By Harry Keaney
The Irish-American group Tara Circle has been given another permit to operate an educational and cultural center, this time in Yonkers.
Last week, in what was a timely and welcome St. Patrick’s Day gift to the Irish group, Yonkers City Council voted unanimously to grant Tara the permit.
Tara, however, has already been down this road before. In November 1994, Briarcliff Manor’s board of trustees also unanimously granted Tara a permit to operate a center in the King’s College in the village, but that effort eventually collapsed after an important Tara investor withdrew and other investors were discouraged by local opposition to Tara’s plans.
But this week, Tara President Jim Rice said the vote of the Yonkers City Council opened the way for the Irish group to fulfill a dream of ownership that started nearly 10 years ago.
Now, Tara is hopeful its efforts will finally bear fruit by establishing its headquarters on a 5.8-acre site in Northwest Yonkers that formerly belonged to Elizabeth Seton College. The site includes Alder Mansion, which was built in 1912 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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The City of Yonkers purchased the property in 1995 and subsequently issued what is known as a "request for proposals." In May of 1997, the bid submitted by Tara Circle was accepted.
Despite Tara’s delight at obtaining its permit, Rice was unable to say Tuesday when the new center would open.
"It’s too early to say," he said. "We will be moving in in stages."
He added that Yonkers Mayor John Spencer "can not sign off on the deal until 45 days after the vote."
Tara, an umbrella group for more than 100 Irish organizations, has a contract to purchase the site for $1.2 million but it will initially rent the property.
"We would like to have all the organizations in to see what they would like there," Rice said.
At present, Tara has rented space for its classes in nearby Foxfire School on North Broadway. Tara has classes in genealogy, art, crafts, dance, language, music, history and literature.
According to Rice, Tara will be depending on revenue generated from activities on the new site — such as genealogical research, classes and functions — to make its business plan a success. But Tara, will require substantial funds. Two years ago, the group received an estimate of $2 million for restoration of the Yonkers property.
Tara will not be allowed to carry out renovations to Alder Mansion because of its historic nature. "We can not go in and renovate the building, we never planned to," Rice said.
As to crucial issue of where Tara will find the necessary funding, Rice said: "I have been in touch with people on Wall Street and in the Boston area. We will be using the building as collateral to raise funds. It will be like a mortgage."
He said Tara would not now be going back to the Irish-American community for support, although some charter members had, he said, indicated that they wished to donate their subvention certificates — similar to bonds — as tax-deductible gifts. The subvention certificates were held by charter members who originally contributed $5,000 to the group.
Rice said others want their subvention certificates honored and that Tara would have to deal with that.