Letter: Arts director supports cooking school at Stowe barn

To the Editor:

As the Executive Director of the Milford Arts Council (MAC), and a citizen of Milford, I am writing in support of the proposal by Heide Lang; Fig Cooking School, to purchase and develop the Stowe Farm property for the purpose of expanding her successful business in the Walnut Beach business district.

The Stowe farm has sat dormant for over a decade waiting. Originally it had been purchased by the City of Milford to house an expanded version of, or an additional venue for the MAC. There were many meetings and a design proposal was made, which was very large and seriously detracted from the historical architecture and natural beauty already present in the barn and grounds; these plans included building extensive additions, parking lot and driveways. The price ($7million) for such an undertaking was also prohibitive. Since then, the city has pulled back and MAC has concentrated on the two sites already under their management; the Center for the Arts inside the historic eastbound train station and the Firehouse Art Gallery, a reclaimed fire station situated in Walnut Beach and only a block away from Stowe Farm.

The MAC is very involved in both the Walnut Beach and Downtown business associations and host various events and meetings for both groups at either venue; we share in successes and challenges facing each distinct area.

Walnut Beach has had more than its share of trials, with few successes to rally behind. Businesses come and go and developments generally promise more than they deliver, yet these business owners remain proud and driven to make their corner of Milford successful. One element missing has been an “anchor” business; one that draws a return audience of diversity and means with the desire to linger when presented with other opportunities and experiences. Such an audience is a proven element of business success and growth, promoting their experiences by word of mouth and bringing new patrons back with them.

We know that the City has supported the site and the promise of open space while covering costs to secure it from collapse. The Walnut Beach Business Association has continued running events: Third Thursdays Art Stroll (now year-round), Walnut Beach Day Festival, Summer Dancing in the Streets, a concert series at the beach pavilion, just to mention a few. But they and the city know they need more.

The recent proposal by Heide and Fig Cooking School promises to be the anchor this area has been waiting for. Her plans fall completely within the parameters of many of the original thoughts and desires for this wonderful site. They include a large commercial grade teaching kitchen, an event space to host corporate meetings, benefits, receptions, tastings and classes. Additionally she plans gallery space and utilizing the grounds for herb gardens, fruit tree groves (there are already apple trees on property, which she would keep) and open space for gatherings, music performances, artist events (such as plein air) and collaborations with area businesses, the Boys & Girls Club and the MAC. We have already discussed many of these possibilities. Her plan fully embraces the arts and the arts are a key component in her classes, events and programming she can offer both adults and children; school visits, birthday parties and spontaneous projects are part of her curriculum programming.

Does this proposal meet every stipulation and expectation discussed over the years, no – but nothing could. Heide has proven her integrity by meeting with neighbors, becoming a member of the business association and attending meetings (for months), meeting with various community groups both local (the Walnut Beach Neighborhood Association) and city-wide (Historical Society and Preservation) to name two. She is promising to invest her own money to restore the existing barn and additional buildings (which others claim are unsalvageable) to their former glory, to keep the footprint of the property with no further encroachment of open space and to develop and keep the grounds as a natural resource, both for her classes and for public gatherings and events. She would be a resource and valuable asset to this community and city; putting her sights squarely on financial success, growth and partnership.

It is a shame that some within the community seem focused on apparent and unfounded inconsistencies and information, fear in change and loss of control; and yet offer no other suggestion than to allow it to continue to languish. To see the future with the Stowe Farm as a vibrant part — if not the centerpiece of the Walnut Beach neighborhood with a small and bustling artisan district with galleries, shops, cafes and restaurants… this should be the vision, and Milford should support this proposal, as I do, and all the promise for potential it brings to the greater community.

Paige Miglio, Executive Director Milford Arts Council