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Council gives foundation additional year to oversee historic mansion
The Clinton Whitmore Mansion, purchased last year by the city of Ceres, is being operated by the Whitmore Mansion Foundation, a group of local volunteers who wish for the mansion to not be a financial drain on the citys general fund. It was given another year to formulate a plan. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier file photo

The Whitmore Mansion Foundation was given another year to operate the city-owned historic Clinton Whitmore Mansion as well as come up with a long-term plan for its operation.

The action came at last week's Ceres City Council meeting and was approved in a 5-0 vote.

The city purchased the mansion - located between Fifth and Sixth Streets and between North and Magnolia streets - in 2013 but expressed an interest in having another entity operate it. The Whitmore Mansion Foundation, led by Lisa Mantarro Moore, stepped up to the plate and was given a year agreement. The new agreement for an additional year expires on Jan. 31, 2015.

City officials and foundation members had hoped for more progress in an operations plan by now but a number of setbacks have delayed that, said Deputy City Manager/City Engineer Toby Wells.

To date the city has spent about $10,400 on the house operations and maintenance and expects a regular expense of $900 per month. The city is hopeful that expenses will be offset by revenue from renting out the facility.

Moore said her group kicked back $500 in revenue to the city with the goal to cover the city's ongoing costs.

"It was a start and our goal is to be able to cover the city's expenses on a regular basis so that they don't have a general fund cost," Moore told the council.

The foundation has booked six events for 2014 which are expected to bring in approximately $3,000 in revenue. She said there had not been an aggressive marketing push pending the city's action to extend the agreement.

Moore said the foundation uses the same telephone number that was used by the previous owners, Cary and Nancy Pope, in marketing materials. Persons who call 537-5400 will reach an answering machine which is regularly checked for call backs.

The foundation will be supplying the city the contractual agreement for rentals at the mansion, which mirrors the rules for the Ceres Community Center. Requirements for security guards and insurance are included.

"It is a challenge to make sure that people who want to use the facility be made to preserve the home, number 1, so we're mostly encouraging outdoor activities," said Moore. "But it will take a toll on our greenery."

A number of service clubs are willing to jump in and help with a prep kitchen so any vendor or caterer can use the facility without using the mansion's interior kitchen.

Moore said the group will also strive to operate the mansion at decibel levels that do not disturb neighbors.

At some point restrooms will need to be built since the only restrooms on site are inside the mansion.

Much like the city does in renting its facilities, Moore said her group has a goal to develop a preferred vendors list for mansion activities.

Councilmember Linda Ryno asked about the status of the four items that were intended to be resolved by the end of the original 12-month agreement, including the development of a master plan, assessing capital needs on the property, developing a marketing plan and placing the mansion on the National Register of Historic Places. It was explained that the foundation only received full access to the mansion beginning in August.

Wells said getting on the National Register of Historic Places is a lengthy process which has started. The state, however, indicated that it would be a "stretch" to get the mansion on the registry, said Wells.

Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra acknowledged that the ultimate goal is to have the mansion become self-sufficient and not a drain on the city general fund.

Moore said the foundation does not wish to be the long-term party planning group of the mansion but is making an effort to keep the city from taking the financial burden of the historic mansion.

"It (will take) tremendous undertaking out of her time and out of the foundation's time to get the mansion to a point to where it is self sufficient," said Vierra.

Vice Mayor Bret Durossette thanked Moore for her personal time spent on the mansion.

"You're not getting paid for this, you're away from your family and it's almost 8 o'clock and you're here because it means a lot to you and it means a lot to us," said Durossette. He said the civic commitment of members is what makes Ceres "unique."

Moore also acknowledged that city code enforcement officer Frank Alvarez is also on the foundation board and has been very helpful.

A number of furnishings have been offered for mansion display by individuals wanting to help keep the 1903 mansion in period décor.