Willows Mansion Gets a 10-year Lease

Ryan Heenan
Ryan Heenan
Published on June 5, 2018

The Willows Mansion, situated at the end of a long driveway in Radnor, is a beautiful mansion with sprawling grounds. The mansion has been closed down and slowly deteriorating since 2011, despite a long history of elegance.

History

The 47.5-acre estate was originally built in 1910 by John Sinnott Jr for his wife. The Willows mansion sits alongside stables, kennels, and ponds. In 1937, Clarence Geist purchased the estate for his daughter Mary’s wedding present when she married Alfred Zantzinger. The mansion and its grounds remained in the Zantzinger family until 1973, when the Radnor township purchased it.

In the forty-plus years since, the Willows Mansion was rented out for weddings, meetings, and more. The mansion deteriorated due to a steady decline in number of events. The township shuttered Willows Mansion in 2011.

Request for Proposals

Radnor Township openly requested proposals from local vendors and businesses for an adaptive reuse strategy for the Willows mansion and cottage. Both township and community members wanted to see something that would retain public benefit, but also recognized the need to generate income for a property needing considerable investment and maintenance.

After an initial round of proposals, the township asked all parties to refine their proposals to include certain criteria. The township does not want to relinquish ownership, and areas like the public park, open space, pond, sledding hill and trails must remain available to the community. The township’s goal is to eliminate maintenance and operating expenses and does not intend to invest in further renovations or capital investments in the Willows Mansion. In addition to investing to improve the buildings, the vendor would pay a fee to the township in order to lease the property. Lastly, the township and its affiliates should have an opportunity to rent the venue at a discounted rate.

Potential Suitors

There were a few “finalists” that made it far into the process, but inevitably did not gain the rights to the Willows Mansion:

Conroy Catering

Conroy catering has a history of restoring historic facilities like Knowlton Mansion and Glen Foerd Mansion. Their plan to utilize the Willows Mansion would involve a similar renovation, including a large addition for a ballroom and many exterior improvements.

Cross Street Partners

Cross Street Partners had a plan to create a community farm and education center, with the Willows mansion serving artisanal food and drink. The site would have a large outdoor dining area and a local menu. Their vision was for a “connected experience” with events, shows, venue site, and overnight amenities. They even considered a treehouse-style guest experience!

Jeffrey Miller Catering

Jeffrey Miller Catering is another firm with a resume in venue management and investment. They are prevalent throughout the area and their locations include Anthony Wayne House, Tyler Arboretum, and Waterloo Village, to name a few. Their plan also included a farm to table dynamic, and would “preserve the property 100%” with a complete renovation of the Willows mansion and an adaptive reuse of the cottage. Their proposal included a partnership with Wayne Art Center to host classes in the refurbished interior. The most appealing portion of their proposal, perhaps, was a guaranteed $75,000 annual lease fee paid to the township.

Perfect Setting  Catering

Perfect Setting Catering partnered with The Party Center to create a proposal for the Willows Mansion as well. Their approach seemed less intrusive than those of other vendors, with a “less is more” approach. They planned to connect a custom 40’x100’ ballroom tent to the Solarium of the Willows Mansion which would serve as a large meeting space, dance hall, and wedding location. They would allow for a special rental rate to township residents and their families.

Final Decision

After much cajoling from the community, the Radnor Board of Commissioners approved a 10-year lease with the nonprofit Willows Park Preserve. The township will pay $100,000 to the nonprofit and contribute up to $1.8 million dollars to renovate the mansion. In return the Willows Park Preserve will contribute $1 million from the anonymous angel donor and run the facility once renovations are complete. For now, Willows Park Preserve is working to attain 501(C)(3) status as a nonprofit entity and looks forward to opening the venue to public use.

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Willows Mansion Gets a 10-year Lease
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