Decision looms on future of Chautauqua Ampitheater

CHAUTAUQUA INSTITUTION, N.Y. (WIVB)-  A panel of twenty four people have a big decision on their hands Saturday. They need to decide whether to demolish most of a 122 year old structure and rebuild a replica, or try to work with the bones of the aging Chautauqua Institution’s Ampitheater.

“The Chautauquans have told us, “Whatever you do here, we love this feel, we love the atmosphere,it brings back memories’ and that’s the new design.” said George Murphy, Marketing Officer for the Chautauqua Institution.

The administration of the Chautauqua Institution has raised 33 million dollars in private funds for a plan that would tear down most of the existing Ampitheater and rebuild it, with better sight lines, more handicapped accessibility and an orchestra pit, which it doesn’t have now.

The Ampitheater hosts about four different events every day in the summer, but some performers are limited in what they can do, according to Murphy. “Where you have theater dancers and symphony all at the same time, they don’t fit on the stage, so you need to move them on the floor, the orchestra typically, and you need to put the chorale back in the balcony, so in that case you lose about eight hundred seats.”

But not everyone thinks new is better.

“The heartbeat of Chautauqua is the Ampitheater.” said Brian berg who heads up ‘Save The Amp’, a group urging the administration to save more of the existing structure. He says two panels commissioned by the Institution itself back up his plea. “They include two historic architects and four preservationists have all made recommendations and shown how the Ampitheater can be saved, modernized for present and future audiences.”

His group has developed an online petition with 10-thousand signatures, but on the Institution grounds, most people we spoke to seem fine with starting from scratch.

“Nothing stays still.” said Sharon Hamilton of Jamestown.” When we decide that we can’t live with change, we’re in trouble. I think that we probably need to rebuild.”

Murphy points out that very little in the bowl is original. The seats and stage have both been replaced over the years. Can such a old structure continue to be limped along with the original materials? Berg thinks so. “Those ballparks, Fenway, Wrigley, Carnegie Hall, Independence Hall is even older, those have been incrementally changed, evolved over time, they measure time. You put up a new structure in 2016,moving forward the past is almost whitewashed.”

The twenty four Trustees on the Chautauqua Institution’s Board is scheduled to vote on Saturday whether or not to put the rebuild plan out to bid, or go back to the drawing board and develop a plan that would save more of the existing pieces of the Ampitheater.

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