Willey House Improvements Delayed

The historical Willey Cultural Center will soon be getting

Council vote delays upgrades until market analysis is
Gilroy – City Council members have delayed upgrades to the historic Willey Cultural Center to decide if the benefits of improving the 150-year-old building outweigh the costs.

On Monday, council postponed a $166,610 award to Perma-Green Hydroseeding to allow time to conduct a market analysis and craft a promotional plan for the house, located at 140 Fifth St. The 6-1 vote to delay the landscaping and other improvements came after an unsuccessful vote to approve the contract. Perma-Green, a Gilroy landscaping company, has tentatively agreed to extend the contract as late as Jan. 23, by which time city staff expect to have completed the study of the site.

“That would give us some ideas as to whether some of the things they’re talking about are really going to happen if you spend that kind of money,” said Mayor Al Pinheiro, who remains skeptical of the site’s ability to generate revenue for city coffers.

The city currently uses the Willey house for government meetings and various small gatherings, but supporters of the upgrades say the creation of a patio, raised stage area and other backyard improvements will help lure weddings and other income earners.

The Willey (pronounced “will-e”) Cultural Center borrows its name from Judge Howard Willey, one of the city’s earliest justices of the peace, according to Gilroy Museum coordinator Lucy Solorzano. The home was originally built in 1857 for James K. Rule, who worked as a pastor next door at the Gilroy Christian Church. When he purchased the home from Rule’s daughter in 1893, Willey added bay windows and other improvements so his daughters could hold music recitals. The property changed hands several times over the years until the city purchased it in 1988.

The proposal to upgrade the home arose in 1996 during the update of the city’s general plan. Ten years later, as the home appears poised to receive the long-awaited upgrades, some city leaders argue it may be wiser to unload the property as a way to reduce costs or generate additional income.

“I think the landscaping deal should be killed. Period,” said Councilman Bob Dillon, the lone vote against delaying the contract. “I think it should be sold or donated. It’s a white elephant.”

Pinheiro has not ruled out a sale, but said he first wants to investigate if the site could generate more income in its current state or with more limited upgrades.

Officials plan to take up the matter once again no later than their Jan. 23 meeting.

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