"You did it. I remember when this was just an idea you had," Louisa Stone gushed as she paused before she entered what many local residents affectionately call the Queen Anne building.
Stone was one of about 100 who stood in bright sunshine, a sapphire blue sky polka-dotted with puffy clouds and a steady breeze greeted visitors attending the official opening of the Floren Family Environmental Center at Greenwich Point Wednesday afternoon. And visitors had nothing but compliments for Chris Franco, a Greenwich resident who helped found the Greenwich Point Conservancy six years ago with the dream of restoring the building.
The wood-shingled structure that stands sentry duty near the entrance of the town's beachrfront park has been the scene of exhaustive renovation work for several years, returning the building to its architectural glory when it was completed about 1903 and was home to relatives of business titan J. Kennedy Tod who established his estate Innis Arden on the 147-acre parcel on the coast of Long Island Sound.
First Selectman Peter Tesei said the project was a prime example of how public-private partnerships can help make some projects reality. The Greenwich Point Conservancy was founded six years ago to raise money to help renovate the town-owned building, commonly referred to as the Queen Anne Building which housed lockers, storage and bath facilities.
According to Franco, about $1.5 million was raised for the renovation that included a new roof and included state-of-the-art ecological heat, lighting and water systems. With a donation from long-time Greenwich residents and state Rep. Livvy Floren and her husband Doug, the building now houses the Bruce Museum's Seaside Center, a seasonal museum and education center that focuses on marine ecology.
Visitors yesterday were greeted with a touch-tank filled with marine life found in Long Island Sound - ranging from green and horseshoe crabs to clams and mussels. Inside, fish tanks with young fish that inhabit Sound waters, wildlife dioramas, a children's library filled with marine-oriented books and the Tod Conference Room. The second-floor room, overlooks the tidal flats of Greenwich Point and is dedicated to the founder of the original Innis Arden estate. A grand-niece of Tod donated a painting of J. Kennedy Tod for the room.
During yesterday's ribbon cutting, Livvy Floren told guests that she hopes the center will entice generations of visitors to learn about and enjoy the sandy, surrounding environment the way her family has for years.
Franco said the conservancy - which holds its major annual fund-raiser, the Beach Ball, on July 9 - will continue to raise money for other renovation projects in the town park. This fall, the conservancy will pay for new roofs to be installed on the beachfront sun canopies and next year will embark on the renovation of what is now the lifeguard and concession building, which is a circa-late 1800s structure originally built as a cow barn, according to Franco. Plans also include the construction of an outdoor dining area for visitors.
For more information about the conservancy, log onto www.greenwichpoint.org where tickets for the upcoming fund-raiser are still available.