College's Makeover Of Downtown Leaves Residents Sour

<p>A $40 million gift from a wealthy alumna helped Wells College transform the small town of Aurora, New York into a postcard perfect setting. But while enrollment is up, residents say the change hasn't been good for them.</p>
December 8, 2007, 11am PST | Christian Madera | @cpmadera
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"After a five-year makeover at the hands of the founder of the American Girl doll collection, this village of white clapboard and faded brick on Cayuga Lake practically glows, with freshly painted homes, refurbished inns and markets selling dried organic cranberries and cheese made from sheep's milk.

It was an act of philanthropy by the woman who began the popular line of historic dolls and books, Pleasant T. Rowland. Ms. Rowland, an alumna of Wells College here, gave $40 million to her alma mater to revitalize Aurora's diminutive downtown and to help reverse the college's declining enrollment. The money did just that, but not without earning Ms. Rowland enemies: a group of residents who resented her for making the historic village, in their eyes, too fancy and artificial, about as authentic as a dollhouse.

"The thing that a lot of people lament is that it has torn the village apart," said Anna Baxter, 29, who moved to Aurora from New York City with her partner, Rufus Bates, a furniture maker, to open Grove Gallery, where the paintings cost from $250 to $3,500.

On the outside, the village of 750 in the Finger Lakes region could not be more placid, with the white caps of Cayuga framing a timeless streetscape. But tensions fester, despite the dismissal of a lawsuit that sought to derail some of the work. On some of Ms. Rowland's visits to town from Madison, Wis., where she lives and presides over the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, some residents have cursed her to her face."

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Published on Friday, December 7, 2007 in The New York Times
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