Director: Stevens Estate could be 'highly profitable'

File photo. The director of Stevens Estate in North Andover says he believes the property could become highly profitable, but the town will need to invest in personnel to make it happen.

NORTH ANDOVER — The town-owned Stevens Estate has the potential to make money by hosting more wedding receptions and other social gatherings – but a larger staff is needed to promote the property, according to Joanna Ouellette, the director.

"I believe it could be a highly profitable place," Ouellette told the Stevens Estate Long-Term Advisory Committee on Monday evening. Ouellette has been the director of the estate since July 2015.

Ever since town Finance Director Lyne Savage reported last April that the estate has been losing money, the town has been wrestling with the challenge of what to do with the property.

Ouellette said that in addition to hosting wedding receptions, the estate is "a nice place to have a reunion." North Andover residents might find it to be an appealing venue for their class reunions, she said.

To make a profit, the estate needs to be marketed, according to Ouellette.

"Right now we don't have a sales person," she said.

Having the ability to offer catering would also make the property more profitable, she added. When a wedding reception or other social event takes place at the estate, a catering company provides the food.

The Willowdale Estate at Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield offers "in-house catering," she said. The Willowdale Estate is owned by the state and leased to a private company that hosts wedding receptions and other parties.

John Mabon, who represents the Conservation Commission on the Stevens Estate Long-Term Advisory Committee, asked Ouellette about her five-year plan. She said that among other goals, she wants to attract more "high-end weddings."

Former Selectman Donald Stewart pointed out that a cell tower is located on the Stevens Estate property. The revenue from the tower goes into the town's general fund, according to Stewart.

"The money should go to the Stevens Estate," he said.

"I think we need to explore all revenue sources," said James Lafond, chairman of the committee. The town needs to determine if it can continue running the estate, he said.

Andrew Shapiro, the town's new community and economic development director, is working on a questionnaire that will be sent to residents to get their opinions on how to handle the Stevens Estate.

Jennifer Luz said the survey should give respondents the opportunity to provide open-ended answers to questions.

"I think it's important that we know our goals before sending out a survey," Mabon said.

Committee members said they want to find out more about other town- and city-owned facilities in the area that host social events. These include the Old Andover Town Hall and the Commons 1854 in Topsfield.

"It there's a model out there that's working, let's not reinvent the wheel," Lafond said.

The committee will hold its next meeting Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall.

Elegant Banquets, a Connecticut company, submitted a proposal to lease the Stevens Estate from the town and renovate it into a larger facility. The June 18 special Town Meeting overwhelmingly rejected the plan.

The Stevens Estate posted a $136,341 loss for the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to Shapiro.

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