By Greg Klein
---- — It is a crucial year for Brookwood Point and its new owner, the Otsego Land Trust.
That’s the message the trust’s chair Harry Levine delivered to a room full of supporters Saturday at Templeton Hall.
In its first year of ownership of the 22-acre Otsego Lake property on state ,Route 80, the trust secured a big loan and the property had a surprising budget surplus. But Levine said 2013 is the year it will be determined whether the trust should be the long-term owner of the land.
“Those who know the Land Trust know we are a very small organization,” he said. “We have limited resources. We can’t maintain a property like this ourselves. But we are pretty good at leading others to maintain a property like this.
“No matter how much we like the property,” he continued. “If it can’t be in financial balance, we have to take a hard look at whether we should be the owners, and if we are not the owners, what we should do about it.”
From 1986 until 2011, Brookwood Point belonged to the Cook Foundation, which was set up by former owners Harry Cook and his son, Bob.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t come along with financial resources,” Levine said. “Until the merger, the foundation had struggled financially with trying to figure out how to maintain the property for the public benefit.”
In the midst of assessing what areas needed to be priorities, the trust applied for and received a Historic Byways grant for $188,000, which is designated for signage, secure access to the property and bridge work. The grant is a three-to-one match, meaning it can’t be used until the trust raises $62,000.
“Route 20 is a historic byway, and the extension down Route 80 qualifies as an extension of the historic byway,” Levine said. “We’re tremendously lucky in that it is not a one-for-one match or a one-for-two match. We only have to match one for three.”
Levine said that with the small profit the land made in 2012, the trust only needs a little more than $40,000 to complete the grant match.
The projections for the first year of ownership were for the land to be at almost a $30,000 shortfall. Instead, weddings rentals and donations combined with much lower than projects expenses leave the property in the black by more than $20,000. However, a lot of the lowered expenses were for dire maintenance needs which got pushed off for the year.
The grant offer is good until November. Levine said the trust could probably get an extension of the grant; however he is not sure if it should or would.
“We’d have to look at that,” he said. “Because a lot of what needs to be done is urgent to get the property in shape to accommodate people, and the main season is summer. If we haven’t been able to do that by then, I am not sure if we will feel like it is sustainable.”
The immediate priorities for the land can be broken down into five categories: Signs, trails, safety, access and parking.
The longer-term projects are for a boat launch and for decisions about the two structures on the property, a house and ice house.
“Everyone’s first question is about the house,” Levine said. “But what I tell them is, don’t focus on the house, focus on the use of the land around the house. I ask them, have you seen how well the gardens are doing?”
The house is in such bad shape that the Trust doesn’t have the money to assess how much work it needs. Nor does it have the money to fix the roof or make currently needed repairs. It also doesn’t have the money to raze the house.
“Just the ice house in itself is a project for someone,” Levine said.
The gardens, he added, are indeed doing great, thanks to volunteers, to segue into his final pitch for more help. More landscaping help is needed. Cleanup day is going to be held in May.
Donors are going to be needed to match the grant.
“We need to go public with this right now,” he said. “We need to explain to the whole community that this is a very good opportunity. We need the public to support this project. We need encouragement and we need funding.”