To the Editor:
Welcome to Tisbury!
The Old Tisbury Firehouse lot has been vacant since 2012, and since then has been used exclusively for parking by a handful of businesses. This use of a town-owned lot in central Vineyard Haven has not generated much money, and it has remained an ugly eyesore, graded to obscure the view of Veterans Park, the largest park in town. Veterans Park also abuts our new M.V. Museum, which is already drawing record crowds of visitors.
In 2015, the town meeting voted unanimously to appropriate $50,000 for the development of a pocket park linking State Road and Veterans Park at the firehouse lot. In 2017, town voters went even further with another $50,000 appropriation for design work, benches, planning, lighting, bike racks, and limited parking.
According to recent reporting in The Times, Tisbury selectmen continue to think that parking represents the ideal use of the firehouse lot. I couldn’t disagree more. What we don’t need between Main Street and Five Corners is more traffic in and out of an already congested State Road location. What we do need, however, is a welcome center for the increasing numbers of visitors to our town that pass through without spending any time or money. We’re losing real business to other towns that have invested in facilities far beyond what Tisbury offers our guests. Our current pedestrian facilities feature a circle of benches around a traffic and bus circle, with little shade or protection from the elements. It’s a noisy and congested commercial area that encourages people to leave Tisbury as quickly as possible.
The firehouse lot is well situated to provide space for a welcome center that will be a powerful and welcoming boon to our merchants and cultural community. Docents could lead tours of our historic town. A welcome center would offer visitors a place away from the trucks, noise and shadeless Steamship lot … a place to gather up the kids, load up the stroller, and head out to discover Tisbury.
Stop & Shop, whose presence dominates our waterfront and whose failed expansion plan continues to hold the town hostage with its decrepit storefront, has actually offered the historic Caleb Prouty House to the town as a part of their expansion deal. The Prouty House is buried from view behind what used to be the Golden Dragon, but this historic house could and should be moved from the site to become Tisbury’s new Welcome Center.
Stop & Shop’s original expansion plan called for demolishing this historic building, one of the few buildings to survive the 1883 fire that devastated much of downtown Vineyard Haven. The Prouty House, built sometime prior to 1838, is a prime example of Greek Revival architecture, and was built by mariners. A 2013 M.V. Commission review recommended the house be preserved and registered on the local and state Registry of Historic Places. Why not move the Prouty House to the firehouse lot and let it become our welcome center, continuing its historic run at our waterfront?
The Prouty House could meet visitors’ needs on the first floor, and provide town government with additional office space on the second floor. Community Preservation funds (funds we can allocate at town meeting) could be used to pay for the move and upgrading the house with modern facilities.
I am still waiting to see those design plans we approved at town meeting with $100,000 of Community Preservation fund money. They should form the basis of a broader conversation. Vineyard Haven is more than just the place for freight boats, the oil tanks on Beach Road, and the crowds of people walking and driving onto boats in the Island’s year-round harbor. We have a beautiful town to share with our summer visitors.
Why not work together to make the firehouse lot a gateway to Veterans Park, and a welcome center for visitors year-round?