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Benefactor’s Generosity Has Been Critical for Aquatic Center’s Success

  • Andrea Reimann-Ciardelli at the unveiling of the road sign for the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., on Oct. 11, 2006. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 7/15/2018 11:10:40 AM
Modified: 7/15/2018 11:19:11 AM

Hartford — At first glance, the town of Hartford seems an unlikely location for a large and modern swim and exercise facility.

Hartford now has the “best venue for competitive swimming in New England but doesn’t have a (school) swim team,” said Ken Parker, a White River Junction insurance agent and former town selectman.

But the mystery of the glittering athletic facility is easily solved.

“I get calls on a regular basis from other towns in New England that would love to build a facility like this, and they want to know about the economics of it,” said Richard Synnott, the Aquatic Center’s executive director. “I say, ‘The first thing you need to do is raise $20 million. Once you have $20 million, then let’s talk.’ ”

Also helpful, as it turns out, is a sizeable endowment to cover whatever yearly operating deficits and unexpected repair costs might crop up. In the case of the Upper Valley Aquatic Center, a $7 million endowment is available.

One benefactor, Andrea Reimann-Ciardelli, appears to be the moving force behind both the start-up money and the endowment.

When planning got underway for the development of the Aquatic Center and it became clear that $20 million was available for the effort, most accounts at the time identified the source of the foundation money as an “anonymous donor.” Center officials still cling fiercely to that posture of anonymity.

Other sources of the financial largesse that has benefited the center are spelled out in public documents or have been acknowledged by center officials. Every other source of six- or seven-figure support for the center was controlled by Reimann-Ciardelli.

For example, $6.8 million has come from the Emily Landecker Foundation, the Hanover nonprofit where Reimann-Ciardelli is president and, with her husband and two children, comprises the board of directors. Landecker has made four large contributions to the center, for a total of $5.8 million, according to center tax returns. In addition, Landecker was the source of $1 million that was added to the center’s endowment last year, according to Michael Cahoon, the Hanover accountant who is treasurer of the Sports Venue Foundation, the nonprofit that that built and operates the center.

Other support can be traced back to Reimann-Ciardelli. For example, Atlas Ledge, a Hanover-based limited liability company that lists Reimann-Ciardelli as its sole “principal member” and Cahoon’s office as its business address, contributed $209,000 to the center in fiscal 2013.

And in fiscal 2007, Reimann-Ciardelli personally contributed the land upon which the center was built. That contribution was valued at $1.56 million, according to the center’s tax return.

That’s a total of $8.6 million in contributions from Reimann-Ciardelli and nonprofit and for-profit entities in which she is a principal.

Reimann-Ciardelli did not wish to be interviewed, Cahoon said.

He said that she had supported the center because “she, one, believes in health for everybody and, two, her daughter was a big swimmer” in the Upper Valley and at Emory University in Atlanta.

Still, Reimann-Ciardelli’s acknowledged contributions were dwarfed by the $20 million contribution from a donor who, in December 2006, the Valley News reported, “wishes to remain anonymous.”

However, that’s not a wish that U.S. Internal Revenue Service disclosure rules normally grant to donors to tax-exempt organizations.

“A private foundation is not allowed to conceal its donors to the public,” said Michael Wyland, a nonprofit consultant in Sioux Falls, S.D. “I’m not aware of any exception that allows that.”

Private foundations are typically “controlled by a small number of people,” Wyland added. Public disclosure is intended to expose and prevent any self-dealing by those people, and to ensure that a private foundation complies with IRS standards and regulations.

But the disclosure requirement isn’t always enforced, Wyland said.

“The IRS doesn’t have the resources to go over each of the forms” submitted by nonprofits, he added.

When the Sports Venue Foundation filed its 2007 tax return, it reported that its two largest contributions were for $16.4 million and $3.6 million.

The tax return said the name of each of those contributors was “available upon request,” and gave each contributor’s address as 80 South Main St. Suite 202 in Hanover — the address of Reimann-Ciardelli’s nonprofit foundation, for-profit LLC and accountant.

Cahoon said that the return was drawn up based on legal advice that the large donor could remain anonymous and would be disclosed only to the IRS, if it requested. He declined a reporter’s request to identify the donor.

Another section of the return that requires the “listing of the names and addresses of all persons who became substantial contributors during the year” lists only one name: Andrea Ciardelli. The IRS defines a substantial contributor as “any person whose contributions or bequests during the current tax year or prior tax returns and prior tax years total more than $5,000 and are more than 2 percent of the total contributions and bequests received by the foundation from its creation through the close of its tax year.” It also specifies that “the term ‘person’ includes individuals, trusts, estates, partnerships, associations, corporations, and other exempt organizations.”

Both the $16.4 million and $3.6 million donations far surpassed that threshold for required disclosure.

That would seem to indicate Ciardelli as the source of the $20 million.

“I understand how you can look at that,” Cahoon said. However, he added, the filing was made “with legal advice (that) basically you could put anonymous donor in that space.”

Asked directly if the anonymous donor was Reimann-Ciardelli, Cahoon responded: “I would say it’s a different donor, yeah, on that end.”

A Budgetary Buffer

A keystone of the center’s financial foundation is its endowment. That endowment was originally valued at $6 million, slipped to $5.7 million at the end of fiscal 2016 but was increased to $7 million in fiscal 2017, according to the center’s audited financial statements. A $1 million addition to the endowment came from a New Hampshire nonprofit known as the Emily Landecker Foundation, Cahoon said.

The Landecker Foundation lists as its address Cahoon’s Hanover office. Reimann-Ciardelli is also Landecker’s president.

In fiscal 2016, the Aquatic Center raised the ceiling on the amount of endowment funds that it could spend each year. The new ceiling allows the center’s operators to tap the endowment for the equivalent of 6 percent of its year-beginning value. The policy had previously called for spending 5 percent of the endowment. The new spending policy pencils out to $420,000 in the current year, up from $300,000 in the center’s early years.

Such decisions can affect how endowment assets are managed. In some situations, increased endowment draws can put pressure on financial managers to take on greater risks to boost returns, or resort to spending down the endowment, then seeking further outside support to preserve or restore the principal.

That hasn’t happened with the Aquatic Center’s endowment, Cahoon said. “If you look at the investments in there, it’s invested in a very conservative way,” he said. “I think the risks inside the endowment are not high. We’ve built it in a way so that we have enough, through bonds and cash liquidity, to be able to maintain (through) a drop in the market.”

Organizations — such as Dartmouth College and other wealthy private schools — that depend long-term on endowments generally aim for a rate of return on endowment assets that equals the rate of spending plus the rate of inflation. That strategy aims to preserve the endowment principal so that it can be an ongoing source of support.

But the center has not attained such a rate of return, even in a period of low inflation. In fact, in only one year — fiscal 2011 — did the total investment income posted by the center exceed the spending goal of 5 percent of the endowment’s value, according to the center’s tax returns.

Meanwhile, according to its audited statement, the center spent $357,000 from the endowment in fiscal 2017, $312,000 in fiscal 2016 and $311,000 in fiscal 2015.

So further support from outside was needed to preserve the endowment’s principal.

Cahoon said that during the center’s early years much of the endowment earnings had been used to make up for operating losses and weren’t available for needed capital investments. That’s why the endowment was added to and the expected draw rate increased, he said.

But the center now seems on track to reduce its operating loss expected in the current fiscal year, Cahoon said. As a result, he added the center’s board anticipates “reducing the endowment payout assuming that the financials continue the way they’re going today.”

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