Who Will Win In The Bid To Save The Old State House?
May 3, 2007
By DANIEL D' AMBROSIO, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
Suddenly folks are lining up to save the Old State House on Main Street. After the Connecticut Historical Society warned in February that without financial help it would have to shut the building down at the end of June, the governor and legislature both rushed in with proposals to rescue it.
But there’s disagreement about just how the rescue should be made.
The legislature wants to bring the care and maintenance of the building under the umbrella of the Office of Legislative Management, which already maintains the Capitol Building and the Legislative Office Building.
Under the legislature’s plan, the day-to-day operations of the Old State House would remain in the hands of the historical society, which took over the building in 2003 at the request of former Gov. John Rowland.
“We don’t want to take it over, we just want to have it under the purview of Legislative Management and allow the Connecticut Historical Society to continue running it,” said Sen. David J. Cappiello, R-Danbury, a ranking member of the Appropriations Committee.
Cappiello said the legislature anticipated budgeting about $2 million annually for the State House in 2008 and 2009, but the number would be subject to budget negotiations.
When it took over the building, Rowland gave the historical society $2.9 million for renovations, and the society raised another $1.3 million for a new museum in the building’s lower floor. The historical society also cut annual expenses from $1.3 million to $600,000, yet it was still forced to issue its warning in February.
Kate Steinway, executive director of the historical society, points out that museums and buildings like the Old State House are generally not self-supporting.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell is proposing a different approach to the Old State House.
She has added $600,000 to the bond commission agenda to fix the building’s roof and other problems, but wants to form a task force to consider all options, including private funding, for the future of the building, according to spokesman Chris Cooper.
“I think the governor’s thought is there are reasons for why it has faced financial difficulties and those issues should be explored,” Cooper said. “There may be a better way for defining a role for the Old State House.”
Sen. Toni N. Harp, D-New Haven, said the Office of Legislative Management is already doing a good job of taking care of the State Capitol and Legislative Office Building, and will do the same for the Old State House.
“It will cost some money, but they don’t have to hire new people, they’re already doing that kind of work,” said Harp.
Instead of “creating issues,” Harp said the governor’s office should focus on the steps that need to be taken to transfer ownership of the building from the city to the state. The Old State House was Hartford’s City Hall from 1879 to 1915, when the Municipal Building at 550 Main Street opened as the new City Hall.
Matt Hennessey, Mayor Eddie Perez’s chief of staff, said the city would be “very pleased” to see the Old State House included in the Capitol complex of buildings as the legislature is proposing, receiving the kind of attention and funding the Capitol building receives.
Hennessey points out the city has not been approached concerning the governor’s proposed task force. “As owners of the building we would love to be on it,” he said.
Veteran legislator Cappiello dismisses the political posturing surrounding the Old State House as “silly politics,” to be expected with budget negotiations imminent.
“I think the good news is that everyone is talking about (the Old State House),” Cappiello said. “We all agree that we need to come to its rescue and save it.”