Ruling clears way for demolition of historic Chautauqua amphitheater
February 12, 2016 12:19 AM
Chautauquans fill the Amphitheater for a morning lecture by Leslie K. John, assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, Friday, July 24 at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, NY.
By Marylynne Pitz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rejecting arguments by property owners and preservationists, a New York judge’s ruling Thursday allows Chautauqua Institution to demolish its historic amphitheater and build a larger replica of the open-air structure.
Chautauqua is a western New York summer retreat that offers nine weeks of cultural and educational programs to residents and more than 100,000 visitors.
The $41.5 million project, funded by private donations, entails building a new amphitheater with a larger seating area plus new backstage facilities that will accommodate large trucks and improve comfort and safety.
State Supreme Court Justice Frank A. Sedita III, who sits in Mayville, N.Y., lifted a temporary restraining order he imposed last month to halt work on the project while he heard the case. On Thursday, he also denied a request for a preliminary injunction by the Committee to Preserve the Historic Chautauqua Amphitheater.
Last month, the preservation group and five property owners sued Chautauqua Institution, claiming the nonprofit has failed to comply with a local ordinance that requires the preservation of historical resources.
Earlier this week, the judge heard testimony from Peter Flynn, an architect from Buffalo, N.Y., who served on Chautauqua’s historic preservation advisory panel. That group has criticized plans to demolish the 123-year-old structure and build a replica that is 50 percent larger.
Chautauqua trustee Robert Jeffrey, program director Deborah Sunya Moore and operations director John Shedd all testified in favor of demolition and construction of a replica.
Institution leaders, the town of Chautauqua’s code enforcement officer and the Chautauqua Town Board contend the amphitheater project is exempt from local or state ordinances governing historical resources because the project is “restorative” and does not destroy the character of the structure.
“The court’s decision to allow Chautauqua Institution to proceed with destroying Chautauqua’s most sacred structure and one of the nation’s most historic places is a travesty,” said Brian Berg, one of the founders of the preservation group.
Marylynne Pitz: 412-263-1648 or email@example.com
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