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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Future of Fort Ticonderoga

Here is an interesting article that was published in July at, regarding some internal turmoil occurring at Fort Ticonderoga is having. Here is the text of the article:

TICONDEROGA - In recent days, re-enactors dressed as French and English soldiers have been pretending to gun each other down while attacking and defending what we know as Fort Ticonderoga, part of the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Carillon.

Meanwhile, the fort's trustees have been continuing, in earnest, a battle of their own, struggling over the museum's leadership and its future after the angry departure of its largest financial benefactor and president of its board.

The Battle of Carillon took place in 1758 among log barricades French troops built outside the fort as a much larger contingent of British soldiers bore down on them.

The French troops slaughtered the British in the barricades, killing 2,000 while losing only 440 of their own.

The Battle of Carillon was the bloodiest on American soil until the Civil War more than a century later, but the British got revenge the next year, marching on the fort again and forcing the French out.

As they evacuated Fort Carillon, the French troops blew up its powder magazine, a munitions warehouse they called the magasin du Roi.

That building was reconstructed recently as the Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center, part of a $22 million project paid for in large part by the woman whose name it bears.

Mars grew up in Ticonderoga, and some of her family still live there. She married Forrest Mars Jr., one of three Mars siblings who inherited the Mars candy company fortune.

Forrest Mars, worth $14 billion, is the 46th richest person in the world, according to Fortune magazine.

Since Deborah's happy match, with many millions at her disposal, she has turned a philanthropic gaze on her hometown and, in particular, her hometown's historic landmark, Fort Ticonderoga.

Starting with a $2 million gift nine years ago, Deborah and Forrest Mars launched a capital campaign to rebuild the magasin du Roi with a historically accurate exterior and modern interior, including a theater, galleries and exhibit and meeting space.

The Mars project would not only enhance the historic value of the fort's campus; it would transform the museum from a seasonal attraction, where many of the buildings lacked insulation and plumbing, into a year-round center of teaching and study.

"Our huge frustration, lo these many years, as educators, is that the fort is closed when kids are studying the American Revolution," said Nicholas Westbrook, the museum's executive director. "We had no water, had no heat in the existing buildings. Now it will be possible for school groups to come in February, for elderhostel programs to come in November.

"When Forrest and Deb made the lead gift in this project, back in 1999," Westbrook said, "it was not so much about the building, but leading Fort Ticonderoga into the new century. You, we and they are going to see that dream come forth and blossom."

Modern-day battle

If Deborah Mars had gotten her way, however, that dream would be blossoming without the presence of Nicholas Westbrook.

As the Marses' energetic interest in the fort continued and strengthened, with Deborah Mars serving two terms as president of the board, the once-close connection between them and Westbrook soured.

Deborah Mars took part in an effort by some board members to shuffle Westbrook into retirement, a push that sparked a vigorous push-back from other board members.

Westbrook survived, but, in the aftermath of the struggle, Deborah Mars quit the board and, more ominously for the fort, she and her husband cut off the cash flow.

"Dear Nick," begins a Feb. 17 e-mail from Forrest Mars to Westbrook, "The ride is over. Deb and I are out for good."

Forrest Mars' goodbye e-mail, which was leaked to The Post-Star, was sent to Westbrook and copied to leaders of the museum's board of trustees -- Anthony D. Pell, Edward Pell, Terry Beaty, Calvin Staudt and Alexandra Pell Kuhel.

All five trustees have, over the last month, either refused to comment on the internal turmoil at the fort or not returned repeated telephone messages left for them at work and at home.

Some people close to the fort -- board members, volunteers, community leaders and former employees -- have expressed chagrin at its problems, but they are reluctant to make things worse by criticizing.

Others have talked more openly, but refused to be quoted.

All have expressed reverence for the fort's unique place in American history and hope that it will flourish in the future.

But the fort is saddled with long-term infrastructure problems, such as the bulging and crumbling of the reconstructed stone walls and the decaying of The Pavilion, a historic lakeside house on the museum's grounds.

With the fort also experiencing a decline in attendance, its future currently looks as precarious as that of the French forces in 1758.

Two sides to story

Forrest Mars' e-mail sets out a litany of complaints about Westbrook's performance as the museum's executive director.

Mars said Westbrook failed to communicate regularly with him and Deborah, even though she was the board president, and they were the fort's largest benefactors and had done personal favors for Westbrook, such as help "pay to send your son to Northwood," a prep school in Lake Placid.

"We will not be attending any more meetings, the ball, or the opening of the center," the e-mail states. "It follows of course that we will not be writing any further checks, so you will not be able to make the nasty comments about Mars Money which have come back as you could predict."

Westbrook refused to address any of the specific complaints in Mars' e-mail, but he did contradict some of the statements generally.

"My wife and I consider Deb and Forrest very good friends," he said. "That hasn't changed one bit."

It was difficult for Deborah Mars to keep up with the demands of being board president from her home in Wyoming, Westbrook said.

"She brought a great deal to the table as our fearless leader," he said. "Typically, our presidents during my tenure have physically been able to be here maybe three times a month. When you're coming from Wyoming, that's a pretty difficult level to keep up with. ... It was pretty darned hard for her."

As for the future of the Marses' patronage, Westbrook said, "Who knows what anybody's benefactions will be?"

But he was expecting them to be at the opening of the Deborah Clarke Mars center on Sunday, Westbrook said.

"I cannot imagine them not being there, after pouring their hearts and souls into it," he said.

A May 19 e-mail from Forrest Mars, responding to several questions sent to him by The Post-Star, says the couple will be unavailable during the opening of the center named for Deborah Mars.

"We are at sea during the dates for the opening of the center -- Bermuda to Halifax," he wrote.

Mars also addressed the couple's future connection to the museum: "I do not know if Deborah would entertain returning to the board, but I do not believe they would have her, and I do not know if she would accept. I was not a board member, only a volunteer, so I do not expect to be asked again to fill that role."

Missing the money

After Deborah Mars' departure from the board, Peter Paine, a longtime trustee of the museum, took over as president.

Paine is a lawyer and the president of Champlain National Bank in Willsboro. He has been active in Adirondack environmental and civic causes for decades.

Paine acknowledged that the abrupt departure of the Marses from the ambitious project they led has left the fort in difficult financial circumstances.

"Yes, the fort is facing some financial constraints," he said, "in part as a result of the departure of Marses, particularly the timing of it. We're looking at a series of things we could do to get the institute back to health."

A recent memo from Paine to the fort's trustees puts the situation more starkly.

The fort, the memo says, was left with $2.5 million in unpaid bills on the Mars Education Center.

"In oversimplified terms, the fort is running through its available endowment funds to pay the MEC bills and, in the absence of a MAJOR infusion of funds, the fort will be essentially broke by the end of 2008," the memo says.

The memo also lays out the agenda for the board of trustees meeting on Monday and mentions seven strategies for financial survival, as follows:

- short-term financing to create negotiating room;

- new capital campaign for $3-5 million;

- bail-out grant from state;

- takeover by state or federal government;

- IDA financing for about $3-5 million;

- sell assets (land: Fernette Farm; major objects: Cole painting; Polk, et al., paintings); and/or

- close in 2009.

But Paine had earlier discounted that last option.

"I'm really optimistic we'll come through all of this," he said. "I think the fort will survive."

Check out another article on this topic here from Yahoo News.

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