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Feb 16, 2011 11:46 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village Nears Decisions on Parrish Future

Feb 16, 2011 11:46 AM

Several important decisions regarding the fate of the Parrish Art Museum building and its surrounding arboretum are about to be made.

Southampton Village officials are expected next week to select from among four finalists a consulting firm that will work with the village to guide the future multidisciplinary artistic use of the historic Jobs Lane building—a hiring that Mayor Mark Epley has repeatedly termed a “100-year decision” for its importance as a cultural touchstone to the community.

At the same time, plans are moving ahead to spruce up the 2 acres of grounds to restore some of their splendor. And a suggestion is about to be pitched to the Village Board to form a conservancy to tend to the historic property—modeled after the Central Park Conservancy in Manhattan.

Interviews with four firms wrapped up this week. The short list of candidates is made up of four Manhattan firms: Webb Consulting, North Group, Arts Consulting Group and Lord Cultural Resources, according to the mayor. Of the four, Webb has had perhaps the most experience on the East End, working with the Montauk Playhouse and Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theatre.

A committee that includes Mr. Epley and Village Planning Commission Chairman Siamak Samii, among other officials, and some residents of Southampton Village and Manhattan, who are involved in the arts community, including J. Whitney Stevens, were expected to vote on their choice on Wednesday. The winner is expected to be hired on Tuesday, February 22, when the Village Board meets.

Once hired, the firm will work with the village to develop a business plan, an operating budget and all other facets involved with filling the Parrish gap.

The museum, which has occupied the historic property in the village for more than a century, is moving to a new site in Water Mill, where a larger, more modern building is now being built. The transition is expected to occur in the summer of 2012.

“I told each one of these guys this is not a decision the community is going to take lightly,” Mr. Epley said of the four finalist firms. “The last thing you want to see in a place like that is a revolving door.”

Meanwhile, changes are also afoot for the surrounding, village-owned grounds, also referred to as the arboretum.

“The main goal is to make it more friendly for usage by the public,” said Mr. Samii, who said he plans to pitch his suggestions to the Village Board soon, likely in early March. “These are areas that have been to some extent abandoned.”

Of particular interest now is the eastern portion of the grounds, which includes a colonnade of Caesar busts, a fountain that ran dry long ago, and overgrown greenery that has been blamed for blocking sunlight and obscuring the facade of the former Rogers Memorial Library building. That structure is owned by the Parrish, which plans to continue using it for educational programs.

The idea of starting a conservancy, a non-profit organization that would watch over the grounds and function independently of the village administration, is fresh. It has been inspired, in part, to breathe new life into the Parrish grounds, invite pedestrians to enjoy the green space, prevent it from tumbling into neglect and enhance the future uses of the Parrish building.

Recommendations from the past are also resurfacing.

The Planning Commission has recently dusted off a 2002 historical landscape study that was completed when the museum was considering expanding at its current site. The expansion never happened and the recommendations were never implemented—but they could be, soon. Among the ideas are to attract pedestrians via a brick walkway that would extend from Main Street west along Village Hall, straight to the grounds. Though the main entrance to the Parrish building is on Jobs Lane and is to remain there, historically the property’s entrance faced Main Street. Mr. Samii has called it a “key historic element that has been lost throughout the years.”

Mr. Samii said another goal is to better define the “haphazard” and “lost edge” border between the parking lot behind Village Hall and the arboretum. This could be done, in part, by pruning overgrown plants and clearing dead trees—which would also allow more sunlight to filter through—and planting a yew hedge on the periphery. Shifting the evergreens approximately 30 feet to the east could also allow the former Rogers Memorial Library building facade to be more prominent.

Because the plan is so preliminary, Mr. Samii said he did not have any cost estimates, but he did say that some quotes for restoring the fountain on the eastern grounds came in at about $15,000 and for the larger, western fountain at about $25,000. The mayor said much of the work could be done by village employees and donations.

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Mr. Samii, Nice job so far with respect to lightening up the park. For years that park has gone unused because maybe people like me felt it was private property belonging to the Museum and the fact that it was hidden behind a 10 foot high wall likewise was unwelcoming.
Still, while the grates are better than the wall they sill say stay out. I think it would be nice to open up that park to the public by replacing the grates with steps leading up to the park. This would also allow pedestrians, ...more
By V.Tomanoku (790), southampton on Feb 17, 11 12:40 PM
2 members liked this comment
I moved to Southampton less than 2 years ago and I actually did think it was private property! I certainly hope that something positive comes of the changes to continue inspiring growth in the heart of the Village.
By odin631 (1), Southampton on Feb 22, 11 10:23 AM
This is definitly my subject. As I have remarked before, i grew up next door to the Parrish. Yes, it would be nice to open it up more, make it more accessible. As I remember it the gates on Jobs Lane were there because what is now a parking lot was all vacant land and no access to the back of the Parrish property, thus the gradual slope up from the street. West Main Street and the parking lot were not opened until late 1950's early '60's.
The main probllem with all our wonderful ideas is money. ...more
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on Feb 17, 11 1:27 PM
I'm no preservationist, but the location the Parrish chose in Water Mill is a scenic disaster. Nothing like destroying open space with such a monstrosity. The DuckWalk monolith was bad enough. If a commercial enterprise had proposed such a thing, the planning board would have dismissed it as out of hand. Funny how schools and cultural centers have a way of being greenlighted quickly. A large out-of-place building is a large out-of-place building , no? What difference does it make who occupies it? ...more
By Zorro (66), Southampton on Feb 21, 11 9:44 PM
agreed. I don't see how it is anymore attractive than a large 'Target' or other big box store.
By C Law (354), Water Mill on Feb 22, 11 10:57 AM
"What difference does it make who occupies it?"

Flip through SEQRA law and you will quickly learn there is a big difference. There are many factors that go into approvals of site plans - a big box store generates traffic, has impacts on the local economy, typically has a generic design and requires lots of parking and is of no measurable benefit to the public.

An art musuem is deemed culturally important, has a unique design (regardless of if you find it attractive or not) and ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Feb 22, 11 12:44 PM
Funny, I've been enjoying the grounds of the museum for some twenty years. I've never had any problem "accessing" the grounds. I'm not sure what that even means. You walk up the steps and turn right, go in. Turn left, go in. What is the problem exactly? Sit on the grass! If you can;t do that. Bring a blanket! There are so many more worthy items to be concerned with. The ground are quaint and have plenty of charm. Can anyone in Southampton's municipality not spend any money?
Ironically, when ...more
By Soundview (89), Hampton bays on Feb 21, 11 11:51 PM
I'll tell you why it makes no difference who occupies it. First, your comments on SEQRA are correct and I agree with you. Your argument falls apart (fast forward 20 yrs) when the original owner/applicant vacates (for whatever reason...lack of public funding, waning donations, bankruptcy, etc.). Look what happened to the college...no one could have envisioned that property being in jeopardy. The only reason it's not condos now is Fred Thiele. So then, when the new owner comes to the planning or zoning ...more
By Zorro (66), Southampton on Feb 24, 11 12:46 AM
You give Fred Thiele WAY too much credit...but I'm sure he agrees with you.
By VOS (1241), WHB on Feb 24, 11 2:52 AM
a) You DO give Fred too much credit

b) Yea the Parrish Art Musuem will go under in 20 years... cuz it's only been around for... how many decades?

c) If you apply your logic across the Town, nothing would ever get built because of "what could happen". Oooo scary. They should have never built that school in Southampton Village because it became a Town Hall! Or they should have never built that Bank in Bridgehampton that later became a Starbucks.
Feb 24, 11 12:47 PM appended by Nature
P.S. The college was doomed from the start... I went to the hearings and looked over the documents - LIU never had the money to run it in the first place. It was a pipe dream that they hoped would work out - it started to fall apart when other Universities in New England with $$$ built competing programs that were properly funded. The Parrish Art Musuem does not have that problem.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Feb 24, 11 12:47 PM
By V.Tomanoku (790), southampton on Feb 25, 11 12:53 PM