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Jul 7, 2010 2:41 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Parrish preparing to break ground later this summer

Jul 7, 2010 2:41 PM

Parrish Art Museum officials plan to break ground on a new home in Water Mill later this summer, as soon as officials finish “dotting the ‘i’s’ and crossing the ‘t’s’” of some contract details, the museum’s public relations manager, Mark Segal, has confirmed.

Museum Director Terrie Sultan said that the necessary building permits have been secured, and museum officials expect to open in an airy, barn-shaped space off Montauk Highway designed by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron in the spring of 2012—meaning the Parrish has less than two years left at the storied Southampton Village site it has occupied for more than a century.

Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley, meanwhile, stood behind comments he recently made to the New York Observer, labeling the Parrish’s planned departure as the worst thing that’s ever happened to the village, and that the museum was not interested in his earlier offers to sell the village-owned property to the Parrish or allow it to expand in its current location. Further, he claimed, no one from the museum had informed him how close it was to moving.

This lack of communication, he said, then impedes on the village’s ability to find a new tenant. “I can’t negotiate with a potential property renter when I have to have a reporter tell me when they’re breaking ground and leaving the building, but no one from the museum picks up the phone or sends a letter and gives a date,” he said.

The mayor said he will not likely contact museum officials anymore.

“I guess it’s kind of like a respect thing for me,” he said. “They should have reached out to the village and said, ‘This is when we’re breaking ground, this is the date of our completion.’”

Ms. Sultan said she regrets the situation with the mayor.

“I’m very sorry he feels he has been kept out of the loop. That wasn’t our intention,” she said. Though she said she and her staff have been in touch with the mayor often over the years regarding the move, “I don’t believe we’ve actually given him weekly updates on the progress of the building. ... I wasn’t aware he didn’t know how far along we were.”

The museum views the move as an opportunity for growth: to mount special exhibitions and permanent collection installations simultaneously, have a loading dock and a climate-controlled atmosphere. Ms. Sultan envisions the number of annual museumgoers to double from the current range of 30,000 to 35,000 who visit the Jobs Lane location each year, even though the site on the north side of Montauk Highway is not easily accessible by foot, as Jobs Lane is.

The move—in the works for years, particularly after the Parrish purchased the 14-acre Water Mill site in 2005 for $3.8 million for a planned expansion—has stirred previous opposition in the community, as the museum has been a village fixture since it was built in 1898 to house art collector and philanthropist Samuel Longstreth Parrish’s private collection.

More ambitious plans for the new site were scaled down last year from about $60 million to $25 million, of which approximately 70 percent has been raised through fund-raising, according to Ms. Sultan.

Regarding the current site, she said, “There’s really no way to make that building function as a 21st century building. It would need millions of dollars of renovations and would still be too small.”

Blueprints for the new design include nearly a doubling of space, a cafe and a parking lot, among other amenities.

The Parrish’s lease on Jobs Lane expires in 2012. The museum had previously negotiated a five-year lease with two one-year extension options when an earlier moving date was delayed.

The plans are progressing at the same time the village is seeking to revitalize its downtown by creating an “Arts District,” in accordance with the village’s master plan. When asked about this idea, in which the Parrish would likely have played a significant role, Ms. Sultan had little to say other than that the museum would lie just a few miles outside the village and would be better able to service the community there.

Meanwhile, the mayor acknowledges that he faces an important decision: “The occupant of that building is probably going to become the most important decision my administration will ever make.”

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