Closer To Reality
An experiential attraction, performance venue and center for the comedic arts that may attract more than 120,000 visitors annually is being planned for downtown Jamestown.
The development of the National Comedy Center is progressing with the goal to make Jamestown the Cooperstown of comedy. Tom Benson, National Comedy Center chairman, said a master plan has been completed for the center, which would be located along West Second Street. The center would be built where a BPU substation scheduled for dismantling next year is currently located. The Jamestown Gateway Train Station would be the anchor of the proposed facility.
Benson said the team of stakeholders led by the Lucy-Desi Center for Comedy, the Gebbie Foundation, the Oishei Foundation, Jamestown Renaissance Corporation, the city of Jamestown, Chautauqua County, the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, and additional community and regional representatives are preparing to head into the next phase of development. The next phase would be the construction of a riverside park at the train station. The Gateway Park would have an outdoor plaza, railroad crossing system and landscaping improvements to the area behind the train station. The park would connect to the Greater Jamestown Riverwalk along the Chadakoin River. Benson said the plan is to break ground as soon as possible for the park so it will be completed by the fall. Primary funding for the Gateway Park phase of the National Comedy Center development is being provided by the Gebbie Foundation and the Oishei Foundation.
“We are very grateful to our major foundation partners, Gebbie and Oishei for providing the generous grants that will allow us to take this next very important step in the creation of the National Comedy Center,” Benson said. “The creation of a wonderful new waterfront park will be a clear indication that this project has strong community support and will keep the momentum going full speed. Our ability to develop the next level of detailed exhibit and facility designs during the next six months will provide the springboard for moving quickly forward once the funding has been established.”
ECONOMIC IMPACT STUDY
Following a commitment of support from the Oishei Foundation in 2012, two firms were contracted to complete the master planning phase of the National Comedy Center project. Jack Rouse Associates, a firm specializing in audience-centric exhibit and museum experiences in culture and entertainment, and AECOM, a global provider of professional technical and management support including leisure economics, worked in parallel to complete the master plan in 2013.
The result of this master plan and a subsequent economic impact study projected an annual attendance figure of 120,000 visitors, and $26 million annual economic impact for the three-county region of Chautauqua, Erie and Cattaraugus. Benson said the estimation of the attendance figure didn’t include Jamestown’s proximity to Buffalo, local residents or summer visitors to the Chautauqua Institution.
“This is a very conservative estimate,” Benson said.
CENTER WOULD HONOR
The National Comedy Center would not be another local shrine to just Lucille Ball, but to the entire comedic world. It would be an institution that would honor the past with exhibit experiences showcasing artists and their respective contributions to the art form, the present with its ongoing contemporary programming and the future with its fostering of development of the art form and support of the artist.
“(Recently) we lost Sid Caesar and … Harold Ramis,” said Journey Gunderson, Lucy-Desi Center for Comedy executive director. “On social media I read posts that said, ‘show your kids and the next generation his movies so his legacy lives on.’ The National Comedy Center is the place you can take the next generation so they know these artists and their respective contributions to the art form, because what they did matters. It’s important.”
Benson said the comedy center would not be similar to older facilities honoring the past. He said the structure would be state of the art, with interactive programs for those visiting the attraction. During the next seven to eight months as Gateway Park is being built, the building schematic designs will be completed as will the next phase in the exhibit designs.
“This will not be a traditional hall of fame or museum,” he said. “You can’t build traditional museums and be useful anymore.”
NATIONAL COMEDY CENTER FUNDING
Funding for the project is expected to come from a private/public consortium made up of foundations; New York state and federal grants; local and regional governments and agencies; new market tax credits; corporate sponsorships; contributions from prominent members of the comedy industry; and contributions from the general public. To ensure long-term sustainability, an endowment fund will be established before construction begins. Funding for the project will be raised with the goal of long-term sustainability as the fundamental principle, said Benson.
“The National Comedy Center will be a major national attraction,” Benson said. “If we are successful in this endeavor, it will change the face of Jamestown and the Western New York region, and will provide the stimulus for the continued rebirth of the downtown area through the organic development of retail outlets, restaurants and housing projects.”
Benson said the timeline to open the doors to the National Comedy Center is set for 2016.
“This has come from a dream to a reality in a short time,” he said. “When someone thinks of comedy, they’re going to think of Jamestown.”