The old saying is that all politics is local. That’s definitely true in Stonington, where residents recently had an in-person town meeting at the local baseball field, so as to allow appropriate social distancing. At the meeting, the attendees discussed and voted on a number of issues. One of them was what whether to proceed with the town purchasing the building shown above.
It’s the former meeting hall for the local chapter of the International Order of Odd Fellows, located on the western edge of Stonington’s small downtown area. There aren’t many Odd Fellows left in Stonington, so the organization offered to sell the building to the town. Town officials were supportive of the idea and put it on the agenda for the town meeting, where residents voted to approve the purchase.
Why would residents vote to approve the acquisition of an old fraternal organization building? One of the arguments was to keep it out of the hands of a buyer who would turn it into a personal residence, thereby further hemming in the commercial area of town. And while the building may need a lot of work—a point made by opponents of the purchase—the property sits on precious waterfront and includes an old dock, both of which could give rise to commercial uses.
The cost of the building to taxpayers is initially estimated to be $525,000, which is a lot of money for a small town. Town officials are exploring the possibility of getting federal and state aid to help pay for the purchase and the necessary refurbishing work, and also are working on potential uses for the building.
It’s a tough issue. The Odd Fellows’ Hall could turn out to be a white elephant that puts a crimp in the city budget, but towns like Stonington need to preserve their commercial areas, too. It’s a risk, of course, but it’s reasonable to believe that some business somewhere will see the potential of a building that commands a great view of the harbor and will turn a derelict venue into a functioning contributor to life in downtown Stonington. The voters at the town meeting see an opportunity. Now we’ll keep an eye on that building to see if the opportunity is realized.