Supervisor Hogan negotiated to clarify some language and to specify provisions for the town to regularly evaluate the success of the non-profit in meeting its goals.

“I think the amendments to this agreement provide a better spirit of cooperation and increase the chances of success for this,” said Supervisor Smith.

Upcoming Tannery Pond Center events include “Gem Radio Theatre: An Adirondack Christmas Carol,” on Saturday, Nov. 25, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 26, at 4 p.m. Nov. 26.

A North Country Jazz Project concert takes place on Dec. 28 at 7:30 p.m.

A Holiday Kids Art workshop is scheduled for Dec. 2 from noon to 2 p.m.

North Country Singers’ holiday concert is on Dec. 3 at 2 p.m.

The current exhibit at Widlund Gallery, through Dec. 16, is “The Art of Illustration,” featuring the work of Kate Hartley, Jan Palmer and Anthony Richichi.

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