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Source: Springfield Sun
Date: December 10, 2004
Byline: Joe Barron

Advisory group presents plans for inn restoration

Champions of the Black Horse Inn won a reprieve Monday for the 200-year-old orphan on Bethlehem Pike, but the Springfield Township commissioners stopped short of promising the building would never be demolished.

The Black Horse Advisory Committee and its three task forces presented the commissioners with a preliminary plan to raise money, public awareness, and volunteer labor for the restoration of the inn.

While the commissioners responded with enthusiasm, they also said the public response to an appeal for donations could determine whether the Black Horse stands or falls.

"If the interest of the people isn't there, I don't see how we can continue wasting taxpayers' money," Commissioner Robert Gillies said.

The advisory committee drew up the preservation plan in response to the commissioners' discussions in November about the possibility of tearing down the inn.

Under the court-approved agreement with Moreland Development, which is building a Walgreens and liquor store on Bethlehem Pike, the township has assumed the deed for the Black Horse Inn, although it has delayed registering the deed while renegotiating the subdivision plan with Moreland. The township asked for a larger parcel of land for the building than the developer initially offered after inspection revealed the oldest and most historic section of the building is the rear, which was originally slated for demolition.

Although the agreement with Moreland saved the Black Horse for the time being, the commissioners have not decided on a use for the inn, and its future remains in doubt. The agreement requires the township to renovate the exterior of the building within 10 months of registering the deed, but in addition to taking responsibility for the inn, the commissioners have also pledged not to raise taxes to pay the entire cost of the renovation.

The township has already paid architects $80,000 for a structural assessment and renovation plans, and its capital reserve fund now contains about $154,000 earmarked for the Black Horse, according to Township Manager Don Berger.

Repairing the structure enough to prevent further deterioration during the winter would cost about $226,000, according to Scott Kreilick, the chairman of the advisory committee. Commissioners gave no indication Monday whether they would be willing to allocate that amount from township funds, nor did they respond to the advisory committee's second request, the retention of a professional fund-raiser to manage a $1.5 million capital campaign drive.

John Alviti, chairman of the advisory committee's fund-raising subcommittee, proposed raising $1.4 million for the inn's renovation, plus an additional $100,000 for maintenance. Under his plan, $150,000, or 10 percent of the total, would be raised through a direct appeal to township residents, and the township would contribute 20 percent, or $300,000.

The remaining 70 percent would come from institutions, including the state and federal governments, if possible, and an appeal to wealthier private patrons, Alviti said.

The prospect of further township spending on the inn elicited a skeptical response from Neil Schofield, a resident of Erdenheim. Although the approximately 50 people in the meeting room supported saving the Black Horse, he contended, the majority of the township residents showed no interest in it, and previous appeals for money had resulted in meager donations.

"All I know tonight is that we've got a couple hundred dollars after five years," he said.

Schofield urged the commissioners to survey residents before spending any more money on the inn, and he suggested the $154,000 in the capital fund would be better used for flood control or a tax break.

The crowd disagreed with him, and to get the fund-raising started, Jane Roberts, a former township commissioner, pledged $500.

"We are not a poor community," she said. "We can take care of flooding problems and still preserve one small bit of history left from among so many that have been razed."