While no resolution came about, the meeting did bring to light a broader issue concerning the use of the hall, and in particular long-term use by agreement with any tenant. The town has struggled with this issue over the years, and has never really come to a firm conclusion on what is the best use of the facility. It’s interesting that a building that’s used at most 25% of the time can cause such consternation.
Wednesday’s meeting certainly didn’t provide much in the way of resolution, and perhaps there isn’t a resolution that will satisfy everyone. Part of the problem may lie with how different groups have envisioned the use of the hall over the years. Memorial Hall Center for the Arts, an independent nonprofit group, has had ongoing agreements and disagreements with town officials over what type of long-term lease can best satisfy all parties.
The hall’s business plan, written in 2008, and charged to the Memorial Hall Board to execute, begins as follows:
a. The fundamental goal of this three to five year business plan is to put the primary emphasis on “local” people “booking” the Hall for suitable and deed-approved events that are most likely to attract local people. For the next 3-5 years, our emphasis is not to be making money via Hall usage, and the term “book” is not intended to imply the Town charging a fee for that booking. All events must be approved by Wilmington Town Manager. The Memorial Hall Board (MHB) sees this as a return on the tax-payer investment that local people have made towards one of our major capital assets with their property tax support of Memorial Hall. We also believe that this supports one of the other key purposes of Memorial Hall: as a memorial to Wilmington’s war veterans.
b. The type of Hall bookings envisioned over the next years includes: benefit concerts; school programs; meetings; local entertainers; art shows; historic presentations; use of lawn for strolls; Old Home Week, weddings, anniversaries, etc.
d. The MHB will book the Hall on a First-Come, First-Served basis.
All of that seems clear and straightforward, and dovetails nicely with the idea of short-term, spot use. But then, at the very bottom of the plan, the charge becomes murky and contradictory. The final element of the plan says:
aa. The MHB may support a rental agreement longer than 21 total days from June 1st to October 31st for one or more years if during the booking period there is not total exclusive use of the Hall and a sufficient number of other non-charging events can be booked.
In addition, there is a separate document, the Memorial Hall Board’s charge, which in part says:
Primary tasks of the board will be to: If/when necessary, research and recommend to Selectboard possible long-term lessee and lease term agreements.
The document defines a long-term lease as “three to five consecutive months of exclusive or semi-exclusive use.”
So on one hand the hall’s business plan says the emphasis should be put on local people booking on a first come, first served basis. On the other hand, its governing board is charged to explore and recommend long-term leases.
Is it any wonder that people are conflicted over the hall’s use, and resolutions to long-term rental issues are often unsatisfactory to the parties involved?
We understand these documents were put together by well-intentioned officials and volunteers. But perhaps the best way to come up with long-term solutions for the hall’s use is to start by deciding what the best use of the hall should be. Then documents that govern its use can be modified to be a little simpler and clearer. As they are now, too many gray areas hinder officials and volunteers from managing the hall efficiently and effectively.