Proposed Agricultural Heritage Center Presented to Township Council

Would require capital investment of $1.7 million and cost $220,000 annually to operate

ag heritage centerA plan to turn the Stoothoff-Gunther farmstead on South Middlebush Road into an agricultural historic site was presented to the Township Council at its Nov. 26 meeting.

The Franklin Agricultural Heritage Center, as it would be called, would draw an estimated 17,000 visitors a year and provide a place for recreation, education and preservation, the council was told by Barbara Lawrence of the township Historical Preservation Advisory Commission.

Lawrence told the council that the site would cost about $220,000 a year to operate and would require a capital investment of about $1.7 million.

She said that the site could raise about $40,000 in annual revenue, with the balance of the operating costs needing to be raised by other methods.

“It’s not an unusual model to have local support,” she said.

Somerset County has already ponied up about $235,000 that will be used to stabilize the property’s farm house, she said.

The 1740 farm house’s first floor will eventually be used as a museum and exhibit space, as well as site offices, Lawrence said.

She said a barn would be preserved and used as a “teaching space.”

Trails on the property would be designed to fit in with the township’s Master Trails Plan, Lawrence said.

Another $50,000 grant was used to create a feasibility study for the site, she said.

“We have a plan and even have starter money to move ahead,” Lawrence said.

“This is land we already own,” she said. “We either do something with it or we don’t, and it rots and falls down.”

Lawrence said she was at the meeting to ask the council to include the site in the township Master Plan.

But township attorney Louis Rainone said he wasn’t sure that was the proper place for the plan.

“It sounds to be more of a specific type of capital project,” he said.

It was then suggested that Lawrence speak with township planner Mark Healey for his thoughts.




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