By Don Nelson

The Town of Winthrop and the Winthrop Auditorium Association are closer to an agreement for the association to continue operating the Winthrop Barn. But some details remain to be worked out, Mayor Sally Ranzau told the Town Council at its meeting last week.

In January, the auditorium association’s board of directors proposed a new five-year agreement to continue operating the popular “Red Barn” for the Town of Winthrop.

The town owns the Barn building, but the association handles operations, booking and other day-to-day requirements. A 25-year agreement between the town and the nonprofit association is expiring.

Robert Stone, president of the association board, had earlier expressed frustration at obstacles to working out an agreement with the town. Ranzau and council member Joseph O’Donnell — who recently met with association representatives Stone, Dennis Gardner and Bruce Herron to discuss a new operating agreement — acknowledged communication lapses at last week’s council meeting.

O’Donnell said that some “past issues” were discussed at the meeting, and said that “for the most part we are in agreement” about a new operating contract. O’Donnell said the town intends to create a full-time maintenance position that will include taking care of the Barn, and that he will attend association meetings in the future.

Ranzau said the revised proposal for a new agreement that the council reviewed last week “is overall pretty much what we talked about” at the meeting with association representatives.

“We would like to make a few changes … mainly verbiage and wording,” Ranzau said, adding that she will work with Herron on further revisions.

The mayor said she would like to see “more marketing to promote the Barn’s use … to bring attention back to the Barn.” She said that the town will also focus on making necessary improvements.

The Barn has experienced periodic operational and maintenance challenges. The building’s sewage treatment system was recently upgraded. But the town budget doesn’t currently include funds for improvements such as a renovated kitchen, upgraded bathrooms, new paint, and better sound and lighting systems.

Ranzau said that more people need to get involved in overseeing the barn’s operations, “especially younger people.”

Under the contract proposal, the town would be responsible for all structural upkeep, mechanical systems, fixtures, equipment and grounds; and also be responsible for paying utility costs, insurance, taxes and snow removal. The Barn Association would be responsible for bookings and for setting usage rates.

In other business:

• The council approved extending an annual agreement with the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce for marketing services to promote the town and local events. The town will pay the chamber about $36,000 a year to support the work of Kristen Smith, who is the chamber’s marketing director. The marketing program is supported by proceeds from the hotel/motel occupancy taxes the town collects.

Included in the agreement is a provision that the chamber will provide marketing support for the Winthrop Barn.

• The council also approved an agreement with the chamber to oversee operation of the town’s Visitor Information Center on Riverside Avenue adjacent to Town Hall. The town will reimburse the chamber $16,000 a year to operate the center. The agreement specifies hours of operation including holidays.

• The council postponed approval of a contract with the state Department of Enterprise services to provide energy audit services and recommendations for potentially cost-saving actions. Under terms of the agreement, the state agency would certify a private contractor to conduct an audit and recommend actions.