Executive director of Fort Ti resigns

TICONDEROGA Nick Westbrook, the embattled executive director at Fort Ticonderoga, will leave his post. Peter S. Paine, Jr., president of the Fort Ti board of directors, announced Sept. 8 Westbrook intends to retire. I am deeply grateful to Nick Westbrook for his 20 years of valued service to the fort and look forward to having him remain associated with the fort in a scholarly and advisory capacity after his retirement, Paine said. Paine said a search committee has been formed to seek Westbrooks replacement. No date was given for Westbrooks retirement, but Paine said it would be in the course of next year. Westbrook has been under fire since benefactors Deborah and Forrest Mars Jr. withdrew their financial support last spring. Without their support, Fort Ticonderoga had a shortfall of more than $1 million in the construction of the new Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center. That contributed to a $2,5 million budget gap that has left the fort struggling to meet its payroll and financial obligations, Paine acknowledged. Forrest Mars has been critical of Westbrook. The ride is over, he wrote in an Email to Westbrook that was provided to the Times of Ti. The Email said Westbrook would not listen to new ideas and had stopped communicating with Mrs. Mars, when she was president of the fort board of trustees. We will not be writing any further checks, Mr. Mars wrote. "Your performance as a manager is lacking. As a historian and archivist, etc., you excel. You have not given proper supervision and leadership to the staff. Mr. Mars said he and his wife paid for most of the Mars Education Center. As far as the new center, I would think that besides not communicating with your president (Mrs. Mars) regarding the opening of it, the exhibits to be in it, the budget for operating it and a program for the future use, you might have been nice enough and polite enough to communicate with the major donor (Mr. Mars), the Email reads. Not a word from you to either of us. We do not even know if you can fund it. The Email also said Mr. Mars had paid for one of Westbrooks sons to attend a private school and had paid for vacations for Westbrook and his wife. With Fort Ticonderoga in serious debt, Paine issued a memo with possible scenarios for raising money. They include: applying for short-term loans; starting a new capital campaign to raise $3 million to $5 million; asking the state for a bailout or to take over ownership of the fort; getting the Essex County Industrial Development Agency to finance a $3 million to $5 million loan; selling property or collection assets, such as paintings; and closing next year. The fort is running through its available endowment funds to pay the Mars Education Center bills, and, in the absence of a major infusion of funds, the fort will be essentially broke by the end of 2008, Paine said in the memo. Paine said this week that not all the news is bad at Fort Ticonderoga. Spurred on by the events in late June and early July involving the 250th French and Indian War Celebrations, overall attendance at the fort is up 10 percent. In addition, the new Mars Education Center has been hosting programs on a daily basis and attendance at the Kings Garden is up 40 percent. Paine, said he is encouraged by the attendance numbers, especially in light of high gas prices and overall concerns about tourism in the Northeast. In spite of good news on the operating front,Paine said, the larger financial strains felt at the fort due to the capital funding shortfall at the Mars Education Center remain a matter of concern. We continue to examine a variety of possible solutions. To paraphrase Mark Twain, Paine added, the rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated.

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