Good response to a tough call

Published 5:59 pm Wednesday, October 28, 2009

After an initial public outcry regarding the potential fate of Suffolk’s historic Obici House, things quieted down a bit as the City Council awaited responses to a request for proposals for plans to renovate, restore and reuse the property that was once the home of philanthropist and businessman Amedeo Obici and his wife Louise.

While members of the public have waited to see what future might be in store for the iconic Italianate structure that sits adjacent to the 18th green at Sleepy Hole Golf Course, members of at least one group have been busy developing a plan that would save the building from further deterioration, restore it to its original condition and put it to use in a way that will keep it open to the public — all with no tax liability for the city of Suffolk.

Citizens for the Preservation of Obici House formed in response to concerns that the home — known and loved by generations of folks who have called Suffolk and the surrounding areas home — would be destroyed or allowed to deteriorate beyond the neglected state in which it now sits. With members from all over the country — and others in Obici’s native Italy — the group has gone to great lengths to get the word out about the plight of the structure and the need for its protection.

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By submitting their proposal to protect and restore the Obici House last week, members of the CPOH effectively put their money where their mouths are. They believe in the project so much that they’re willing to buy the house and complete the work without significant help from the city, which stands to reap both tax and goodwill benefits when the work is done.

Under the CPOH proposal, the house would be turned into a restaurant, with room for 100 diners inside and about 50 on proposed terraces. There would be a gift shop that could sell items from Suffolk’s Sister City, Oderzo, Italy; and there would be an extensive wine cellar capable of hosting wine tastings. The nearby Carriage House would be converted into a Grill Room and offices for the golf course.

Facing a tough task — one that, in the end, few organizations were willing to tackle — the local preservation group came through with a workable plan that would achieve the major goals set forth by the city and result in a historic building of which the city can be proud. That would be a nice change.