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VISITORS CENTER TO EASE MARTIN HOUSE IMPACT URGED

An off-site visitors center that would direct patrons to the Darwin Martin House and other attractions in the Delaware District was suggested Thursday night as about 40 residents of the Parkside area met to talk about the impact of the historic site on their neighborhood.

The session, sponsored by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in Church of the Good Shepherd, 96 Jewett Parkway, was part of the process for drafting an environmental impact statement on the project.

Renovations on the exterior of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home are nearly complete, and Jacek Wysocki, secretary of the Martin House Restoration Corp., said the group is looking forward to opening the house by 1999 and the entire site by 2001.

Besides renovating the main house at Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue, the corporation plans to demolish three existing apartment buildings behind the main house and to reconstruct a pergola, conservatory, a garage-carriage house and stables -- all part of the original site. The Barton House, a smaller version of the main house on Summit Avenue, was restored recently.

No one raised opposition to the project Thursday night. However, concerns were raised about the impact of traffic and tourists on the neighborhood.

"This is a phenomenal project, but the Martin House is a residence in a residential neighborhood, and we can't let this override the neighborhood," Gretchen Toles of the Olmsted Park Conservancy said.

Mrs. Toles suggested the visitors center as a starting point for tourists who want to visit the Martin House as well as Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Delaware Park and other historic and cultural sites in the Delaware District. However, John Conlin, former president of the city's Preservation Board and long active in preserving area landmarks, suggested that plans for a visitors center be less ambitious and that houses in need of renovation near the Martin House be considered as possible locations. Another resident later suggested that the former Brothers of Mercy home at 183 Jewett Parkway across the street from the Martin House is one such candidate for renovation.

"This whole neighborhood is on a national historic registry," Conlin said. "the program for the visitors site should be minimal, unless it is off-site." During the meeting, the visitors center was mentioned repeatedly, with several residents suggesting that it could act as a gateway to the Martin House and include parking and shuttle-bus service so traffic in the neighborhood would be kept at a minimum.

"In terms of traffic, there needs to be a short-range plan and a long-range plan," Grace Jordan of Jewett Parkway said. "We are already seeing an increase in casual traffic."

Mrs. Jordan pointed to the idling engines of out-of-town buses that stop in front of the house to point it out to passengers. She also noted that others driving through the neighborhood stop to park in inappropriate places -- sometimes on private property.

Wysocki said the capacity of the fully renovated Martin House complex has been estimated at between 100 to 150 visitors at any given time and as many as 500 to 600 people a day during peak tourism time, from May to October. He said plans call for satellite parking, and buses would only drop off passengers at the site and return later.

The total renovation of the site, including demolition, is estimated at $18.3 million Wysocki said. About $4 million of that is secure, and the corporation hopes to acquire a steady stream of funds from state and federal sources to complete the project.

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