MERIDEN — Gallery 53’s request to replace the roof and elevator of its aging home at 53 Colony St. advanced this week with a committee recommending the use of federal COVID-19 relief funds toward the project.
The American Rescue Plan Act Steering Committee, following lengthy discussion on the request and a series of votes on failed motions to amend funding and table the proposal, ultimately voted 6-2 to recommend the council award $789,000 toward the project.
Between the new total and the $323,000 in ARPA funds that the council previously authorized for Gallery 53 in late 2021, the organization could receive just over $1.1 million in ARPA funds to improve its building.
During Monday night’s discussions, a series of questions and comments came up related to whether other funding — including state historic preservation grants and capital fundraising — could be utilized to offset the overall costs of rehabilitating the more than a century old building.
Committee members had questions about whether the owner of the neighboring subdivision at 51 Colony St., would be willing to contribute toward the cost of replacing the properties’ shared roof. City property records list the owner of 51 Colony as Colony Holdings 2022 LLC. Based on Monday’s night discussion, questions about whether the developer would be willing to contribute toward the project remained outstanding.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati, a member of the ARPA Committee, proposed the $789,000 funding, a total that appears to cover the cost of replacing the structure’s roof, with some potential remaining funds to cover the cost of replacing the building’s non-functioning elevator.
“They can go ahead right away and ge the roof project done,” Scarpati said, adding the elevator project, which hadn’t yet gone out to bid, can be revisited.
“We are working with numbers that are not necessarily in stone, so to speak,” the mayor said.
Councilor Michael Rohde, another committee member, balked at reducing Gallery 53’s ask. He noted the council previously approved large requests by other organizations, including the Boys & Girls Club, to refurbish their buildings.
“This is in the same category,” Rohde said, adding he believes the city needs to approve the request in a timely manner to allow Gallery 53 to complete the project.
“I can’t think of a more important project than this,” Rohde said.
Later during the discussion, Rohde would describe Gallery 53 as an “iconic organization.” He compared the restoration of Gallery 53’s building to the restoration of the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center, which Rohde noted is another iconic building that some people wanted to demolish because it was in “dire straits.” Now that building, because it has been restored, is “usable and functional,” Rohde said.
“I think that’s been demonstrated if we can fix the roof and get them an elevator, I think we can ensure they will be with us for a long time. The last thing we need is an empty building that’s going to sit there forever,” Rhode said.
Committee colleague Michael Carabetta said while he thinks Gallery 53 is an “amazing operation,” he struggled with the amount of funding, because of the total that was previously approved and because the committee has other pending funding requests the committee has not yet reviewed.
“So I’m struggling with the fact we’re talking about increasing one of the approvals already without looking at other second or even first [requests],” Carabetta said.
Rohde noted that the previously approved total came with an offer from city officials to come back to the council for additional ARPA funding.
“It was a previously submitted application that had some increases due to the bid and the condition of the elevator,” Rohde said.
Scarpati acknowledged Rohde’s point. However, the mayor said, “We allowed far more applications to come in than we had money.” The mayor added, the committee should have been “cognizant” of the fact it would not be able to fund every single request that comes before it.