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Historical Society will leave the library


Still struggling to stabilize itself financially, the Rochester Historical Society will not renew its lease at the Rochester Public Library's Rundel building in downtown Rochester.

"We are involved in active discussions with a third party about a potential relocation of the Rochester Historical Society either in whole or in part to another location," says Historical Society President Patrick Malgieri.

Available space will determine how much of the Historical Society's collection travels to the new site and how much stays in storage, he says.

Malgieri says he expects the Historical Society to make an announcement about a new location soon — possibly in a month to six weeks. He says the organization will remain in the Rochester area, but wouldn't say if it would be in the city or the suburbs.

"If it works out, I think it'll be good news for everybody," Malgieri says.

The Historical Society moved its offices and most of its collection to Rundel in 2009, after selling its East Avenue headquarters, the Woodside mansion. The lease there expires on June 30.

The annual rent at the library is $48,000, but the Historical Society hasn't made a payment in almost a year. Library officials asked the Historical Society to clarify its plans by early 2014.

It's not clear what the Historical Society will do about its overdue rent. The issue is being worked out between the City of Rochester, the library board, and the Historical Society, says Patricia Uttaro, director of the Rochester Public Library and Monroe County Library System.

The financial position in which the Historical Society finds itself is not unusual for cultural organizations across the country, Malgieri says. Shrinking endowments, attendance declines, and declines in contributions all play a role. The major challenge, Malgieri says, is raising enough to cover operating expenses.

"Our financial situation continues to be a serious one," he says.

There is good news, however, Malgieri says. Membership in the society has remained stable, he says, and members have committed to giving more money to the Historical Society over the next few years.

"For us, it's a dramatic increase," he says.

The Historical Society's collection, which includes important resources such as photos, portraits of Rochester residents, letters, and architectural drawings, is not in danger due to the organization's financial challenges, Malgieri says. State law prohibits deaccessioning to pay operating expenses.

The Historical Society has stepped up deaccessioning, though, he says, including getting rid of most if not all of its gun collection. Reducing storage space helps reduce operating costs, Malgieri says. And deaccessioning items that aren't of particular historic interest raises money to buy more important items, he says.