Taking Center Stage
With more than $15 million already raised, area residents could potentially see a rehabilitated Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater as early as the summer of 2016.
As part of the Chautauqua Promise Campaign, Chautauqua Institution has set a six-year goal of raising $98.2 million, which according to The Chautauquan Daily, is nearly double the amount it has ever aimed to raise before. However, nearly $58 million of the funds have already been raised since January 2011, bringing Chautauqua Institution ever closer to its goal.
One major aspect of the campaign, the rehabilitation of the Chautauqua Amphitheater, comprises about of the total funds needed to meet the $98.2 million goal. To be exact, $33.5 million of the $98.2 million is set to be utilized for the rehabilitation project, and more than $15 million has already been raised.
According to Thomas M. Becker, Chautauqua Institution president, because the project has to be completed before the 9-week season starts in June, when the rehabilitation begins is entirely dependent on when the $33.5 million goal is reached.
“We can’t begin until we raise all the money,” Becker said. “As soon as we raise all the money then we get to the final stages. We’re engaged in the fundraising process now, and we’re making progress. We’re taking donations, but because we have to have all the money raised ahead of time that means there has to be fewer donors through the process – they have to make large commitments.”
The project’s lead architecture firm is Serena Sturm Architects, which is based in Chicago. But, Mitchell Kurtz Architect PC, of New York City, and Wendel, of Buffalo, are also part of the design development set. Becker projects that the building portion of the rehabilitation is going to be in excess of $26 million, while the total “soft-cost” is another $4.2 million. The building will also be endowed, but that money doesn’t have to be presented up front. Becker believes that will be an additional $3-4 million.
“The endowment allows us, over a period of time, to repair and replace certain aspects of the structure – it’s long-term replacement value,” Becker said. “This is really about the next 100 years of the amphitheater – it is indeed about sustainability.”
PRESERVE AND SUSTAIN
According to John Shedd, administrator of architecture and land use regulations and capital projects manager for Chautauqua Institution, the rehabilitation aims to not only preserve the historical significance of the amphitheater and bring it up to date to enhance longevity, but also to improve the quality of the experience for both artist and audience.
“We did a design program, which identified the spaces that we need and the efficiencies that we’re looking for,” Shedd said. “So, we spoke to our groups, the people who run dance, music, choir and orchestra, our stage manager, and our director of programming, Marty Merkley.”
Hamilton Houston Lownie, of Buffalo, will serve as the historical preservation architect for the project. One portion of the process includes preserving the Massey Memorial Organ, which is also set to be highlighted with a walkway. A number of other major improvements are also set to be made to the back end of the house.
“What we’ve discovered through our process is that one of the most important parts of this is the historical preservation of our culture and what goes on here,” Shedd said. “So, we focused on how our history has culturally been to change this amp over the course of the century to make it work for the best performances and discourses that we have.”
Up until recently the model of the projected rehabilitation of the Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater was on display at the Smith Memorial Library, where Shedd held informational meetings about the project. However, the model is now located at the main gate visitor’s center on route 394 in Chautauqua, which is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.