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Opinion: On the Future of the Willows Mansion

"The citizens of Radnor should be the driving force, not developers," a St. Davids resident writes.

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.

Respectfully submitted,

Ted Pollard

St. Davids

ballparkbob December 03, 2012 at 03:31 AM
If the township needs to raise the money, I sure hope they will consider selling that ridiculous park on Lancaster Avenue before selling The Willows to developers. I have been driving by that Lancaster Avenue park since it opened and I am yet to see one person in it. At least save The Willows which is actually used by residents. Sledding season is coming soon.
Martin Heldring December 06, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Ted, I sense from your comments that you are suggesting that the Township take on additional debt in order to finance the various initiatives. But I don’t think the Township is in a position to do this. The Willows currently operates at a significant deficit with years of deferred maintenance now coming due. Add to that somewhere between $100-200 million in unfunded liabilities (pension, health care, storm water, etc.). If the suggestions are economically viable, is there anyone from the private sector willing to take them on? If not, it is critical that the Township approve a plan that reduces the financial burden of the Willows while hopefully, maximizing its availability to residents.
Ted Pollard December 08, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Martin: Depending on what the "Vision for the Willows" is, the best way to finance it would be through a capital campaign and grants. I have identified 8-9 foundations to approach once a plan is in place. Having been part of the Friends of the Willows Cottage, I have a pretty good sense on what needs to be done to make this a viable project. We need to get the community behind the project. Perhaps The Friends of the Willows could be formed to oversee the process.
Martin Heldring December 08, 2012 at 07:26 PM
sounds like a great idea!
Deirdre Kelly January 12, 2013 at 02:40 PM
All great ideas! Of the proposals on the table, I like the Miller Catering Proposal with leasing the mansion not ownership. I like the Orchestra idea as well. Not knowing the details on how the orchestra event is run in Chicago, but perhaps this can be incorporated into the Miller Propsoal to allow an event or 2 in this capacity for the township (Especially in the summer months for an outside event).

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