Huge art space project under way on North Street
The city is creating a huge art and entertainment center on North Street, despite Republican contentions that they don’t know much about the plans or the funding source for the new city venue.
The city bought the 6.98-acre parcel at 701 North Street for $1.6 million in 2016. Open space money, grants and other sources paid for the purchase, which put an end to a developer’s plans to build 63 houses there.
Huge old trees dot the parcel, along with an old farmhouse and huge, connected barns once used as an art studio.
Mayor Ben Blake envisions the site as an art space and conference center, a city-owned facility run similar to Lisman Landing Marina and the city-owned golf course, which are self-sustaining enterprise projects.
In a video released last week, Blake described the North Street parcel as “a very cool project” that will preserve the farmhouse, built in 1868, and convert the barns in back to arts and events space. He said it is part of a larger project in the area, including upgrades at Eisenhower Park across the street.
“This is just one more cool addition that the city is pursuing,” Blake said.
A building permit was issued for the renovation and alteration of the farmhouse, according to Joseph Griffith, Department of Permitting and Land Use director, and a foundation permit was issued for an assembly hall portion of a banquet facility.
The farmhouse has already been shored up, according to local builder Pat Devine of Devine Construction, who also led construction of the splash pad and new dog park at Eisenhower Park.
The foundation of the new assembly hall structure was well under way last week, and Devine has been working on the adjacent barns, determining what can be salvaged and what will need to be rebuilt.
A large part of the foundation of the barns is unstable, so much of the cavernous structure may have to be disassembled and put back together, he said.
Funding for the restoration comes from a $1.3 million state Office of Policy and Management grant, according to Blake.
Some of the work will be contracted, and some will be done by the city’s Public Works Department.
Blake compares the new amenity to the Barns at Wolf Trap, a much larger venue in Vienna, Va., which strives “to present and create excellent and innovative performing arts programs for the enrichment, education, and enjoyment of diverse audiences and participants,” according to the organization’s website.
In Milford, local businesses, such as Subway, sometimes look for conference space in the city, and the mayor said this will provide that, as well as a stage for musical performances. Businesses, residents and other groups will be able to rent the building for events, and the property will be open for people who want to walk and admire the many trees and open space.
“Once it’s finished, it will be a public asset,” Blake said.
Completion, he said, is more than a year away.
Historically, the parcel was part of the huge Platt family apple orchard.
“There were orchards throughout that part of the city,” former City Historian Richard Platt said in 2016 when the city bought the parcel. “The property was in the Platt family for 300 years, if not more.”
The mayor describes the site as “almost a magical property.”
Devine does as well.
“There’s going to be a lot of detail,” Devine said about the barns. “It’s going to be nice. The mayor can’t stress enough that he wants no vinyl, he wants all wood. It’s going to be beautiful.”
“We’re going to try to save everything that we can,” Devine added, pointing to a spiral staircase that was removed and saved for placement elsewhere in the barns.
Devine especially loves several of the copper beech trees on the property that he says are more than 100 years old, and noted that the trees will be preserved.
The project is one issue that has come up during this year’s campaign season. Republican Dan German, who will run against Blake in November for the mayoral seat, said many of the Republican aldermen have been kept in the dark about the North Street plans.
Blake counters that he has discussed the project a number of times, including at last year’s state of the city address.