Development or Destruction

USA Today featured an article about a performing arts center being constructed on the site of Woodstock in Bethel, NY.

I have been following the story for awhile now since I grew up near the site and my mother currently lives within 10 miles of the location. (In fact, I mentioned the arts center in an earlier entry) Artists rendition of the site may be found here.

As you might imagine, there are quite a few people who are not happy that the historic land is being torn up for an arts center. One such group is the Woodstock Preservation Alliance. Although they tend to paint Allan Geery as an evil developer, he and his foundation have been somewhat responsive to the desires of the group and eliminated 90% of the planned construction. (Noted in coverage of the hearings here and here) For their own part, the Alliance isn’t opposed to the performing arts center. They realize its economic value to the area. They just don’t want it on the historic portion of the fields.

If you read the articles and look at the website, it is clear that Woodstock really touched a great number of people. Many of those opposed to the development are from Canada and many parts of the US. In fact, some of those opposed didn’t even attend Woodstock which goes to show how the power of the event has captured people’s hearts and imaginations.

On the other hand, a lot of locals support the site. This may not be unexpected. They live in a section of the Catskill mountains that has been economically depressed since people from NYC stopped flocking to the local resorts in the summer. People are heading back to the mountains again, but it is to attend newly built casinos which is a mixed blessing at best.

The one glimmer of hope has come from Allan Gerry and his Sullivan Renaissance program. He has taken the money he got from selling his cable company to Time Warner and has the local communities competing with each other to get improvement grants. Stories about how communities have mobilized to meet this challenge can be found here, here, here.

So when the man who has helped bring some pride back to the county says he is going to use his money build a performing arts center that will feature the NY Philharmonic, it is hard not to be grateful. Even his opponents admit it will be beneficial to the community.

It is tough to identify the bad guy in this case. There are too many elements to address in this small space, but briefly– Yes, Woodstock is a potent and pivotal part of our history and should be preserved and treasured. On the other hand the developer has eliminated a huge part of his plans for the site. His plans will bring thousands of visitors to the historical site which he intends to preserve a large portion of and do homage to in a museum. The Gerry Foundation has shown itself to be reverent of the local communities so the project probably won’t be cheesy or Disneyfy the locale or Woodstock ’69.

Personally, I think I would prefer the amibiance his project will bring to the local community rather than the one the casinos are going to.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


1 thought on “Development or Destruction”

  1. As testimony to the efforts made to preserve this piece of global history, a new website has been constructed that chronicles several years of a tireless labor of love. This premier website may be one of the best sources of Woodstock information for the interested public and students alike. The website is not only about Woodstock 1969, it’s about Woodstock: then and now. The facts, fiction, legend, mythology, and general power of what is “Woodstock” will continue through our youth and our generations to come and a unique page has been developed as a place for our students to share their works; their projects and essays, with others, to enjoy and learn from. Our website also features “Memories” a place for those who attended that event, to share one of their own. In addition, our website also serves as a template for other grassroots historic preservation movements. A multitude of information, photos, video, audio and more, abound on this website. Unlike other Woodstock


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