News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, November 7, 2013
Caterpillar Hill Initiative
“Time is right” for serious fundraising, board feels

Caterpillar Hill Initiative president Dylan Howard

Caterpillar Hill Initiative president Dylan Howard discusses future of initiative on November 1.

Photo by Faith DeAmbrose Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Faith DeAmbrose

During a stormy night in which half the greater Blue Hill Peninsula was without power, members of the Sedgwick-based Caterpillar Hill Initiative gathered at the Blue Hill Public Library along with a handful of area residents to make a public appeal for help in purchasing the land atop Caterpillar Hill.

The take-away from the November 1 meeting was two-fold as members of the board of directors shared the fact that they have very few funds on hand, but they have done the work and the “time is right,” said board member Ed Volkwein, for the project to move forward.

The project, which consists of the acquisition of 10 acres of land and the construction of an arts and education center, has been about eight years in the making. Over that time the group has raised funds to purchase options and rights of first refusal—but, to date, have not even come close to raising the funds necessary to purchase the property. Currently, according to accountant James Wadman, CHI has “about $3,500 on hand and about $3,400 of unpaid bills.”

The land, offered by Downeast Properties broker Jeff Allen, is currently on the market for just under $800,000. It is owned by Basil Ladd, who for many years was the trustee of the property for his uncle, James Condon. Ladd now owns the property outright and, according to Allen, “has a long history of working with [CHI] to purchase the property.” When the property first went on the market in late 2006 the price was closer to $2 million. Downeast Properties became the broker in January 2007, listing it for $1.495 million and eventually dropping the asking price—reflective of a downed economy and sagging land values—to its present day price. Allen said there have been some inquiries into the property over the years, but that there “is nothing currently on the table.”

The panel discussion held on November 1 highlighted the project with a short video produced by CHI president and film maker Dylan Howard. The film is expected to be used on social media-based crowdfunding sites such as indiegogo to raise funds “globally,” said Dylan, adding he plans to launch the video November 15.

The panel was composed of CHI board members Dylan Howard, Kelly Mitchell, Scarlet Kinney, Holly Taylor-Lash and Ed Volkwein, accountant James Wadman, property owner Basil Ladd, Downeast Properties owner and broker Jeff Allen, and land use consultant Jerry Bley of Creative Conservation, LLC. Together they fielded questions and spoke about the challenges and opportunities associated with the project.

“Currently a microscopic egg with a good idea”

Board member Ed Volkwein of Surry is no stranger to marketing and branding projects. From the video game company Sega, where, according to Businessweek, he was “instrumental in developing [the company] into a major video game brand,” to Philips Consumer Electronics where he served as senior VP of global advertising and promotions, Volkwein has made a mark for himself in the area of brand management and he is lending his skills to CHI. He said he became interested in CHI after visiting Mitchell’s Gallery at Caterpillar Hill and becoming “awestruck” by the property. He called the initiative “a microscopic egg with a good idea” and laid out the ways he believed it could transform—much like a butterfly—into a fully funded project. “I believe this is the time,” said Volkwein.

Consultant Jerry Bley has been working with CHI for a number of years and in 2009 prepared a feasibility study for the group. “This is not a typical land conservation project,” he said, noting that because of the education component and construction of a building and amphitheater there are challenges to its funding, and limits to the funding sources. “It is sometimes hard for people to get their head around [the project], which can be a challenge for the organization.”

Raising the funds necessary

The project’s primary fundraiser is the creation of an open-air amphitheater with an intricate base. It seeks to create a 48-foot diameter mandala-shaped floor made out of more than 6,000 tiles. Those who donate can have their name (or the name in which the donation is made) etched into the tile. Donors can also make their own tile as part of the fundraiser, with the help of local ceramic artists.

It is the intention of CHI to raise funds via the mandala fundraiser to both purchase another option from Ladd at a cost of $20,000 and to hire a professional fundraiser to search for money from grant and foundation sources. While the total cost of the land is approximately $800,000, the entire project, which includes the construction of an arts center built into the sloping valley of the property, is expected to cost roughly $1.8 million.

According to Volkwein, until the land is acquired, CHI cannot fully develop a strategy to fund the other components of the project. “We need the security of owning the land,” he said, adding that the board also needs additional members with specific talents as well as community support.

Land acquisition and volunteer opportunities

Mitchell said CHI is in the process of developing language for another purchase option with Ladd and Allen. She added that although she was unable to say more about it at the forum, she expected it to happen soon. Neither Ladd nor Allen offered anything further on the topic.

Caterpillar Hill Initiative founder Kelly Mitchell

Founder Kelly Mitchell talks about Caterpillar Hill Initiative’s conceptual plans at a forum held November 1 in Blue Hill.

Photo by Faith DeAmbrose
Property owner Basil Ladd at a Caterpillar Hill Initiative meeting in Blue Hill

Property owner Basil Ladd at a Caterpillar Hill Initiative meeting in Blue Hill on November 1.

Photo by Faith DeAmbrose
Caterpillar Hill Initiative president Dylan Howard

Caterpillar Hill Initiative president Dylan Howard discusses future of initiative on November 1.

Photo by Faith DeAmbrose