A $7,500 grant from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation could have helped pay for a long-term plan of action for the John Benjamin House, aka the "White House," the historic but shabby mansion that theatre supporters hope to transform into a center for the arts.
The money could have also helped pay for ongoing architectural work at the building, which sits at the entrance to Shakespeare Theatre on Elm Street, said Tom Yemm, chairman of Stratford's Historic District Commission.
It's not that the town's application for the $7,500 grant wasn't approved -- it was: "We have allocated $7,500 for a conditions assessment and preservation plan for the John Benjamin House at 1850 Elm Street, Stratford," reads a letter to Stratford Mayor John A. Harkins, dated Dec. 2011 (Read the letter in full as it is attached to this article as a PDF).
The money was never realized, Yemm said, because Harkins, as the grantee and "owner of the property," never signed on the dotted line.
"It appears a relatively small amount of money has been left on the table," Yemm said. As a matching grant, the town would have had to equal the $7,500 with either cash funds or in-kind donations, according to the language of the grant.
A message left for the mayor Tuesday was not returned as of late Wednesday.
Yemm said the grant was officially rescinded a few weeks ago. That was after he called the Connecticut Trust and was told they did not hear anything from the town since sending out the letter of approval in Dec. 2011.
"We (the Historic District Commission) did a lot of work, we get a grant and all the town had to do was fill out a simple contract," Yemm said.
Stratford Town Council members in July 2012 approved a "local historic property" designation for the John Benjamin House, a move meant to better the chances at securing state and federal funding through preservation grants.
At that summer meeting, Council Chairman Joseph Kubic (R-9) asked: "If the [Shakespeare] theatre fails, can the White House be removed?" Town Attorney Tim Bishop said yes, it can, but there'd have to be "no reasonable alternative to demolition."
The town is currently considering a few million-dollar options for breathing new life into the long-shuttered theatre. A consulting group hired by the town for about $160,000 presented in April this year three options for redevelopment, which ranged in price from $3.2 to $30 million.
This week, Councilman Matt Catalano (R-3) said about $168,000 of funds bonded for Shakespeare Theatre has been spent to "shore up the White House."
In October, the Town Council . At that meeting, Kubic, who months earlier asked about the possible removal of the White House, said: "I understand this building. We've realized it's in good shape [and] going to be a gem for the community."
As of a couple weeks ago, the building still showed some severe damage, most notably a hole in the ceiling of one of the 13-plus rooms.
"It has some serious needs but it's been saved from oblivion," said Yemm.
PHOTOS: Restoring Stratford's 'White House' (About volunteer work being done at mansion.)