Rockwood Can No Longer Function With Small Intimate Groups of Visitors
County Executive Tom Gordon says he’ll need to create programs in order to keep museum afloat.
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In 2004, the Friends transferred ownership of the furniture to the county, along with six acres along Shipley Road that the Friends had purchased in the 1980s to round out the estate’s grounds.
When Chris Coons became county executive in 2005, the Friends returned. But membership, which once approached 500, had fallen to 100 or less, according to June Zappa, the current Friends president.
The poor housing market cut sharply into the county’s revenues from the real estate transfer tax. Rockwood’s operating budget was more than cut in half—from $827,000 under Coons in fiscal 2007 to $350,000 under his successor, Paul Clark, in fiscal 2012. And spending for improvements disappeared altogether.
Both Coons and Clark quietly discussed unloading Rockwood—Coons was working with Wilmington University officials, who were looking for a site in Brandywine Hundred. Clark, who worked with the state, suggested that it might make good sense for a single government entity to manage the parkland and historic sites that stretch from the Delaware River at Fox Point west to Rockwood. The talks fizzled.
Meanwhile, the Friends hoped to raise about $500,000 by approaching foundations. They planned to finance repairs for the conservatory, but had little success.
Then, in November 2012, Gordon returned to office for a third term. Both Gordon and the Friends hoped their relationship would be better the second time around. When Gordon’s election appeared inevitable, the group decided to encourage a climate of cooperation.
“It would be very helpful if we had a partnership…. I never went into this thing saying I want the Friends out,” Gordon says.