LACONIA — A meeting of the Belknap Mill Society will be held on Wednesday, January 14 at the mill, beginning at 7:30 p.m., to consider the financial challenges facing the society's ownership and operation of the historic downtown building.
There are approximately 150 individual and corporate members of the society.
In October, Chris Santaniello, the president of the society, informed city officials that the society lacks the financial resources to sustain its ownership of the building and is seeking a "partner" to ensure that the mill remains open to the public. At a non-public meeting with the City Council, the leadership of the society offered the mill to the city at an undisclosed price, but councilors declined the offer and urged the society to explore alternative arrangements.
Santaniello said that the meeting is closed to all but the membership of the society. She said that members will be informed of the issues facing the society and invited to offer suggestions for addressing them.
Last month, when the City Council hosted a public forum on the future of the mill, George Roberts of Gilmanton, a past president of the society, voiced his concern that the leadership of the society had entered conversations with city officials without consulting its members.
The society has operated at a loss for a number of years and all but exhausted its reserves as the cost of maintaining the building have continued to rise. Although the society has received grants to fund some repairs, it lacks the funds to finance major capital expenses, particularly the replacement of the boiler.
The use of the building is closely restricted by an easement granted by the society to the state in return for funds in 2004. The restrictions and obligations the easement places on the owner of the mill, especially a prohibition against operating it for private profit, represent strong disincentives for any private party other than a philanthropist to invest in the property.
The declared intent of the easement is "to ensure that the architectural, historical, and cultural features" of the mill are sustained and "to prevent any use or change of the property" that would "impair or interfere" with this purpose. The easement provides that if the society divests itself of all or part of the building, its "restrictions, stipulations, and covenants" shall bind the new owner. Furthermore, the easement expressly prohibits the subdivision of the building and specifies that if sold, it must be sold "as a unit."
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