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County puts 'if' clause on Happy Retreat money pledge

August 04, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County Commission members agreed Thursday to give $15,000 toward the effort to purchase the historic Happy Retreat home if the City of Charles Town contributes the same amount.

The Friends of Happy Retreat has formed to purchase the home of Charles Washington, the brother of George Washington and founder of Charles Town, and make it available for public use.

Although the asking price is $2.5 million, the group wants to initially raise $100,000 to set up an office for its operations, get consulting work started for the purchase attempt and pay for other expenses, Curt Mason, president of the group, told commission members Thursday.

After Mason asked commission members for the $15,000, Commission member Dale Manuel said he appreciated the hard work that the group has put into the purchase effort. But Manuel said he is always interested in how other governments can help fund such efforts.

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Commission member Jim Surkamp made a motion that the commission give The Friends of Happy Retreat the $15,000 if the City of Charles Town would contribute $15,000.

Commissioners approved Surkamp's motion on a 4-1 vote.

Commission President Greg Corliss cast the dissenting vote.

Corliss said the commission receives funding requests for good projects and said the $15,000 given Thursday is another example of "undisciplined" spending by the commission.

Corliss said the commission makes up a budget then makes other expenditures.

"We spent $50,000 today playing around," Corliss said after the meeting.

The other expenditure Corliss was referring to was the commission's decision Thursday to donate $34,643 to help establish a fire department in Bakerton, W.Va.

Mason recently announced that The Friends of Happy Retreat had signed an option to purchase Happy Retreat for $2.5 million.

The agreement gives the group the "exclusive and irrevocable option" to purchase Happy Retreat by Feb. 28, 2007, Mason said.

If the group cannot raise the money for the purchase of Happy Retreat by that date, it has "first refusal" rights to any other purchase offer made to the current owner, Mason said.

Mason said Friends of Happy Retreat wanted to enter into an agreement to purchase the property from Bill Gavin in hopes that it will increase the success of raising the money needed for the purchase.

People will be less willing to donate money for the purchase if there is not a pending agreement to sell the home to the organization, Mason said.

Although the asking price is $2.5 million, Friends of Happy Retreat wants to raise $5 million to help fund initiatives like program development for the home, staffing needs and archaeological studies for the property, Mason said.

Mayor Peggy Smith could not be reached for comment Thursday about the commission's proposed funding match. Charles Town City Council member Matt Ward said he thinks the city giving $15,000 toward the purchase would be a "great start" toward the effort.

The stately home along Mordington Avenue sits on 12 acres and has two wings on either side of a center portion. Characteristics of the house include marble fireplaces and decorative medallions in the ceilings.

About $37,000 has been raised, which was reached after contributions like a $10,000 donation from Charles Town Races & Slots, a $7,000 donation from the board of directors of The Friends of Happy Retreat and a $10,000 donation from a couple who live and work in Charles Town, Mason said.

Mason did not identify the couple Thursday.

The Friends of Happy Retreat has sought the help of the Compass Group of Aldie, Va., to help raise funds. Compass Group has a strong track record of overseeing such campaigns and believes there is a good chance of raising the money needed to purchase Happy Retreat due to the strong community support for the effort, Mason has said.

Mason told the commission Thursday that his group hopes to turn Happy Retreat into a center where people can enjoy music, education programs, seminars and learn about black heritage and local horse racing history. Hopefully, the home can be used for events like weddings and business meetings and walking trails can be established around it, Mason said.

"We're not just saving an old house. It's far more," Mason said.




How they voted



The Jefferson County Commission voted 4-1 Thursday to contribute $15,000 toward the purchase of the historic Happy Retreat home in Charles Town, W.Va., if the city of Charles Town contributes the same amount.

Voting for: Jane Tabb, Jim Surkamp, Dale Manuel and Rusty Morgan.

Voting against: Greg Corliss

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