President Jackson's historic home gets $1 million from state

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The state of Tennessee is giving $1 million to refurbish the Hermitage, the historic home of President Andrew Jackson.

But The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville looked at the tax records of the association that runs the Hermitage and has found that the nonprofit group has lost money more years than not for a decade.

Tax records show the Ladies Hermitage Association has lost $1.3 million since 1998, the newspaper reported.

Gov. Phil Bredesen gave the Hermitage a $1 million grant at the end of the legislative session, using surplus state money.

The grant will go to fix leaks in the roof of the mansion, built between 1819 and 1821 in the Federal style, and later rebuilt in Greek Revival style.

It will also pay for other improvements, prevent future damage and pay for an additional employee.

Patricia Leach, CEO of the Hermitage association, said she is thrilled to get the money from the state, but she says the landmark's finances are sound.

Losses as high as $665,000 in the group's annual $3.3 million budget have been the result of accounting issues, she said.

She noted that the group has $1 million in cash on hand, even before the grant. "This is a national historic landmark.

This is of national significance," said Leach, who resigned last week but will run The Hermitage until Sept. 1.

The grant is not the first from the state, but it is the largest in the last decade.

Since 1998, previous state grants have totaled $970,000.

The Hermitage's 1,120 acres includes Jackson's home, a visitor's center, slave cabins, museum and several other historic buildings.

The association that runs it depends mostly on private contributions, ticket sales, facility rentals and other revenues.

It can be a bad sign if a charitable organization loses money several years in a row, said Sandra Miniutti of Charity Navigator, a New Jersey-based organization that rates the financial health of 5,000 of the nation's largest nonprofits.

"While charities are not created to make a profit, they should not outspend their means," Miniutti said.

Leaders at the Hermitage association say the books show they have lost money six of the last nine years partly because of accounting practices.

The group may record a large donation one year and spend it the next, making it look like a loss, Leach said.

Attendance numbers, now hovering around 170,000 per year, dipped after the 1997 closure of theme park and tourist magnet Opryland.

Revenues also took a hit when the site was damaged by tornadoes in 1998.

And while it looks as though the museum's gift shop has lost an average of $47,000 every year since 1998, the store is mostly profitable, Chief Financial Officer Carolyn Faulkenberry said.

The IRS requires nonprofits to tack on expenses like rent and utilities, which the store doesn't actually pay, she said.

"It's not like we've lost a couple million dollars. That just hasn't happened," Leach said. "The Hermitage is financially stable."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)