Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, people already have shown strong interest in renting out Waveny House for weddings, parties and special events later this year, officials say.
The town has seen “a strong rental” interest in the historic house starting at the end of July through October, according to Recreation Director Steve Benko.
“We are booked every weekend for events, so hopefully we will be on the uptick and get through this pandemic and they can relax some of the restrictions they have,” Benko told members of the Parks & Recreation Commission during their Jan. 13 meeting, held via videoconference.
The comments came during Benko’s update to the appointed body, in response to a question from Commissioner Hank Green about whether Waveny House has remained competitive as a wedding and special events venue.
Benko said yes, that “people are interested.”
“Right now the big issue is the COVID restrictions,” he said. “Right now the state has limited capacity to 25 people at the house right now. It was up to 100 and then it got reduced down to 25. So we are hoping that as vaccines become available and we can get back to a more normal life, we will be able to open the house to more events and activities. But right now we are restricted to 25 people so that really limits our ability to use the house for meetings and to rent it out for weddings and parties.”
The discussion comes as a Ridgefield-based company works under a $777,992 contract with the town to create ADA-compliant entrances to Waveny House. The work is to include a new sidewalk leading to the west porch of the public building, new doorway there and raising of the “loggia” by the balcony out back, as well as upgrades to a fire escape along the side of the brick mansion, home to two municipal departments.
Various town bodies for years have studied and made recommendations on capital improvements to Waveny House.
In the past, town officials have described a multi-year project expected to cost $2.8 million that include creation of ADA-compliant bathrooms and installation of an elevator so that disabled people could access Waveny’s second floor, where the Recreation Department is located.
Public Works Director Tiger Mann said during a Jan. 11 meeting of the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee on Buildings and Infrastructure that the entrance-focused work at Waveny House is expected to be finished in June, and that the other work—encompassing bathrooms and an elevator—has been pushed off to fiscal year 2023 for now.
“We it was better to get us around and then look to see what our final path would be for the house itself,” Mann said at the meeting. “There’s a lot of moving parts in there. So we thought it was best to get ourselves in, get us done, and then get our footing and go forward again.”
It’s unclear just how New Canaan will use Waveny House long-term or whether the town can create revenue streams there beyond the roughly $100,000 to $140,000 generated annually through renting it out for events such as weddings.