In mid-June, Diane Schiavoni set off on a task with the lofty goal of raising $50,000 for a new roof and other needed repairs to the dilapidated grandstand in Mashashimuet Park.
Every Friday and Saturday morning from 9 to 11 a.m., Mrs. Schiavoni and Nancy Benvent, a member of the park board, have set up a folding table in front of Schiavoni’s Market on Main Street, where they while away the time chatting with Sag Harbor locals and visitors alike. They punctuate their conversations with the occasional query, “Would you like to help the park?” to passersby who seem on the fence.
The soft sell approach appears to be working. With about two weeks before her initial Labor Day deadline, Mrs. Schiavoni has raked in about $35,000 for the project. With HarborFest taking place the weekend after Labor Day, it’s a good bet she’ll extend her deadline to take advantage of the crowds expected in the village.
So far, there has been one major contribution: Ted Conklin, the owner of the American Hotel, has pledged $10,000 to the project, informing Mrs. Schiavoni she could reveal his name only if she thought it would help push the project over the finish line. She thinks it will.
Most contributions have been in the neighborhood of $1 to $20, with the occasional Ben Franklin tossed into the glass jar the women keep on their table behind rows of shingles that correspond to the amount donated, with $1 buying a single shingle and $5 buying five.
But now, Mrs. Schiavoni said she has reason to feel even more optimistic. A woman who has requested anonymity informed Mrs. Schiavoni that if she succeeded in raising $50,000, she would match that amount.
With a few other promised donations hanging in the balance and a hard push the next couple of weeks, Mrs. Schiavoni expects to meet her goal.
“We just want to thank everyone who has donated,” Mrs. Schiavoni said.
“Now, we just have to get it over the finish line,” added Ms. Benvent.
Mrs. Schiavoni started her fundraiser when it was revealed the Sag Harbor School District was considering not renewing its contract to use park facilities.
Unlike most parks, which are owned by a local municipality and obtain their funding through taxes, Mashashimuet Park, which was given to the village by Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, has long depended on the school district for a major source of its revenue.
Just last week, the school district and park board ended their impasse, reaching an agreement that which will extend their contract for another year. It also calls for the school district to hold a referendum for a capital improvement bond and enter into a new 25-year lease with the park. While school district taxpayers would underwrite improvements, the park would be required to maintain new facilities.
In the meantime, the park board, which is looking to special events to raise money for a different project each year, is holding a 5k walk/run on September 11 that will take place completely in the confines of the park with the finish line passing in front of the grandstand, which it will benefit.
The grandstand itself was built in the late 1800s when the park was the site of horse and carriage races. Later, the Sag Harbor Fire Department held tournaments at the site.
Donations for the grandstand can be sent to the Parks & Recreation Association of Sag Harbor, P.O. Box 1653, Sag Harbor, NY 11963. Additional information about the park itself can be found at mashashimuetpark.org.