Rep. William Delahunt Heads Delegation to Discuss Help in Tisbury Inn Disaster

By JOSHUA SABATINI

Sherman Goldstein said it was hard for him to even look at the Tisbury Inn. His landmark hotel was destroyed by a fire on Dec. 15, and now stands in ruins, with charred window frames and large blackened holes in its walls.

But a group comprising federal, state and local officials, including Cong. William Delahunt, gathered yesterday outside the Tisbury fire station across the street from the inn, and gave Mr. Goldstein something he could look forward to. The more than two-hour gathering left the hotelier speechless.

Mr. Goldstein began the event by telling the 20 people in attendance about the history of the building that he and his wife, Susan, have owned since 1985.

The building dates back to 1884 and had undergone a number of renovations, additions and alterations. In the summertime, the building was home to five residents; contained 33 guest rooms; housed a health club serving 500 members year-round, leased space to seven retail tenants, including the Christian Science reading room and the Zephrus restaurant, and employed about 70 people on an annual payroll of $750,000 dollars.

"That has all been brought to a halt," Mr. Goldstein said.

"The Tisbury Inn represented the economic engine of Tisbury," he added, borrowing a phrase from Tisbury selectman Ray Laporte.

Every community member understands. The building attracted many people to the town, which fed local shops and restaurants with business in turn.

"There was once a busy Main street, and now," said Mr. Goldstein, "you can find a parking spot."

He assured the assemblage he was planning to erect a new structure on the site. "Our next task is to get the building down before it goes on its own," he said. "We have the permit to do that.

"We hope to get the first and second floor done by this summer so the restaurant, retail shops and health club can open," he added.

Mark Forest, a staffer for representative Delahunt, said that when the the congressman read about the tragedy, he asked Mr. Forest to put the event together. After Mr. Delahunt was elected to congress in November 1996, Mr. Forest explained, his first meeting with Island officials took place at the Tisbury Inn.

"He has a real connection to the place," as do so many other Island residents and visitors, he said.

Mr. Goldstein led the group under the yellow police tape and into the front entrance of the inn to show the damage. A heavy odor of smoke pervaded what was once the lobby. The structure was too weak to venture any further.

Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel said the town is looking to improve its infrastructure when the new sewer system is installed. "Hopefully in the rebirth of this building, we will be able to dovetail other infrastructure changes to Main street. The town is committed to spend some money to help," said Mr. Israel.

"It is clear that the businesses have to be impacted by the loss of the anchor that this building represented," representative Delahunt said.

Ann Nelson, owner of Bunch of Grapes, emphasized the economic impact the fire has had on her store's business. "There wasn't a day that went by that I didn't see someone in my store in exercise attire," she said. "And the restaurant is always a good promoter of browsing business and after hours.

"In 30 years that I have been in business I have adjusted to changes that have been economical, but I have never had to adjust to changes that have been in the double digits. We are way down in business."

"This isn't just about this particular historic inn, this is about an entire community," replied Mr. Delahunt.

The gathering then moved up the street and into the Katharine Cornell Theatre. Over snacks and coffee, representatives from five groups invited to suggest ways to help with the rebirth of the landmark sat around a round table and discussed possible financial assistance to a grateful and attentive Mr. and Mrs. Goldstein.

The congressman began the discussion by stating that they were gathered to have a conversation "to see what we can do to help."

"Time is really critical in this," he said. "Without having the retail places and restaurant operating it is difficult for the survival of town businesses."

Participating were representatives from the Cape and Islands Community Development Corporation, Rural Development Administration, and the state office for community development block grants, each of whom pitched various ideas. Congressman Delahunt then appointed Mr. Forest to act as a coordinator between the three parties involved in the rebuilding - the town, the Goldsteins, and the financial groups.

The congressman offered high praise for the Vineyard's family atmosphere. "Since the tragedy of Sept. 11, I think many of us are rediscovering our need for a sense of community. But you," the congressman addressed the Islanders, "have always had that here and knew it and saw it in very palpable terms."

He then handed out commendations to the emergency departments involved for responding so well to the call. When Tisbury fire chief Richard Clark received his certificate from the congressman, all in attendance rose to their feet and gave him a standing ovation.

After the meeting, Mr. Goldstein said he was "overwhelmed" by the demonstration.

"I am rarely at a loss of words," he said. "The support is truly remarkable."

Mr. Goldstein said he plans to take the building down as soon as possible. "This is an opportunity to start fresh. The problem of course is, what it comes down to is dollars."

But with some assistance the Tisbury Inn will rise once again with a new glory.