Only on 4: Inside the new Amp at Chautauqua

CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Construction crews have shifted into high-gear to make sure the $41 million dollar amphitheater is ready for the start of the summer season at the Chautauqua Institution.

“The shape of what people will recognize as the Amp is really coming to life, both inside and out. My biggest hope is that people will come back and realize it looks and feels a lot like the one they loved,” Michael E. Hill, Chautauqua Institution President told News 4.

Focusing on the future

Hill took over as president after the decision was made to use private donations to tear down the century-old Amp and start over. Preservationists fought but failed to save the sacred space. “I think the thing for me coming in, is it’s not helpful for me to re-litigate the debate, because the reality is the new one is nearing completion, and the former Amp can’t be brought back, regardless of where you are on that debate,” Hill suggested.

Hill says he’s incredibly excited to inherit a facility that honors the past while focusing on the future.

“The Amp has always been the heart of this institution. It’s our church. It’s where we do our great speaker series. It’s where our artists most perform, and that won’t change. I think and hope that what people discover is not only do the aesthetics look and feel like what they know from the old, but that which is most important to the institution, and that is our central gathering place, will continue,” Hill reiterated.

Inside the construction zone

We asked the institution’s operations director what he thinks will surprise visitors the most this summer. Without hesitation he said, “How similar it looks to the old one!” John Shedd’s observation was true, at least for our News 4 crew. The footprint for the facility is nearly identical to the Amp that was torn down in 2016.

The new amp is about 20 percent larger, so it will hold about 4,400. They’ve also added steps to make it a lot easier to reach the seats. Benches will once again provide the seating. When asked if they’re any more comfortable, the institution leaders offered subtle smiles, saying “…They’ll all be wooden benches like they were before.”

“I use to joke that it was the world’s best calf exercise in the old one going down those ramps. We fixed those kinds of things. The acoustics, and the lighting and the sound are going to be superior, and our ability to provide for artists and visitors a much nicer experience in the back-of-house is certainly one of the great new elements of this facility,” Hill underscored.

Crews from LP Ciminelli are on schedule to complete the project in time for Aretha Franklin to open the season with a concert on Saturday, June 24.

A push for unity

Hill believes the facility will offer Chautauquans a chance to find common ground. “I mean the Amp has always played that role for Chautauqua. It’s the central gathering place. The concept of the Amp was everyone gathers under one roof. It’s not Amp 2.0. This is Amp 3.0. The first Amp was built and demolished, and history tells us something,” he argued.

Preservationists formed the Committee to Preserve the Historic Chautauqua Amphitheater. Their leader, Brian J. Berg, told News 4 in 2016, “The travesty is that it wasn’t necessary to demolish the entire structure to accomplish the Institution’s goals for a new Amp.”

The new director believes the facility will still fulfill Chautauquans’ need for dialogue and debate, a conversation that likely will include what people think of the new Amp. “It’s not a static experience at Chautauqua, especially in the lecture platform, you intake wonderful information and then you debate, and for us our community is the country and the world, and so we invite people to come join the conversation,” Hill said.

Click here to learn more about the institution’s 2017 summer season.

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