The architect's rendering of the proposed performing arts center in Bethel
Performing Arts Center
To Break Ground in Spring
By Dan Hust
BETHEL ÷ September 1, 2000 ö Robyn Gerryâs eyes swept the field before her. Its green grass and white tents fluttered in a light wind Tuesday, just over 31 years after the most famous rockânâroll concert ever was held at that very spot off Hurd and West Shore roads in Bethel.
Her eyes were joined by those of her family ö and nearly 200 others. Because, like Gerry, they were there to see the next major step in their dream to responsibly and successfully capitalize upon a Sullivan County legend: Woodstock.
For Gerry, it was slightly more personal, as she had been the one to bring these 37 acres to her fatherâs attention back in 1994, right after she attended the concertâs 25th anniversary celebration.
And on Tuesday afternoon, she was finally seeing the most concrete evidence yet that her suggestion of buying the Woodstock property and creating a music-themed international attraction was bearing fruit.
There, standing next to her dad, Liberty billionaire Alan Gerry, was Governor George Pataki, and he was speaking about the idea she and fellow Woodstock enthusiast Evan Bloom had bandied about for years.
Pataki was talking of Saratoga, of Tanglewood, of Carnegie Hall, of places that had drawn tourists worldwide in their search for top-flight musical performances.
ãNow they wonât have to go anywhere else,ä he was saying. ãAnd because of Alanâs leadership, we will have a $40 million performing arts center right here in Bethel.ä
The crowd, sitting at the top of the bowl-shaped natural amphitheater which hosted 500,000 people in 1969, exploded into applause, all the while gawking at the drawings and photographs illustrating the 19,000-seat indoor/outdoor center planned for nearby (the exact location and specifications will be determined within the next three months).
Even Pataki was talking of coming to the site, lamenting the fact that he ãnever got to see Richie Havens perform live.ä
Although there was one Woodstock veteran present: Levon Helm, drummer for The Band.
After presenting Pataki with a set of drumsticks, the Woodstock native (the Ulster County town, not the concert) ruminated on the future: ãThere will be two years of building [the center], then a lot of years playing music. Hopefully, thatâll be my job.ä
Joining Helm, Pataki and Gerry on the podium were federal Represen-tative Ben Gilman, state Senator John Bonacic and Assemblyman Jake Gunther. Bonacic and Gunther had secured $7 million and $1 million, respectively, from state funds to help create the center. Pataki, who has benefitted in the past from thousands of dollars contributed to him by Gerry, had thrown in another $7 million, bringing state funding to $15 million. The remaining $25 million will be funded by Gerryâs foundation and its subsidiary, GF Entertainment, along with sizeable private contributions and endowments.
ãWe worked hard looking for the right project with Alan and the governor,ä said Bonacic, referring to a nearly year-long, secretive process to determine how best to develop the site. ãTo me, the highlight of today . . . is a project that will be the rebirth of the Sullivan County economy.ä
ãItâs so important for Sullivan County and New York State,ä agreed Gunther. ãThis to me is the real deal. This is it. And itâs a good day for the county.ä
ãSullivan County has needed this kind of impetus for so long,ä added Gilman, who called the project ãTanglewood West.ä ãItâs truly the start of a new life for our region. Itâs obvious that Bethel will soon be a household word in New York State.ä
But Gerry was the true star of the afternoon, receiving a standing ovation and being called ãthe driving forceä behind the project by Pataki.
ãWe donât want to let it die,ä Gerry explained of Woodstock. ãIt has to be brought into the year 2000 . . . and itâs going to be for all the people.ä
Though one young man was escorted away from Pataki by his security force after complaining that this was a waste of taxpayersâ money, Gerry was confident that even dissenters had seen the light.
ãItâs been a real team effort,ä he said to those who might disagree with the project. ãAnd youâre all part of this now.ä
Gerry also introduced the architectural team that would work to create the performing arts center. Officials from the firm ö HOK (Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, the worldâs largest architectural company) out of NYC ö revealed that this springâs groundbreaking and the following two years of construction would only be Phase One of a much larger plan that would likely include a school for the performing arts, lodging facilities and other development of the surrounding 1,400 acres Gerry has purchased since 1997.
Locals who were in attendence were thrilled at the news.
ãThis is great for the area,ä said Forestburgh Playhouse Executive Director Norman Duttweiler. ãThis is the greatest thing thatâs happened here in a long time.ä
ãThis is a wonderful day for Sullivan County,ä agreed SC Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jacquie Leventoff, who anticipates a large influx of new residents and jobs due to the planned center. ãAny area would be thrilled to have this . . . [but] itâs finally our turn.ä
ãThis is one of the major attractions weâll be marketing . . . right off the bat,ä remarked the new head of the SC Visitorsâ Association, Roberta Lockwood. ãItâs great to be in the middle of it!ä
ãThis will become the number one employer in Sullivan County,ä predicted SC Partnership for Economic Development Board Chair Jerry Skoda, who worked with Gerry at ãA Day in the Gardenä concerts as head of Cornell Cooperative Extension two years ago. ãThis shows that tourism and agriculture are compatible.ä
Town of Bethel Supervisor Allan Scott will be at the forefront of that effort to ensure the two really are compatible.
ãThereâll be a lot of work that comes before the planning board,ä he explained, ã[including] reviewing the lay of the land.ä
Scott said he expects a normal amount of aggravation on all sides during the next few years of construction but feels that ãthe majority of residents are clearly looking forward to this.ä
ãWeâll plan it so that it is very compatible with this community,ä he said. ãBethel is very receptive to this project.ä
Thereâs been talk of widening Route 17B or adding an exit off Route 17 near Harris to accommodate an anticipated increase in traffic, but at this point, Scott could only say that the Bethel Local Development Corporationâs (BLDC) work would be ãdusted offä to assist in the project.
One of those residents to potentially be impacted, West Shore Road resident Clint Partridge of the spiritualistic Bethel Foundation, was relatively unworried.
ãI think itâs going to be wonderful for the county and the arts,ä he commented, adding that heâs looking forward to music with positive messages being performed at the center. ãI only hope the heritage is maintained with respect.ä
Longtime Woodstock flamekeeper Duke Devlin of Jeffersonville feels it will be.
ãThis is a happening in and of itself,ä he said after taking pictures of Gerry and the governor touring the site. ãThereâs a nursery rhyme: All the kingâs horses and all the kingâs men couldnât put Woodstock together again ö but Alan Gerry did a pretty good job!ä