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Sunnybrook, Township at Odds Over Grant

SANATOGA PA – An $80,000 Montgomery County grant, which was earmarked to buy a new East High Street sign promoting events at Sunnybrook Ballroom, is being held up over contract language that Lower Pottsgrove (PA) Township worries could be far more expensive during the next 10 years.

The entrance to Sunnybrook Ballroom on a sunnier day.

The entrance to Sunnybrook Ballroom on a sunnier day.

Township officials and representatives of Sunnybrook Foundation – the ballroom’s owner – expect to meet with the county during the next two weeks in an attempt to resolve the impasse. Until then the ballroom, which has evolved into a glittering local showcase for weddings, trade shows and small conventions, must rely on its decades-old billboard to let passing traffic know about upcoming activities.

The foundation won county money last year as part of what it presented as a $1.2 million renovation project for the historic ballroom at 50 Sunnybrook Rd. In addition to better signage, the place needs a new furnace, some upgrades, and other repairs. The township agreed to accept the money from the county, pass it on to Sunnybrook, and ensure it was properly spent.

But a county contract that sets up pass-through relations with the township isn’t acceptable as written, Lower Pottsgrove’s Board of Commissioners said Monday night (Jan. 5, 2009). Board members fret that its wording makes the township responsible for not just administration of the grant, but of the entire project.

Moreover, according to township Solicitor R. Kurtz Holloway‘s interpretation, the contract also requires the township to pay out money on the county’s behalf and wait for reimbursement. It names the township, not the foundation, as the party responsible for maintaining Sunnybrook’s improvements. It even demands the township pay the county’s legal costs for any lawsuit that could arise from the renovations.

“We want nothing more than to see this money come to the foundation,” Commissioner Jonathan Spadt assured Sunnybrook supporters. “We applaud your efforts. We’re fighting with the county.”

Local developer and foundation representative Wil Hallman contended the same contract had been accepted by other townships for similar pass-throughs without difficulty. “You’re making quite a scare about this … making like this is something brand new,” Hallman said, suggesting Holloway’s concerns were unnecessary. “We don’t want to end up being the municipality you read about that had a problem,” board President Bruce Foltz replied.

There’s no guarantee that, following a meeting with the county, the contract will be changed to satisfy commissioners. They admitted the possibility exists the township could return the grant if it finds the legal language too onerous. “We certainly hope that doesn’t happen,” Commissioner James Phillips said. “We’ve been behind Sunnybrook from the start.”

The township’s defined responsibilities, however, “have to be reasonable,” Spadt added. “The question is, how much risk do we have to take?” He predicted the grant, eventually, would find its way into the foundation’s hands.

Related (to the Lower Pottsgrove Board of Commissioners’ Jan. 5 meeting):

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