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Selectmen OK $1.5m sale of Jonathan Maynard building to Danforth Museum

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  February 6, 2013 10:17 AM

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In a unanimous vote to thunderous applause Tuesday night, the Framingham Board of Selectmen said they will allow the Danforth Museum to purchase the historic Jonathan Maynard building on Vernon Street from the town for $1 million in cash and $500,000 in community services.

The move will "allow for the creation of a cultural district to be supported" in the area surrounding the Centre Common, which also houses the Framingham History Center and classrooms for Framingham State University, said the museum's director, Katherine French.

The museum wants to move its exhibitions and art classes over from its current location, 123 Union Ave., because the deteriorating building costs too much money to fix, museum leaders previously told the Globe.

The sale, which requires final approval from Framingham’s Town Meeting in May, would require the museum to put $250,000 down at the closing, and pay off the remaining $750,000 to the town through a 25-year mortgage.

The town will also be granted a 75-year right of first refusal on any future sale of the building.

Under the agreement, the museum will be required to provide all Framingham residents with discounts on memberships and tours as well as access to need-based scholarships for studio art classes. The museum must also continue to provide educational programs for Framingham Public Schools, and continue to work with adult English as a Second Language students, as well as provide other community-based programming.

The museum must also honor the town's lease with Framingham State, which rents second-floor space in the building to the university. The lease is for three years starting last summer.

If the sale is approved by Town Meeting, the museum plans to start moving exhibitions and classes to the Jonathan Maynard building by fall 2013, and to relocate operations permanently by fall 2016.

Danforth officials have also previously discussed constructing an addition onto the building with controlled lighting and humidity.

The building had been vacant for years before the Danforth responded to a request for proposals put out by the town last year, outlining a plan to occupy the building in phases.

“It’s a more adaptable space, and is really able to fit to our needs,” French said previously.

The Framingham center location also provides ample parking and brings more foot traffic, she said.

The Danforth has seen a spike in class attendance and exhibition admissions: the museum has grown its operations 8 percent since 2007, and increased membership more than five-fold, from 700 individuals in 2005 — when French took the reins as director — to 3,700 as of summer last year.

Framingham town manager Robert Halpin said that he thought the agreement made sense to both the museum and the town.

"From the town's perspective, this is a wonderful community reuse for a historical building that was vacant for many years," he said at the meeting. "There would be a significant cash payment, as well as in-kind benefits to residents, and also protection to the town."

Halpin also added that once the museum moves out of their current downtown location, the town could use that space for additional development opportunities.

“We’re a community-based museum,” French previously said. “We feel very strongly that we should support the community, and that we’re the reflection of the community we’re in.”

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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