Should Greenport Village charge the East End Seaport Museum rent for a location it gets for free?
That question, raised by two speakers at a recent Greenport Village budget hearing, was at the crux of a presentation Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation chairman Ian Wile made before the village board Thursday night. And his answer, in a nutshell, was no.
“This institution provides a huge service,” Mr. Wile said, indicating the the nonprofit, mostly volunteer foundation is required to operate the museum for the village.
A number of Seaport Museum supporters also attended the meeting although only one other one spoke.
The building in which the Seaport Museum operates, which was created out of an old Long Island Rail Road station in the early 1990s, is still owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which leases it to Suffolk County for no charge. The county, in turn, subleases it rent-free to the village, which has a management agreement with East End Seaport for one dollar to operate the museum, Mr. Wile said.
According to Mayor George Hubbard, the museum did repay the village for about $81,000 in village money that was spent on building the museum in the 1990s, but has not paid rent since then.
At a public hearing on the 2016-2017 budget, former Trustee David Corwin said “I don’t see any revenue for the East End Seaport Museum. I’ve got to tell you. That burns me up.”
Another resident, John Saladino, complained that the village was giving the building away, “basically for free,” while residents pay fees for yard sales and fences.
Mr. Wile said that in addition to living out its core mission, there are a number of specific things the EESM is charged with doing for the village.
“We are supposed to acquire artifacts, curate exhibits, create educational programming, promote tourism in Greenport and maintain the interior of the museum,” he said. “In that model, the idea that there’s an opportunity for rent is somewhat confusing, because as a foundation, we are operating the village’s museum.”
In 2015, he said, the EESM’s accomplishments included restoring the aging 750-gallon aquarium in the museum with the help of the Long Island Aquarium; they introduced a weekly lecture series; and they ran educational programs for kids, such as a Soundwaters sailing camp and visits to Captain Dave Berson’s solar-powered boat, “Glory.”
It also runs the annual Maritime Festival as a fundraiser for EESM and it sometimes hosts boats coming to the village, such as the schooner “America,” which will dock in Greenport on June 9 and 10 this year.
The EESM’s stated mission, he said, is “to act as a steward of the maritime heritage of the East End of Long Island. Celebrating a long and varied marine history through artifacts and exhibits, the Foundation operates Long Beach Bar ‘Bug’ Light at the entrance to Peconic Bay, and the Village Blacksmith. Additionally, the Seaport Museum hosts a full calendar of educational and cultural events, making sure that the community’s connection to the water is not relegated to history.”
Trustee Julia Robins said the Museum doesn’t provide regular financial reports to the village.
Mr. Wile said the EESM could be more transparent and discuss its finances with the village more often. He said the organization’s finances, which are available to the public once they are filed, are like that of a seasonal business, in that they are “slightly in the red until May,” and then gradually improve over the summer months.
In 2013, tax records show, the organization lost about $25,000, while in 2014, it gained about $15,000.
Most of EESM’s revenues come from programs and activities it holds and from sponsorships, he said.
He said he’d like to see the EESM become less seasonal and begin to have year-round events, like boater safety courses or sailing instructions.
Trustee Doug Roberts asked if, in lieu of rent, the EESM would agree to a revenue sharing with the village of the Maritime Festival revenue.
“I’m guessing that festival is doing pretty well,” he said.
“I’d say that you’re asking for a piece of that, that is not your strongest play,” Mr. Wile said. The festival takes a year to pull off, he said, and because of the cost it takes to produce, is not their largest net revenue generator, reiterating that programs, activities and sponsorships are EESM’s top revenue generators.
Mr. Roberts also suggested the village and EESM could pursue grants together, something Mr. Wile agreed with.
“We will be in communications a lot more regularly than in the past,” Mr. Hubbard said.