In 2016, Danbury’s Richter House celebrated a $ 1 million grant. Five years later, no improvement has been made and the director resigns.


DANBURY – Five years ago, the Richter Association for the Arts celebrated a $ 1 million state grant to renovate the historic Richter House.

It has been almost two years since the volunteers emptied the house so that the renovations could begin.

But the work has not yet started and some doubt it will.

“There is no time limit to do it and, personally, I don’t think it will ever be done,” said Bill Gottschalk, who said he stepped down this week as president of the association for purpose. non-profit run by volunteers to protest against the city’s “incompetence” vis-à-vis the project.

“I just can’t be connected to something like this which, to me, seems totally irresponsible to me,” he said.

Mold, heat and power outages, as well as lack of accessibility for people with disabilities, are among the problems in the house, which the association can no longer use for its music and visual arts shows. .

“It’s gradually falling apart,” said Betty Clark, association secretary and president of visual arts.

In addition to the $ 1 million grant, the city has pledged $ 500,000 to renovate the house. But the only contractor to bid on the project in February 2020 estimated it would cost $ 3.99 million.

The city cannot afford to close the gap, especially as authorities are limiting spending due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Joe Cavo said.

“It’s hard to tell people who can’t make your monthly payments that we need to raise your taxes in order to rebuild the Richter house,” he said.

But the city is committed to repairing the house.

“That doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” Cavo said. “It’s just delayed.”

Danbury invested $ 50,000 – in addition to a state grant of $ 75,000 and $ 25,000 in donations – to repair the roof in 2011.

The house appears on the State Register of Historic Places, so repairs should follow the Connecticut Historical Commission guidelines.

Gottschalk said he would like to see the historic designation removed and the structure razed.

“It doesn’t look like any kind of historical structure,” he said.

This was not discussed, Cavo said.

The house was owned by Stanley and Irene Richter, who promoted Danbury’s arts community on their 230-acre property, which was donated to the town in 1968 and is now the golf course.

Richter Arts visual arts committee member Arline Corcoran said she hopes the house will be renovated.

“We have our doubts because it has taken so long for something to happen,” she said. “I realize that the pandemic has happened but still. “

Richter Property

The Richter Park Authority is considered the “owner” of the arts association and covers the cost of maintaining the house, but the city is responsible for the renovations.

“In a perfect world, it could be funded so that renovations could be completed,” said John Priola, chairman of the authority and member of city council.

The authority has faced financial challenges in recent years and needed a $ 150,000 loan from the city to start its 2020 golf season.

But the authority paid off that loan in full around June 2020 thanks to good weather and the ability to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic, Priola said. The authority is up to date on its two other loans with the city, he said.

“The golf course since then has been doing a lot better,” Priola said. “A silver lining in this COVID pandemic has just been increased interest in golf, and Richter Park has benefited from that interest. “

Richter Arts members have expressed doubts about the authority’s commitment to the arts. The association pays the authority $ 2,000 per year, a cost according to Gottschalk too high for the non-profit organization.

“It really wouldn’t have helped them, but it really hurts us,” he said.

In addition to the association’s art exhibitions, Musicals at Richter uses the house for rehearsals and its dressing room, although musicals are performed outside.

This non-profit organization faces other challenges. Her stage was destroyed in the last Christmas storm, said Robert Bria, executive director.

The association aims to repair the scene section by section and raise funds for the project. Approximately $ 23,000 was raised on Fairfield County Giving Day, while donations can be made on the association’s website.

“Sadly, that’s nowhere near the amount we need,” said Bria, who roughly estimated that the scene alone will cost $ 70,000. There are also walls and light fixtures to repair.

The organization is planning a show this summer – “Godspell” on July 23 through August 7 – and plans to host a fundraising cabaret on July 16.

“We chose a show that doesn’t require too many set requirements and doesn’t need a lot of lighting,” Bria said.

Trying to fix the house

Bria looks forward to the day when the house returns to “its full glory”.

“It’s a beautiful house,” he said. “I have a lot of special memories in Richter … It’s a pretty magical place.”

According to the tender documents, the first phase of the project would focus on site improvements, including a new driveway, walkways and parking, as well as a new septic system.

The second phase includes repairs to the exterior cladding, ramps and accessible ramps, new windows, the installation of exterior walls, selective demolition, reduction of hazardous materials, new partitions, finishes, an accessible elevator, the replacement of the heating system, new air conditioning and electrical and plumbing upgrades.

A new two-story, 930-square-foot building would be built for phase three, while a new stage would be built for phase four.

Priorities should be accessibility for people with disabilities, septic system, bathrooms, windows, heat and electricity, Clark said.

“How many times does a place get $ 1 million and they sit on it?” ” she said.

About $ 200,000 of the grant has already been spent on architectural work, Cavo said. When the city received the grant in 2016, it was not expected to cover the full cost of the project, he said.

Former mayor Mark Boughton said at the time the cost would cover the first phase and the city would need to secure more funding for future phases.

As the coronavirus pandemic diminishes locally, Richter Arts will be able to organize fundraisers for the project, Cavo said. The city is also seeking additional grants, he said.

Danbury plans to buy the First Congregational Church on Deer Hill Avenue and turn it into a performance hall, which Gottschalk said would be a good location for Richter Arts.

“It would be a wonderful alternative for the performing arts,” he said.

But Clark said the city should take better advantage of the house. It would be a great place for weddings and the artists who submit their work for shows have become “like family,” she said.

“It should be a gem for the city of Danbury,” said Clark.

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