July 27, 2008

Fort Ti sees gloomy financial picture

Historic site faces gloomy financial picture; artifacts may be sold


TICONDEROGA -- The financial situation at Fort Ticonderoga is so bleak it is considering closing or selling items from its collections to raise operating capital.

The money from selling paintings or artifacts could enable the non-profit organization to keep running, although state laws would normally bar the fort from using the money for anything but additional collection items.


The situation was created when the new Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center was built, fort Executive Director Nicholas Westbrook said.

He said the new building cost about $23 million, and the fort only had $22 million to pay the bills.

"We're looking at a variety of options to close the gap. Everything up to let's hold a big sale. No decisions have been made yet."

The Mars Education Center is a re-creation of the original design for the French barracks at Fort Ticonderoga and includes classrooms, exhibit space and an auditorium.

The fort is also having trouble meeting its payroll and paying other bills.


The new building is named for Deborah Clarke Mars, who is married to Mars Inc. candy company heir Forrest Mars Jr.

The couple had been among the fort's largest contributors, but a falling out between them and Westbrook resulted in their estrangement from the fort.

Mrs. Mars was president of the fort Board of Trustees for the last two years, and she and her husband often spent time in Ticonderoga, her hometown.

She has been replaced as president by Peter S. Paine Jr. of Willsboro, an attorney and banker.

Paine has put the full amount needed by the fort at about $2.5 million.


Earlier this year, Mr. Mars sent a letter to Westbrook and some members of the fort's Board of Trustees saying, "The ride is over."

The letter said Westbrook would not listen to new ideas and had stopped communicating with Mrs. Mars.

"We will not be writing any further checks," Mr. Mars wrote. "Your performance as a manager is lacking. As a historian and archivist, etc., you excel. You have not given proper supervision and leadership to the staff."

Mr. Mars said he and his wife paid for most of the Mars Education Center.

"As far as the new center, I would think that besides not communicating with your president (Mrs. Mars) regarding the opening of it, the exhibits to be in it, the budget for operating it and a program for the future use, you might have been nice enough and polite enough to communicate with the major donor (Mr. Mars). Not a word from you to either of us. We do not even know if you can fund it."

The letter also said Mr. Mars had paid for one of Westbrook's sons to attend an elite private school and had paid for exotic vacations for Westbrook and his wife.

Westbrook said he won't comment specifically on Mr. Mars's letter but wishes either of them had discussed their issues with him before sending it.


Without releasing exact amounts, Westbrook said it's important to know the Marses were not the only contributors to the new Education Center.

"It was due to the tremendous generosity of Forrest and Deborah Mars and 350 other donors. When we started, some members of our board thought that we'd be fortunate to raise $2 million."

The building might bear Deborah Mars's name, but many other people helped, Westbrook said.

"This project has opened a lot of doors for us over the last five years."

He said Mrs. Mars originally stood up at an 18th-century-style officers' dinner at the fort and offered the Education Center as a gift.

"I think Forrest and Deborah had in mind a transformational gift. They challenged us to become a year-round operation, extending our reach into the wider world and finding new ways to be relevant to audiences of all kinds."