CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Thousands of visitors will soon converge on the Chautauqua Institution for the start of the summer season. They’ll enjoy speeches, performances and worship services at the institution’s historic amphitheater. This is the final season before workers tear down the beloved building and rebuild.
The fight over the amphitheater dominates the discussion the minute you arrive on the picturesque grounds. “Every time you to go to a dinner party, they talk about the Amp. Every time you go to the gym, they talk about the Amp. You go to the swimming pool, and they’re still talking about the Amp,” resident Peg Barrett admitted.
She calls this quiet corner of WNY home for six months of the year. “It’s done. The judge has made a decision, and it’s time to move forward. And i think it’s the best thing, not only for Chautauqua but for the community as well.”
A judge ruled preservationists didn’t have grounds to block the institution from tearing down and rebuilding.
Visitors will find a few differences when they return to the institution. Operations Director John Shedd thinks people will enjoy the open feel.
“I think they’re gonna be surprised how clean the site is. Our construction team did a fantastic job of keeping things clean and neat and orderly on the site, so it looks like nothing has really happened,” Shedd said.
Workers removed fencing, swapped out bleachers and installed foundations in the bedrock for the new Amp. That meant removing 42 trees. Shedd says they’ll add 52 trees once the project is done.
This summer performers will work out of temporary buildings.
“We need to bring it up to current code compliance,” Shedd explained. The new space will still have bench seating, but the seats will have different angles that should ‘feel’ better.
The steep inclines will be replaced with stairs that should be easier to navigate. The new amp will offer slightly more seating and an orchestra pit. The rebuild will be constructed around the organ chamber.
“We’re gonna start construction right as soon as the season ends this year, August 29, and then we’ll have to finish before the opening of the 2017 season,” Shedd detailed.
Finding unity will take time. Opponents remain upset about the demolition. “Had leadership of the Institution been truly interested in a solution that united the community, it would have explored preservation options openly and sincerely with experts and stakeholders,” Brian Berg told News 4 earlier this year. “Instead, a deeply divided community will get a $41.5 million structure devoid of the original Amp’s authenticity and history.”