By Megan Dooley
Dominican University has decided to give up property management of the Hemingway Boyhood Home, after two years of fundraising efforts failed to bring in enough money to purchase the Oak Park property.
President Donna Carroll confirmed that the university was unable to collect some $1.5 million in funds necessary to buy the property, largely due to the poor economic climate.
The university entered into an agreement with the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park in the fall of 2009 to collaborate on a project to enhance the family home of Ernest Hemingway, which is located at 600 N. Kenilworth, and which is currently set up as a three-flat. As part of the agreement, the university assumed management responsibilities of the property, and took on tasks including rent collection, and maintenance and upkeep.
The Hemingway Foundation also owns and operates the Hemingway Birth Home and the Hemingway Museum. Both are on Oak Park Avenue. Those efforts will continue.
When it entered into the agreement, Dominican did so with the intention of spending two years exploring the feasibility of eventually purchasing the property from the foundation.
"The funding just hasn't come through," Carroll said, despite the fact that there has been great enthusiasm for the academic and cultural collaboration. She said the state of the economy has undermined what was an already ambitious fundraising effort. "People are ... less able to take on projects like this," she said.
On April 1, Dominican declined to exercise their option to purchase. Hemingway Foundation board member Allan Baldwin said the next step for is simply to figure out how to move forward.
"We've reached this sort of poignant crossroads," Baldwin said. "Now the foundation has to determine what we can do."
The foundation acquired the property in 2001 after the former owner gave them first right of refusal. A low-interest loan from Mike Kelly's Park National Bank enabled them to make the purchase. Board members have since been looking at viable options for long-term ownership and preservation of the home. They were hopeful, upon entering into the agreement with Dominican, that they'd found it. After Park National was shut down by federal regulators in October 2009, U.S. Bank absorbed its assets, including the note on the Hemingway home.
According to Carroll, Dominican launched a dynamic campaign to tell the story of the house, and of the Hemingway family during their years spent living there. The first floor was intended to become an international education space, and the university also wanted to restore a music room on the side of the house where Ernest Hemingway's mother, Grace, offered lessons and staged recitals.
Baldwin said the next steps are bound to be complicated, and no decisions have yet been made. But the options are few. He said it's unlikely that they'll forge another partnership as promising as the one with Dominican, and it's a long shot that they'll find an "angel" willing to put up the $2 million or so needed to purchase and restore the property for the foundation.
More likely, they will have to find a friendly buyer (who would accommodate occasional tours of the home) or sell the home on the open market.
"We're kind of back in the situation we were in before," Baldwin said.
Foundation chairman John Berry said they'd love to find a friendly buyer for the property, and there is a slim possibility that Hemingway's sole surviving son, Patrick, might be interested. The note on the house is due at the end of June. The foundation is talking with U.S. Bank about the terms of the loan.
However it turns out, Baldwin said the foundation is grateful for Dominican's efforts thus far. He said that the partnership helped communicate to the community the importance of the boyhood home. Only after Dominican took the reigns was the history of the home thoroughly explored and explained. Both sides said the cultural/academic collaboration has been a success and hope to continue that in the future.
"We're happy with all of the great physical things that Dominican did for the house," he said. "In that sense, we're coming out ahead."