Ann M. Fligsten was not a Wall Street financial whiz when she took over running Annapolis' largest historic preservation group.
Yet in less than two years, the suburban lawyer has steered the Historic Annapolis Foundation through dramatic cuts in state funding and corporate donations to end up with a small surplus.
The nonprofit foundation is in the midst of reopening four of its restored Colonial buildings closed last year. Mrs. Fligsten also is keeping the main museums open longer and offering a new attraction -- a taped walking tour of the historic downtown.
Standing in the sunshine outside the Shiplap House Friday, Mrs. Fligsten spoke modestly of her successful track record.
"I just felt opening this to the public was so important," she said about the brick house on Pinckney Street that used to be a tavern frequented by sailors in the early 1700s.
The yard is overgrown with dandelions, but volunteers are hard at work weeding and planting flowers. Mrs. Fligsten has moved the foundation's main offices into the Shiplap House and is spreading out her staff to all 12 Georgian and Victorian buildings managed by the foundation.
It's a happier time than last spring, when she was named president. Mrs. Fligsten, 46, had been acting as the foundation's president since the fall of 1991, when the state was caught in a financial crisis and slashed its support of cultural programs and the arts.
A lawyer with a practice in Severna Park and mother of two, Mrs. Fligsten had not planned to become president of the foundation. In fact,Historic Annapolis used to be her client.
But as she devoted more and more hours to working with the
foundation, Mrs. Fligsten says she "got hooked" and joined the board in 1977.
She had just moved into her office in the fall of 1991 when the state announced it was cutting the foundation's funding by 25 percent, about $90,000. Meanwhile, corporate donors cut back, costing the group another $25,000 in its annual $900,000 budget.
Mrs. Fligsten responded with a program of belt-tightening coupled with a big fund-raising drive. In December, the foundation's 26 employees were furloughed for two weeks.
The foundation also closed its Maritime Museum at the foot of Main Street, the visitors center in the William Paca Garden, the Old Treasury in front of the State House and the Shiplap House. Several receptionists were laid off, and the foundation cut the work weeks of the remaining employees.
At the same time, the foundation had its first telethon, raising $10,000 from its more than 2,500 members in just three hours. And Mrs. Fligsten introduced a couple of popular programs, a candlelight tour of historic homes in Annapolis and an auction in October.
Now that Historic Annapolis is enjoying a comeback, its president is focusing on the future.
She wants to develop a strategic plan to reach out to the city's black community and attract more black tourists.
She's also working with Ron Sharps, the director of the Banneker-Douglass Museum who became the first black member of the Historic Annapolis board.
The foundation and museum want to restore a dilapidated, pre-Civil-War-era house on Duke of Gloucester Street that is believed to be the first in the nation owned by a free black man.
The foundation also was just given a historic home two blocks down the street that was owned by Capt. Morgan Slayton.
As she finishes moving into her new office in the Shiplap House, Mrs. Fligsten says she's perfectly happy to leave the hard times of 1990 and 1991 to history.