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Mansion escrow to close
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With the Clinton Whitmore Mansion coming into the city's possession on Friday, the Ceres City Council on Monday appropriated $480,000 for the historic mansion and grounds.

The city is paying $475,300 for the mansion, not the $375,000 price previously reported by the Courier. The acquisition is being covered by $194,500 taken from the Neighborhood Park Fees Fund and $285,500 from the Planned Community Facilities Fund.

Escrow is expected to close on Dec. 14 to transfer ownership of the 1903 mansion from Bank of America into the city's hands. The historic home fell into foreclosure after owners Cary and Nancy Pope struggled to keep up with mortgage payments. The couple purchased the mansion for $1.3 million in 2005 at the height of property values.

Former councilman Guillermo Ochoa said he did not oppose the city acquiring the mansion, which he termed "a bad investment," but noted the city has not improved two undeveloped parks, including one a block and half from his home in Eastgate. He challenged the city to use the $3.7 million in parks funds to finish the unfinished parks.

"We're going to buy this mansion...," said Ochoa, "there goes money on the maintenance and upkeep. If we're going to buy this property... I challenge the council to do something with these two other parks."

The city does not own all of the land to develop the Eastgate park, said City Engineer Toby Wells. He said some of the park funds are also pegged for other developments in other parks and a parks master plan being developed. The council also reminded Ochoa that the city does not have enough money to operate and maintain the extra parks at the present time.

Councilman Mike Kline publicly stated that he initially opposed the Whitmore Mansion acquisition with the proposed parks going undeveloped. But he said he now supports the purchase because of Monday's approval of the idea of a fairly general 12-month agreement that places the Whitmore Mansion Foundation in charge of security, maintenance and operation of the mansion. The agreement only affects the mansion site, not the unimproved property which will be maintained by the city.

The agreement may be terminated by either party through a 30-day notification and will be reviewed quarterly.

The Foundation does not have revenues so the city will have to cover initial operations, such as utility bills. The Foundation has agreed to reimburse the city for utilities and begin covering other costs through funds it expects to receive through grants, donations and revenues from rentals.

The Foundation anticipates that it will contract with a vendor to oversee the facility. Those vendors could be the Popes, who have been operating the mansion as a business enterprise.

The city expects to ultimately sell the mansion to the Foundation with city restrictions and placement of the home on the National Register of Historic Places.

Lisa Mantarro Moore of the Foundation said the foundation is "very excited about this incredible opportunity and huge undertaking."

City Attorney Mike Lyions said the city and Foundation are "both feeling our way through it" in reference to crafting a "more permanent agreement in 12 months."

Moore agreed, saying "we need to take this one piece at a time."