MERIDEN — This week’s Art in the Park event for local children in the music garden at the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center is among the first hosted by the city’s Parks & Recreation Department.
The department took over bookings and operations for events after the cultural center’s board of directors dissolved earlier this summer.
The city owns the cultural center, which once operated as the public library, and was maintaining the exterior and paying the utilities. The former board of directors had operated under a long term lease with the city, and had a management deal with the Meriden YMCA to schedule and run events on the site in exchange for 70 percent of the proceeds.
Members of the cultural center board of directors could not be reached for comment this week. But according to city officials, they had approached the city about ending their involvement.
“It primarily came down to Parks Director Chris Bourdon asking to allow the city to run and rent the space, and use the space for indoor Parks and Recreation activity,” said Mayor Kevin Scarpati. “Now, all the park’s space is outdoors. This allows the city to have an indoor space they can use during rain or bad weather.”
Bourdon intends to keep the venue available to communty non-profits at no cost, rent to local businesses for meetings, and host private events on evenings and weekends for a fee.
.“It’s getting the word out,” Bourdon said about the Parks Department’s new role. “Get that building used as much as possible.”
Recreation Coordinator Kathy Matula already coordinated an outdoor wedding in August, and the Meriden Rotary Club will hold its monthly meetings at the center. A mariachi program from Wallingford will use space, and the Meriden Hall of Fame ceremony will be at the venue next month.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Bourdon said. “It will benefit our department and the city, as far as meeting space goes, and we’re going to make it benefit the non-profit community as well.”
The city has an advantage to service the overall operation, because unlike the YMCA, it has staff available from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Bourdon said.
Costs are expected to break even, Scarpati said.
YMCA Executive Director John Benigni said the YMCA offered to extend the management agreement it had with the board of directors to the city.
“The city decided they were going to put it under their own purview,” Benigni said. “They decided to run it on their own, unlike the board of directors who recognized they needed help running it. It was an amicable decision.”