PORTSMOUTH — Increased corporate or yachting events, photo and movie shoots and even an old-fashioned clambake during a stopover for boat tours have been floated as possible ideas for drawing more dollars into the town-owned Glen Manor House.
Despite the Manor House’s reputation as a proven moneymaker for Portsmouth, the town is looking for ways to draw even bigger profits from the French-style chateau on the Sakonnet River. And, with the recent demolition of the former Elmhurst School to the immediate north opening up prime waterfront real estate, officials say they have a golden opportunity to make that happen.
“It’s already a successful business. We want it to be more successful,” Town Council President James Seveney said during Monday night’s council meeting, adding that he’d like to see the Manor House increase its annual number of events from about 80 to 100. Nothing was voted on Monday night, as Mr. Seveney said future planning for the Manor House is “an ongoing discussion.”
Glen Manor House Authority Chairman John Brady began a presentation of a business plan for the property by reviewing figures from the past two decades. Despite the property being in relatively poor shape when the town took it over in 1972, annual rental profits have gone from about $15,000 to $226,000 over the past 20 years.
“The total profit during the period is $3.2 million of which $1.3 million was invested in restoration and improvement of the property and $1.9 million went into the town general fund,” said Mr. Brady, noting that the Authority used to keep 50 percent of the profits to reinvest, but today that figure is down to 25 percent.
He credited resident managers Don and Katie Wilkinson for their work in improving the property and marketing it as a prime destination for weddings and other events. “The reinvestment that has been made has obviously paid off because it’s now in a very beautiful state,” said Mr. Brady, adding that management has generated enormous goodwill with customers and has also served local residents well — they get a 50 percent discount on rental fees.
The issue, he said, “is where do we go from here?”
Bigger profits forecasted
Mr. Brady said gross receipts for the 2012-13 season were $427,000 but sales for the current year should be around $445,000, despite the fact that the Elmhurst School demolition forced the Manor House to shut down in November and December and will do the same in April.
The Authority will also be proposing a rate increase for the 2014-15 season, “based upon our analysis of the competition” that should increase revenue by $48,000 — a 10 percent increase over the figure estimated for the current season, he said.
Other revenue-generating ideas include the possibility of charging a fee to caterers who use the house’s commercial kitchen to serve clients. That could conceivably bring in another $20,000 annually, Mr. Brady said.
The Authority is also considering buying new gold non-folding chairs which have become increasingly popular with clients, he said. Instead of renting the Manor House’s white folding chairs at $2 each, the new chairs could be rented for $6 to $8 each to bring in at least $18,000 a year — about double the current total. Buying 250 of the gold chairs would cost about $12,500 from the Authority’s capital account, he said.
The Authority also looked at several ways to bring in new business to the Manor House by:
• increasing marketing efforts aimed at corporate or yachting events. “With the clearing of the Elmhurst School property, we have the opportunity to host very large events through rental of a large temporary tent and suitable restroom facilities and power supplies,” Mr. Brady said.
• getting more use out of the property’s dock. “With the open land we have, tour boats might offer, for example, an old-fashioned clambake or a tour of the Manor House property with an elegant dinner or lunch,” he said.
• using the house for more photo and movie shoots. Mr. Brady pointed out that several years ago a film crew passed on the property because of the Elmhurst School. “Katie’s contacts did, however, lead to a very successful movie shoot on our property, ‘Moonrise Kingdom,’ which some of you have seen,” he said. (In that movie, the “Island Police” headquarters of Police Capt. Sharp, played by Bruce Willis, was built on the dock jutting out into the Sakonnet River.)
• finding more corporate rental opportunities in the off-season. “Our house, with its large ballroom and several smaller rooms, lends itself to corporate meetings where large groups meet and then split off into smaller groups for specific studies or planning,” said Mr. Brady.
Mr. Seveney and other council members thanked the Authority and the Wilkinsons for the efforts toward the Manor House. “You are the biggest and best revenue source for the town, outside of the tax levy itself,” said Mr. Seveney.