Westport Arts Center eyes Baron’s South for new home
Updated 10:36 am, Saturday, June 24, 2017
WESTPORT — Baron’s South could soon be the new home for the Westport Arts Center.
The 23-acre estate of the late perfume magnate Baron Langer von Langerdorff — including the Golden Shadows mansion, a Tudor guest house, another house and apartment — have been discussed as a possibility for the WAC to expand its footprint and make use of the largely unused estate.
Third Selectwoman Helen Garten, on behalf of the town, has been working with Bill Achilles, of Achilles Architects, on possible solutions since the $16,000 Baron’s South feasibility study was launched last April.
“This started because the Board of Finance was concerned we were spending a lot of money on these rental properties,” Garten said. The town has owned it since 1999.
“We were looking for a tenant that would be willing to take on the cost of renovating this area,” Garten said, adding that the WAC would pay for the renovation and restoration of Golden Shadows.
It was floated as a possible 10-year-lease with options to renew in ten-year increments. The plan would be to address Golden Shadows first and complete the work for the other structures in phases.
Under the proposal, discussed at a June 8 Planning and Zoning open space subcommittee meeting, a complete conversion to commercial use would cost between $700,000 and $754,000. An access road would need to be installed along with sewer work and a maximum installation of 71 parking spaces, but Garten said they could take that number down and are willing to work with the commission.
“I’m delighted to see there is less parking,” Commissioner Danielle Dobin said about the willingness to take the number of spots down. Dobin added that she would like to see an open hours components to the center because it would be on public land. “Make the building more accessible to students when you’re not doing exhibitions,” she said.
Paul Lebowitz, a commissioner, said, “I definitely see the need to improve (WAC) space.” But he took issue with the work that needs to go into it, given that it lies in a zone dedicated to passive open space. “This has a long way to go,” he said. “Love what you want to do. Hate where you want to do it.”
“I think this can get done,” Commissioner Chip Stephens said. “The costs are way underestimated. ... I think we need to get more realistic on our costs. Come to us with realistic costs. I think the costs to the town are going to be much higher.”
Garten closed saying the town needs to find a use for the historic property.
“These buildings need a use and a loving use. We need a solution or these buildings are going to become follies in the middle of nowhere.”
Local historian Morley Boyd said in an interview that he likes where the plan is headed.
“I think it’s a sensitive approach because it honors the traditional use pattern of those buildings: 68 (Golden Shadows mansion) was the dominant structure and the other dwellings were intended to service 68. So the WAC plan seems to me to be an appropriate one because the main dwelling remains the main dwelling unit and everything else is subservient to it.” Boyd said