Bush-Holley House campus is aiming for $18.5M fundraising effort

By Phil Hall

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Greenwich’s Bush-Holley House is doubly significant in Connecticut history for its importance during the colonial era and as the epicenter of the Cos Cob Art Colony that was credited with driving the American Impressionist movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Greenwich Historical Society, which operates the campus that is home to the Bush-Holley House, is in the midst of an $18.5 million fundraising campaign with a three-pronged goal of campus transformation, expanding educational and historic preservation initiatives and increasing the society’s endowment.

Peter Malkin, chairman of the Reimagine the Greenwich Historical Society Campaign and chairman emeritus of Empire State Realty Trust in Manhattan, sees economic benefits deriving from the fundraising effort for a site considered a significant source of Fairfield County’s tourism cash flow.

An artist's rendering of the renovated Toby's Tavern and Storehouse at the Bush-Holley House campus. An artist’s rendering of the renovated Toby’s Tavern and Storehouse at the Bush-Holley House campus.

“The existing campus is very limited,” Malkin said. “It attracted 15,000 visitors this year, with one-quarter of them coming from outside of Connecticut. These tourists came to the area and spent their money in the area. Our hope, when we embarked on this campaign, was that the 15,000 visitors per year would be increased to 30,000. Tourists bring revenue and economic impact studies show that the people that come to see tourist sites spend a lot of money in the surrounding area.”

Malkin said the expansion project will also help the local economy by bringing in new construction jobs while aiding state coffers by having additional tax revenues generated by an increased visitor presence.

The campaign has already attracted a trio of elected officials — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei and state Sen. Scott Frantz — and their wives as honorary campaign leaders.

The expansion of the Bush-Holley campus was designed by the Southport-based historic preservation architectural firm of David Scott Parker Architects and was approved by the Greenwich Historical Society’s board of directors two years ago. When completed, the upgraded campus will feature increase parking spaces from 22 to 48 spots and improved handicap access that will include a new elevator. Restored landscaping is being designed to provide more open space for outdoor events and a summer camp. The campus’ 1805 Storehouse will be renovated and converted from an exhibit space to a center for staff offices.

An ambitious aspect of the project is the restoration of a historic building with an important commercial connection to the area.

“Toby’s Tavern will be restored to its physical appearance in the late 19th century, when it was the gathering place for the artists and writers who worked here,” Malkin said. “Before that, it was the Railroad Hotel between 1850 and 1870. The restored Toby’s Tavern will include a café, a gift shop and the entrance to new archives and two new galleries that are being built on the foundation of two barns that were below Toby’s Tavern.”

Malkin added that the galleries will be divided between a permanent exhibition from the historical society’s art collection and rotating exhibits reflecting the cultural diversity of the region. “We have an exhibition in 2017 that will highlight the role of the Jewish community in Greenwich from the Revolutionary War to the present,” he said.

The Greenwich Historic Society raised $10 million toward its campaign goal in what it called “the initial quiet phase,” with the remainder being sought through public outreach. Anonymous donors have agreed to a dollar-for-dollar match on the first $6.75 million in this period, which Malkin hoped to see completed by the end of the year.

The historical society has received a pair of endowment gifts of $250,000 each, said Malkin, who hopes to see additional endowment contributions through planned giving.

As for the Bush-Holley House itself, designated a national historical site and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Malkin said that it is not undergoing any restorations and will remain operational during construction and renovations on the campus.

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