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Wonderfeet meets in committee with Board of Alderman

A request for $75,000 from the Zamias mall-impact fund cleared a committee unanimously Wednesday, but is expected to get a rockier reception from the full Board of Aldermen.

“For some board members, $75,000 is going to be a hard sell,” Alderman Ed Larson said during the hearing. “There are board members I know that are committed to not spending those Zamias funds.”

The request would fund a yet-undetermined aspect of the Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum’s new space in the Tuttle Building. Members of the city’s Community and Economic Development Committee said the space would serve as an economic driver, contributing to the increasing health of downtown.

The Zamias fund was created from impact fees paid to the city by owners of the Diamond Run Mall. The $100,000 a year that goes into the fund is about to drop by more than half because of the closing of two of the mall’s anchor stores. Board President David Allaire said there might be greater reluctance to spend from the fund in light of that development.

“I think the debate will happen at the board level,” said committee Chairwoman Sharon Davis. “We just have to count to five (votes) on the floor.”

Paul Gallo, one of the organizers for the Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum, said the organization is mostly through a $100,000 fundraising effort to cover the first 18 months of operation in the new space, and various corporate donors are contributing for specific exhibits.

Chris Ettori, a member of the museum’s board, said they were hoping to get money from the city for features that lacked “natural investors,” such as a historical exhibit on trains in Rutland or a display sign to draw people in.

He said they’d take funding for any program for which aldermen saw a need, but Allaire replied that he expected the museum knew its own needs better than city government.

Whatever the money is used for, Ettori said, it will be a one-time request.

“This is about getting us into the new space and making that ‘wow’ factor,” he said. “Then we will be sustainable after that.”

Larson initially made a motion to propose giving the museum $25,000. Davis said she looked to use the fund to make investments, and she was willing to go higher than $25,000 because the way the museum works with other community groups dovetails with the goals of Project VISION, helping give local children a better start in life.

“I think the debate is going to be just as heavy at 25 as it is at 75 (thousand), so I’m going to roll the dice and make it 75,” she said.

With that, Larson amended his motion.

“If the social media wants to crucify me, I’m ready to defend it,” he said.

January 15,2015 | Rutland Herald | Wonderfeet closer to getting mall money | By Gordon Dritschilo

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