Suffolk County lawmakers have unanimously approved a measure sponsored by the legislature’s Presiding Officer, Rob Calarco, to ensure completion of critical restoration projects at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium, with the museum helping fund the costs through its endowment.
At the General Meeting, lawmakers voted to create a Vanderbilt Museum Enterprise Fund that would provide dedicated funding for capital improvements or the reduction of debts incurred by the county-owned museum. The fund would draw a 2-percent disbursement every year from the museum’s endowment. Money transferred to the enterprise fund would be used to pay for capital projects, which would have to be approved by both the Vanderbilt Museum Board of Trustees and the Suffolk County Legislature.
“The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum attracts over 110,000 visitors each year. This cultural gem is a link to our county’s storied history and part of community’s character,” said Presiding Officer Calarco. “Unfortunately upkeep of historic structures can be expensive. The nearly century-old buildings on the Vanderbilt estate have been threatened by water intrusion, weather damage and general disrepair, and there are some critical renovations that cannot be put off any longer. The creation of an enterprise fund specifically for the Vanderbilt will allow us to move some capital projects forward with the museum helping underwrite the costs. Long-term, this will help the museum become increasingly self-sufficient and reduce its reliance on county funding.”
Disbursements from the museum’s endowment, which was about $15 million earlier this year, would begin on January 1, 2022. These transfers will still allow for future growth of the endowment, according to legislative budget analysts as well as PFM, the assessment management company that manages the endowment’s investment portfolio.
“The Vanderbilt is an indelible Suffolk County institution that needs to be nurtured, maintained and cared for,” said Legislator Susan A. Berland, Majority Leader of the legislature. “The enterprise fund will help the county in partnering with the Vanderbilt to use these funds for necessary repairs and capital improvements. This collaboration is in the best interest of both the Vanderbilt and Suffolk County.”
Legislator Tom Cilmi, the legislature’s Minority Leader, said, “Often times the most valuable historical properties are the most expensive to maintain. There is no question about the historical significance of the Vanderbilt property, but it is also a valuable educational and recreational resource for residents and tourists young and old. On the one hand, allowing this property to deteriorate beyond repair is irresponsible; on the other hand we cannot ignore the county’s fiscal condition, nor the financial struggles facing our taxpayers. We had to find a better way. This agreement will not only help rehabilitate and protect the valuable historic assets on the Vanderbilt property, but it will protect our taxpayers as well. It’s a win-win.”
Presiding Officer Calarco said the endowment would still generate enough revenue that disbursements would be available to the Vanderbilt Museum to offset budget shortfalls during challenging times like the ones faced this year, when the museum had to close to visitors due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Also approved at the general meeting were three capital projects, which can now be funded through the enterprise fund. One calls for $500,000 for emergency construction to restore museum facades damaged by long-term exposure to salt air and severe winter conditions. Repairs could touch the iconic clock tower, which serves as the centerpiece for the estate, and the facade of the Hall of Fishes. A second calls for $950,000 for re-roofing the outer dome of the planetarium to prevent additional water damage to the interior dome and to protect the planetarium’s star projector. A third calls for $200,000 for construction of waterproofing improvements to prevent water intrusion from damaging the historic buildings and threatening the collections housed by the museum.