What Are Appropriate Uses for The Woodland?

by The Village Green
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This story was updates at 3:17 p.m. December 4, 2014, with a clarification from Keith Knudsen, Director of Maplewood Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

The introduction of CycleMaplewood to The Woodland in Maplewood Village has elicited concern from some members of the Maplewood arts and business communities.

Spinning classes are being offered seven days a week in the former site of the Woman’s Club, which is now owned by the Township of Maplewood. The program is a partnership between the Township’s Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs and the new local fitness program CycleMaplewood. (Editor’s note: Keith Knudsen, Maplewood Director of Recreation and Cultural Affairs said that CycleMaplewood is run by the recreation department; therefore, all revenues come to the Township.)

On the Save the Maplewood Woman’s Club Facebook page, a spirited conversation is ongoing about appropriate uses for the building. Some posters have expressed dismay that spinning bicycles have been installed on the stage of an “historically valuable cultural institution.” Others feel established local fitness businesses paying full commercial rent elsewhere may be at a disadvantage to a Township-subsidized program.

Local resident Hank Zona, who has served on various committees for the Township, defended the use by noting that the Township saved the building from possible demolition or redevelopment as condominiums and needs to rent the space to cover costs. Zona noted, however, that his defense of this use does not preclude his support for a thoughtful and inclusive plan and vision for the building.

Zona also noted that the Township stated that The Woodland would have varied uses in its press release announcing the building’s rebranding last summer. The release stated, “The Woodland will serve as a venue for a broad slate of Township sponsored cultural, educational and recreational activities and also be available for rental to the general public.” In addition, “The Woodland will instantly ease the strain on other municipal facilities and afford greater opportunities for expanded recreational and cultural programming.”

Mayor Vic DeLuca offered a video interview for Comcast Newsmakers as his response to a reporter’s request for this story. In the interview (see below), DeLuca discussed The Woodland as being the center of an increased focus on arts and culture in Maplewood Village. He did, however, note that “weddings and events” and programming through the Recreation Department are taking place at The Woodland because “this was always a place for the community to meet.”

“We’re really trying to create a sense of place and a center for arts and culture,” said DeLuca of overall development in Maplewood Village.

Maplewood Arts Council co-chair Marcy Thompson is not pleased with the addition of spinning classes at The Woodland. She said in an email that the Council is “working on a comprehensive list of guidelines and recommendations for The Woodland — in part based on our reaction to these spin classes (we started this a few weeks ago). We hope to make these guidelines available to the Township next week. We unanimously object to the building being used in this fashion.”

According to the Maplewood Township website, the Maplewood Arts Council is comprised of Thompson, Felice Ecker, Tricia Tunstull, Anthony Mazzocchi, Kim Chan, Maplewood Library Director Sarah Lester, Emily Zacharias, Mikel Frank, Ruthanna Graves McQueen and Township Committee Liaison Jerry Ryan. (The Village Green recently reached out to Ryan for comment but has not yet heard back.)

Thompson said that the Council “has been discussing the building usage for the past year, and we haven’t seen our viewpoint represented in the ways that The Woodland has been developed thus far. For example, we’ve expressed our concerns over sporting equipment being used in the space since it was clear that the Department of Recreation would take over the building (as of last January-February). Not sure why, but the sporting equipment has appeared despite our concerns.”

“This issue goes deep for our community,” continued Thompson, “and it isn’t about ‘sports’ vs. ‘not sports.’ The community owns this building, and it should be used in a way that benefits the community — and that includes business owners, and those of us who make our livelihoods here. While no one would say that managing/developing the Woodland is an easy job, it is clear that there is little vision in its current progress.”

As for the Arts Council, Thompson said, “As an advisory committee, we have limited power. It’s up to the public to weigh in.”

 

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