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Fort Ti forced to seek public assistance in wake of financial uncertainty

TICONDEROGA Fort Ticonderoga is asking the public to help bail it out of financial difficulty. The fort posted a plea for donations on its website Sept. 26. Initially the appeal detailed the forts financial difficulties. It was later amended. You have probably seen the headlines, the first appeal read. Fort Ticonderoga is in a very difficult financial situation. We dont want to sell assets. We dont want to lay off staff. We dont want to curtail our education programs. We dont want to close. Without the help of our friends and supporters, however, we may be faced with having to take one or more of these measures. Fort Ticonderoga has faced mounting financial pressures 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, Peter S. Paine, Jr., president of the Fort Ti board of directors, acknowledged. Fort Ticonderoga needs its army of defenders now more than ever, the first appeal read. The new Mars Education Center is 95 percent paid for. We have raised and borrowed more than $22 million, but we still need $700,000 to settle the outstanding bills and an additional $3.5 million to repay the loans and replenish our endowment fund. That statement was removed from the website later that day and replaced with another. 2009 marks the forts centennial: a hundred years of offering exciting historical programs to the public, the new statement reads. We are looking forward to our next 100 years but we need your support to help us meet our goals. Please consider a generous gift to Fort Ticonderoga today by donating online or using this form. Thank you for your support. The Mars family withdrew its support of Fort Ticonderoga following a dispute with Nock Westbrook, the forts executive director. Paine announced last month that Westbrook will retire within a year. 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.

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