Tallman House future up to the public

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010
— The Janesville City Council on Monday accepted a business and facility improvement plan for the historic Tallman House, but members stressed they want to hear from community members before they borrow any money.

A five-year plan written by a council-appointed committee recommends the city spend $280,000 to repair the nearby carriage barn and install a catering kitchen to support events. It also suggests additional lighting, $5,000; improving bathrooms, $30,000; and a new handicapped accessible lift, $15,000. It also recommends hiring a part-time events coordinator.

The committee said the business plan would increase attendance by 10 percent a year and also lower the city subsidy.

The committee also recommended the council borrow $500,000 to begin extensive exterior repairs, some of which are needed now. The council has already borrowed $310,000, and committee members suggested applying for grants and fundraising for the total $1.76 million needed.

The council will ultimately determine the Tallman House’s fate when it decides whether to borrow money later this year.

The city owns the museum, while the Rock County Historical Society contracts with the city to run it.

Council members Tom McDonald and Frank Perrotto voted against accepting the suggested plans.

Council members Russ Steeber and Yuri Rashkin were the biggest supporters.

“I feel somewhat ashamed from the perspective of the city,” Steeber said. “This house was entrusted with the city to maintain, to keep as a museum, and we blew it on our watch.”

The city doesn’t even give the society enough to pay utilities, Steeber said.

“I think that’s kind of disgraceful,” he said. “I look at it as money that we owe that building because we were negligent from the get-go.”

Perrotto said he supported the plan as a good beginning but was not ready yet to approve it. He said the proposed business plan gives the city a poor return on its money.

He suggested the group start with the $310,000 already in the bank to give the city an opportunity to see the business plan evolve.

But Rich Gruber, a committee member, said improving the carriage barn is integral to increasing attendance. As attendance increases, so will support for the facility, he predicted.

McDonald suggested a referendum, which no other council members appeared to support.

McDonald said it doesn’t make sense to put money into the Tallman House when house museums across the country are not breaking even.

He agreed the city has deferred maintenance, and that is unfortunate.

“At the same time, what the city’s done over the years is prioritize,” he said. “We only have so much money we can borrow and we can spend.”

McDonald said he believes residents view streets and sewers as being more important than the Tallman House, and that is reflected in admission numbers.

“For me, I don’t see any point in throwing tax dollars at something that is failing and will continue to fail,” he said.

Council member George Brunner, while agreeing the city didn’t keep up the house, said he didn’t know what direction to go in light of the fact house museums are losing money.

He, too, said he would welcome community input.

Council member Yuri Rashkin, though, said the Tallman House and other museums should be viewed as an important part of our culture rather than profitable venues.

Council member Kathy Voskuil agreed community input would be needed before the council decides whether to borrow money. What form that will take—such as listening sessions or focus group—is not yet known.

Last updated: 1:20 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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