To the editor:
I was surprised last July when Radnor township sent out a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Willows looking for a partner to develop it. First, it was the middle of the summer and many people were away and didn’t hear about the RFP, and, second, the park is owned for the benefit of the citizens of Radnor township and any substantial change in its use should be developed by them.
When I first heard that the township was going to shutter the mansion a year and a half ago, I suggested that the League of Women Voters (LWV) hold a symposium to develop a vision of possible uses. That would be a level playing field where ordinary citizens could suggest a wish list of uses; perhaps a citizens’ advisory committee could take all the ideas and mold then into a “Vision for the Willows.” At that point an RFP would be appropriate.
The current RFP required a lot of work and expense with no clear idea of what the citizens wanted. The citizens of Radnor should be the driving force, not developers!
Any park use should primarily be for the benefit of Radnor residents; part of this should be a use or uses that generate revenue to offset maintenance of the buildings and grounds.
With so many businesses moving to the suburbs and people not commuting into Philadelphia every day, it would make sense to bring our cultural activities our here, too. People would be much more inclined to partake if the event was held locally.
What other uses would be appropriate? Well, there are a lot of small cultural/arts groups that could use a new upscale facility. Perhaps a building could be built to accommodate them and the whole park could become a cultural/environmental center with the final development of the Cottage. Municipalities across the country have adaptively re-positioned their large estate properties for this purpose.
With the overwhelming success of the Skunk Hollow Community Garden, perhaps the scope of the project should be expanded to include the two adjoining parks – Skunk Hollow and Sawmill. With proper planning, these parks could be unified into a comprehensive cultural/environmental center that would truly benefit Radnor residents.
The streams, trees, woodland shrubs and the plethora of plants, some quite rare, would make an idea setting for outdoor environmental activities. The Friends of the Willows Cottage and the Radnor Conservancy held many environmental workshops and seasonal events and plans were in the works for a summer camp geared toward the environment.
The eight presentations all had points of merit, but none hit the bull’s eye when it comes to developing the Willows for the long term benefit of Radnor’s citizens. It became obvious during one presentation that the Wayne Art Center, which had a large expansion a few years ago, is now at capacity. This just shows the local demand for the arts, which I think should be the overarching theme for the Willows.
There is enough land to build a cultural center that could house various music/dance/arts organizations, have display space and classrooms/studios, as well. The Community Garden could be expanded and farming classes could be offered to local schools. Harvest events and cooking classes with local produce could be held at the Cottage. The ideas are endless. We just need to put on our collective thinking caps and create a Vision for the Willows.
I am hoping that the township will redirect its present approach and elicit help from the LWV to develop a “Vision for the Willows.” The end result will be a crown jewel for Radnor and a project that will benefit all its citizens.