Phil Kasurak

Park House Museum gearing up for 2019 season

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Park House Museum is gearing up for the 2019 season and will be busy right off the bat.

There are two events this weekend at the Park House, with the first being Friday night and another event Saturday evening.

“We thought for the season opener, we’d have a paranormal investigation on the 15th,” said curator Stephanie Pouget-Papak, “and then a St. Patrick’s Eve event on the 16th.”

The paranormal investigation Friday night will once again be run by PO3 Paranormal and run in two sessions. The first runs from 7-9 p.m. and the second runs from 9-11 a.m. Tickets are $20 and people are asked to call 519-736-2511 or message them on Facebook to check for availability.

The St. Patrick’s Eve event Saturday night is the second time the Park House Museum has presented such an event, with Pouget-Papak stating the first time “was really successful.” That event sees regular admission charges waived but the museum will be accepting donations.

The St. Patrick’s Eve event will feature Irish storytelling and music, the former from Olwyn Coughlin, whom Pouget-Papak states is “a fabulous storyteller.” The music will be performed by Phil Kasurak, Matthew Kulbacki and Joe Perry. The event is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

Spring and fall events have been announced but the Park House Museum is awaiting word on their grants before announcing any summer programming. One of the bigger events they’ve announced thus far is their “A Day in Outlander” event planned for June 30. While there is a basic program outlined for that, Pouget-Papak said the public will be able to vote on specific concepts and components that event will offer. People are encouraged to monitor the Park House’s website at www.parkhousemuseum.com and their Facebook and Twitter sites for more information in the coming weeks.

A St. Patrick’s Eve event is planned for this Saturday night at the Park House Museum.

“I’m really excited about the Outlander event,” she said, noting the printing press will be running, soldiers will be on hand and more will be available.

The public is also encouraged to monitor the Park House’s website and social media channels for updates on a fundraising dinner coming up in the spring as well as for updates on the return of the “Music off the Back Porch” series.

The Park House Museum is also planning the summer exhibit entitled “The History of Photography: Amherstburg Then & Now.” That is scheduled to run from July 2-Sept. 26 with the exhibit to include comparisons of photos from years ago to what the area looks like now.

Fall events that are currently planned include four nights of ghost tours and those nights will be Sept. 27-28 and Oct. 18-19. Registration and details will be available as the event gets closer. The annual “All Hallow’s Eve” event returns Oct. 20 with “Freaky Friday” movie nights with horror movies shown in the museum planned for every Friday night in October.

Other events planned for the fall include “Dickens’ Christmas Traditions” Nov. 24, “Dickens by Candleight” Nov. 29 and other events such as their “Witches tea” and “Edgar Allan Poe by Candlelight” for which the dates haven’t been confirmed as of yet.

Pouget-Papak also noted the tinsmith shop not only sells lanterns, candleholders and other items to benefit the museum’s programming, but also sells custom-made items as well.

“Our tinsmiths do a great job,” she said, noting there are classes and workshops possible for this year as well.

The Park House Museum is located at 214 Dalhousie St. Regular admission is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors, $2.50 for children 5-16 with children four and under free. The family rate is $12 while school groups are $5 per student.

An annual membership for senior or a student is $30, a single membership is $35, a family membership is $40 while a lifetime membership is $250.

Belle Vue Cultural Foundation plots next steps to save historic building

 

By Ron Giofu

 

One week after town council voted not to proceed with the purchase of the Belle Vue property, a group of citizens trying to save the 200-year-old building has plotted its next steps.

The Belle Vue Cultural Foundation will continue with a social media campaign to drum up interest in the town acquiring the property and preserving it and also plans on sending a representative to town council to speak to the elected officials about their decision. Council members may also receive some calls and e-mails from the group, if they haven’t already.

While members acknowledged the plans for the Duffy’s property that the town acquired that same Sept. 12 meeting have support in the town, members weren’t ready to throw in the towel in their efforts to have the town step up and preserve Belle Vue.

Foundation president Paul Hertel obtained administrative reports that were previously discussed in-camera through a Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (MFIPPA) request. It was learned through the documentation that acquiring Belle Vue would have been $1.1 million in cash and a donation receipt of $200,000. The vendor would hold a vendor “take back mortgage” for zero per cent over five years with yearly payments of $200,000.

Town administration had a vision for a conference/wedding facility at the Belle Vue site, located at 525 Dalhousie St., complete with refurbished building, a formal garden area, a conservatory, several independent garden areas, a greenhouse, a small band shell and plaza area, accessible lighted pathways and infrastructure to support events.

Belle Vue FrontWEB

Belle Vue

Projected costs to acquire and redevelop the site would have approached $9.1 million though administration proposed the actual acquisition would have no additional debt.

Hertel also obtained a video with a “walk-through” of the redeveloped building and grounds with committee members being impressed with what they saw. The committee wants to share the video publicly.

“This is an incredible vision,” Lori Bezaire commented after viewing the video. “This could generate value for the town.”

Hertel didn’t disagree, adding he knew of no other group that had seen that video.

The foundation also heard from Phil Kasurak, the realtor who has the listing for the property. He confirmed the owners received three offers for the site.

“All were aware they were competing,” said Kasurak.

There was an offer higher than the town’s, but Kasurak said the town was the best ones to deal with after researching the other prospective buyer. He said the town was “forthright and straight-forward” to deal with.

The third offer was from a “credible individual,” he said but “it wasn’t financially right for the seller.”

The deal was struck with the town and Kasurak said that deal isn’t dead yet, despite the motion to proceed with the purchase failing.

“The seller was quite willing to give the town and is quite willing to give the town good terms to buy it,” said Kasurak. “As of today, the offer is still alive. It has not been released by the town.”

The town has until the end of the month to release the offer.

Kasurak suggested the idea of buying Belle Vue could be reconsidered by the town.

“The administration was very excited, wanting to get the entire block of property,” Kasurak told the foundation.

Kasurak added the money doesn’t have to be spent at once, believing money could be used to stabilize the building and proceeding in stages from there.

“The property owner has indicated they are willing to sit and wait and see if this sorts itself out,” he said.

Kasurak added there is a perception in the community that the building is in worse shape than it is. He said people think the building is rotting away and unsafe, but said it is actually solid though it needs guided tours for potential buyers due to no utilities.

The Belle Vue house features a number of  fireplaces, including the one pictured. (Special to the RTT)

The Belle Vue house features a number of
fireplaces, including the one pictured. (Special to the RTT)

The town could also choose to reconsider and purchase the building and a smaller piece of the property, he continued. He said his belief is that the rear portion is worth roughly $1 million and could be redeveloped separately.

Some committee members had difficulty believing the town could buy both Belle Vue and Duffy’s.

“Council has made a decision with stars in their eyes,” said Michael Prue. “If they buy (Duffy’s) and they seem intent on doing that, there is no money left to do what we want them to do.”

The information obtained by Hertel showed the town stating it would have $80,000 left in the general reserve and life cycle replacement reserve and the report from administration advised council be “diligent in future planning” to replace those funds and focus attention of disposing of additional town-owned property to replenish those funds.

“Everyone seems to be in favour of Duffy’s. There is no way this council and this mayor are going to fund both,” stated member Jennie Lajoie. “They are looking to get re-elected. There is no chance they do both.”

Debra Honor argued that buying Duffy’s wasn’t the most financially prudent move, reminding her fellow members that Belle Vue was available in five-year increments with a zero per cent mortgage.

CAO John Miceli attended later in the meeting after a previous meeting he was in had concluded. He said it was a council decision to not pursue Belle Vue but believed he followed his instructions well to negotiate a favorable deal on behalf of the municipality.

“I can only say I did the best I could do for the town with what I had,” he said.

Miceli said his vision was to have a board look after the Belle Vue site but be accountable to town council, similar to an arrangement Willistead Manor has with Windsor. He confirmed Monday night he had not yet signed the release on the property. He also expressed confidence the town could have gotten sponsorships for the gardens and government funding for the restoration of the building itself.

“I felt very strong with the costings,” he added.

Asked about whether there could be a hotel on the site, Miceli said he had no knowledge of anyone wanting to create a hotel there. He did note there will soon be an Official Plan review and part of that is a community improvement plan that, if approved by council, would be one that would create conditions for a hotel to be developed.

The Belle Vue Cultural Foundation is also searching for members. Debra Honor announced she could not attend future meetings due to health reasons with Hertel also announcing he was stepping down as president for family reasons.

Historic Belle Vue property up for sale

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

One of Amherstburg’s most historic properties is up for sale.

The nearly 200-year-old Belle Vue property, located in the 500 block of Dalhousie St., is for sale with an asking price of $1,950,000. A group of concerned citizens, which operated the “Friends of Bellevue” Facebook page, are hoping to spur town council to take some sort of action at the May 24 meeting.

Robert and Debra Honor discuss the historic Belle Vue house during a recent private tour. The home is being listed for $1.95 million and a local group is hoping it leads to its restoration.

Robert and Debra Honor discuss the historic Belle Vue house during a recent private tour. The home is being listed for $1.95 million and a local group is hoping it leads to its restoration.

Two members of the group, Robert and Debra Honor, note that they nor the group is directly involved in the sales process of the historic property but are hoping it is sold to someone who will restore it and maintain it for the public benefit. They hope that council gets behind the idea as, without official municipal support, they believe there is little hope of getting any provincial or federal assistance.

Robert said it is one of two buildings in Canada with Palladian architecture. The heritage designation applies mainly to the exterior of the building, he added, and he is hopeful some method can be found to have that restored for the benefit of the community.

The Honors hope to see people who are interested in the property’s restoration come to the May 24 meeting to try and convince town council to support lobbying efforts so that upper levels of government will also become involved.

“Unless there is interest from the municipal government, the federal or provincial government won’t do anything,” said Debra Honor.

Phil Kasurak, the real estate agent who is attempting to sell the property on behalf of its current owners, said he has spoken with town officials and has gotten the impression there is some level of interest in the future of the property.

Kasurak said the entire property is 8.6 acres with an extra one-eighth of an acre on the water. He believed it to be “like a park” on the east side of the road and said while there has been expressions of interest, there hasn’t been a lot in terms of actual offers just yet.

“I’ve had expressions of interest from developer-type individuals,” said Kasurak.

Kasurak added he has also spoken with the town to inform them it is for sale.

“That’s where it’s at in terms of interest,” said Kasurak.

The property is zoned institutional as it was a church at one point and is classified as medium density residential in the town’s official plan. That designation could allow for condominiums or townhouses on the property.

“Whether that is what’s going to happen, I couldn’t say,” said Kasurak.

Robert Honor pointed out the main building would have to be maintained. The group the Honors are involved with are open to “adaptive re-use” of the main structure, he said, but noted the historic attributes of the building would have to be kept as part of the restoration process.

Kasurak suggested there could be uses related to the wine industry or even having the historic home converted into a private estate.

“Who are we to say what kind of wealth and money is out there and what the interest is?” said Kasurak.

The Belle Vue house features a number of  fireplaces, including the one pictured. The Dalhousie St. home is for sale for $1.95 million. (Special to the RTT)

The Belle Vue house features a number of
fireplaces, including the one pictured. The Dalhousie St. home is for sale for $1.95 million. (Special to the RTT)

Belle Vue was built for Robert Reynolds in 1816-19 for Robert and Therese Reynolds. Robert Reynolds was the commissary to the British garrison at Fort Malden. According to notes provided by the Honors, the Reynolds family were prominent members of the British community in Detroit with Robert’s father Thomas joining the British Army by 1760 and was “Commissary at Detroit.” The Jay’s Treaty of 1794 relinquished Detroit to the United States but many inhabitants loyal to the British crown moved to what is now the Canadian side of the Detroit River. The Reynolds family settled at Fort Amherstburg where Thomas became commissary to the newly built post. Robert succeeded his father after Thomas’ death in 1810.

After leaving for the Burlington area during the War of 1812, the Reynolds family returned to Amherstburg after the war at which point construction of Belle Vue began.

“It was the largest house in Canada at the time,” said Robert Honor.

Reynolds owned the Belle Vue until the 1870’s when it was sold to William Johnson. In the 1920’s, the Mullen family owned the building before ownership was passed to Veterans Affairs Canada. According to the Honors’ notes, Veterans Affairs Canada used it as a home for World War I veterans.

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church last occupied the building.

The home made the National Trust for Canada’s list of most endangered buildings in Canada in 2009 and is classified as “Still At Risk.” For more, visit www.nationaltrustcanada.ca/issues-campaigns/top-ten-endangered/explore-past-listings/Ontario.

Anyone interested in viewing the Facebook group can do so by searching “Friends of Bellevue.”