Editorial / The irony of Pequot Library's finances
For the past several years, the Pequot Library has reserved its Great Lawn on the first Saturday in May for its annual "Derby Day Party".
The fundraiser celebrates the running of the Kentucky Derby 800 miles away in Louisville, and library supporters on May 4 paid up to $350 to reserve a tailgating spot on the lawn.
Without advance newspaper publicity, the event drew a record crowd of more than 200 people who -- if they didn't tailgate -- paid at least $60 each to put on their best genteel-southern manners, wear broad-brim hats and sip mint juleps as though they were at Churchill Downs.
The lavish party -- replete with vintage autos -- was hosted as the library at the same time was claiming financial need.
About 48 hours after the Derby winner crossed the finish line, Fairfield's Representative Town Meeting would vote on whether the town should give the library $350,000. Without it, Pequot said, it would be forced to close its doors.
In fact, the library attributed the record turnout for Derby Day to the fact it needed the money.
Therein lays the great irony of the Pequot's financial condition.
The elegant, brownstone building is an architectural icon, and it sits on Pequot Avenue in one of Connecticut's most exclusive neighborhoods. The library is open to the public but is run by a private association that raises about 65 percent of its operating budget.
The Pequot is a hub of high culture, hosting classical music concerts and recitals, art shows and lectures -- some unique to the town. It has a rare-book collection so valuable that much of it must be stored elsewhere.
Surrounded by wealth and with supporters eager to pay $350 for a parking spot on the lawn on Derby Day, should the Pequot get any money from the town?
The answer this year? Absolutely.
The town as long as anyone can remember has donated to the library's operating budget. But the Board of Finance gave the library just 24-hour notice that it planned to eliminate its entire $350,000 stipend. It was a cheap shot that left the library without time to find alternative revenue. Ultimately, the RTM did the right thing and restored the money.
But what about next year? That is yet to be determined, and frank discussion is warranted.
There is no doubt the Pequot can raise money. It already raises about 65 percent of its operating costs.
With receipts from the Derby Day fundraiser, the Pequot now is turning its attention to its annual golf outing on May 28. Supporters will put down $750 each for a round of golf at the private Country Club of Fairfield across the harbor from the library, plus lunch and an after-golf cocktail party.
K2 Advisors, a Stamford hedge fund, already has paid $10,000 to again be the title sponsor.
In addition to K2, the list of main sponsors last year reads like a financial-services roster. They included luncheon sponsor Corbin Capital Partners, cocktail sponsor Seligman Investments and mid-course refreshment tent sponsor P. Schoenfeld Asset Management LP. Those three sponsorships are available this year at $5,000 each, according to Pequot's website.
With its funding in jeopardy, the Pequot over the past month has painted itself as a resource for the entire town, not just residents of the Southport ZIP code. Pequot officials have stressed its synergies with the two public library branches and the fact that some of its signature events -- including its legendary summer book sale -- bring into town people who spend money here at restaurants, shops and gas stations.
Town and Pequot officials should come to a clear understanding about future municipal funding sooner rather than later. The finance board's unexpected cut came on a close 5-4 vote, and Pequot got a groundswell of support for restoring the money -- including in this space because the cut was without warning.
But next year is another issue. And clarity is needed soon.