Wellington Council Gives Project Lighthouse Group 90 Days

The Wellington Village Council agreed this week to give a citizen’s group 90 days to see what developers and benefactors it can line up for an idea to combine a performing arts theater, offices and a rooftop restaurant on 10 acres that the village owns near the Mall at Wellington Green.

“It could be a coup for Wellington,” Vice Mayor Michael Drahos said at the Tuesday, Feb. 21 council meeting. “It could also be Al Capone’s vault.”

Drahos was referring to a famous 1986 TV show that attracted 30 million viewers by hyping up the mystery of the legendary mobster’s vault, only to unveil desultory debris.

Project Lighthouse, the name of the self-described “grassroots” organization of residents, hopes to stick the landing of a dazzling coup, rather than Capone-vault territory. To date, it is getting Wellington’s cooperation to shoot its shot.

At the group’s request, the council agreed to put off sending out formal letters requesting proposals from companies to develop the site, which is located just behind the Hampton Inn off Forest Hill Blvd.

The organization asked for additional time because it claims to already be hearing from developers and arts figures who don’t necessarily want to commit publicly before learning more, said Steven Traynor, a software executive who has lived in Wellington since 2003 and is representing Project Lighthouse.

“I don’t know if anybody has seen the article in Town-Crier, but there have been a couple of developers that have reached out to us a result of that article,” Traynor said at a Thursday, Feb. 16 council workshop.

He declined to name them, but Project Lighthouse representatives did later meet with individual council members who sought to get a better sense of the potential involvement.

Drahos said he is intrigued to see if the group can pull it off, but he advised against interpreting that as the village’s seal of approval. He said 90 days is a firm deadline to show if there is something tangible coming together.

Councilwoman Tanya Siskind said she was not sure why letters seeking potential developer interest should be put off or scrapped.

“This is very much in its infancy,” she said. “I think it can’t hurt to entertain any or all ideas for the property.”

In the end, the council agreed to the 90-day hold to give Project Lighthouse the time and space it requested.

The village owns the 10 acres at 2175 Wellington Green Drive. Designated as a civic site, the property is sometimes called Wellington Green Park.

Mayor Anne Gerwig has discussed offering long-term leases to developers, though a land sale has also come up in conversations about what to do with the property.

What the village hopes to avoid is inheriting an arts theater, built with the best of intentions, that ultimately loses money and needs to be subsidized with public money, several council members said. Neither does the village want to be in the business of managing and booking events for such a facility.

Project Lighthouse supporters hope to ease such concerns with a mixed-use development that draws income from business, arts and possibly high-end residential tenants, as well as retail operations, including a restaurant. It has been talking with people who specialize in managing performing arts centers, such as Rhode Island-based Professional Facilities Management.

The project would aim to address several village needs in one place. More than 50 business tenants face losing offices at the Lake Wellington Professional Centre, a business complex that the village owns, but is taking steps to close rather than pay for extensive renovations.

Ultimately, a lead donor or other “benefactors” could play an important role in the arts center, supporters believe.

For Drahos, it comes down to one question over the next three months for Project Lighthouse.

“How real are you guys?” he asked.

To learn more about Project Lighthouse, find the group on Facebook by searching “Project Lighthouse – Community Vision.”