Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Council wants study on Citizen's Block building

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
March 4, 2008

VERNON - Town officials are hoping to conduct a state funded feasibility study on the reuse of the near empty and deteriorating Citizen's Block Building for the Connecticut Music Museum and Hall of Fame.

At tonight's Town Council meeting, discussion will center on the proposal to seek $40,000 for the study from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, with the goal of determining marketability of the museum and the best way to refurbish the building for such a use.

The town owns the building at 28-34 Park Place, at the corner of Elm Street, next door to the Senior Center and two doors down from Town Hall. The 15,000-square-foot brick structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the summer state legislative leaders toured downtown Rockville and the virtually vacant site to see if a state music museum could be housed there.

In the last year, the town aggressively marketed the sale of the building, but found no developers who wanted to bid on the project as renovation would be too costly.

The entire three-story structure needs to be gutted, and costs are expected to be significant, with environmental cleanup alone estimated between $160,000 to $178,000.

Constructed in 1879, the building formerly housed a post office, drug store, and a tailor shop. Its only tenant now is the Rockville Downtown Association.

With no interest coming from the private sector, the town is hoping to now find a savior in the state.

During the summer tour, Speaker of the House James Amann, D-Milford, said Vernon might be a good location for a state Music Hall of Fame with local rock 'n' roll legend Gene Pitney highlighted in the museum.

Pitney, who topped the charts in the 1960s with such hits as "Town Without Pity," "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance," and "Only Love Can Break a Heart," rose to international stardom after spending his early career as a singer in a local Rockville band. Known affectionately at the Rockville Rocket, Pitney was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

The General Assembly last year secured funds to create a Connecticut Music Hall of Fame that would honor homegrown singers, writers, composers, producers, and others in the music industry.

According to town and some state officials, that dovetails nicely with local efforts to enshrine Pitney.

Shortly after his death on April 5, 2006, a local commemorative committee was formed with the idea of creating a Gene Pitney museum in downtown Rockville.

The integration of the two initiatives would result in "one well coordinated attraction that would interest more visitors," the local grant proposal reads.

And the Citizen's Block building itself is "particularly well suited for the museum," as the area is a major destination spot for a variety of people visiting the local storefronts, court and government buildings, and Rockville General Hospital, the proposal continues.

The town bought the building in 1998 for roughly $31,000 so it could maintain control of the three historic properties along Park Place.

In 2004 voters rejected by a slim margin a proposal to spend $37.6 million in public improvements that included, among other projects, repair work to the floors at the Citizen's Block building.

The council will meet tonight at 7:30 at the Senior Center.

©Journal Inquirer 2008