Artpark has outgrown its space, and it's time to expand.
So said representatives from Artpark & Company and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation at a public hearing Tuesday night at the Village of Lewiston Hall. The meeting was in regards to the draft environmental impact statement on the proposal to upgrade and expand the amphitheater and support facilities at the Earl W. Brydges Artpark in Lewiston.
"We're all here because of the success of Artpark; their programming and such," said Mark Mistretta, a senior planner for Wendel Duchscherer Architects and Engineers, the Buffalo firm that designed the proposed new outdoor amphitheater layout. "It's just a fantastic resource."
Due in part to larger crowds, strained amenities, a lack of resources for non-music programming, and a desire to bolster safety, comfort and aesthetic elements, the park "needs further attention," Mistretta said. "We need to address the people; we need to address health and safety issues."
"We're rearranging the elements to make it more user-friendly and safer for the patrons of the venue," he added.
According to State Parks, the proposed modifications are intended to improve the condition of the facilities at the park and to enhance public enjoyment of them. Additionally, due to the demolition of the 500-foot, L-shaped ART-EL structure in 2004, there is a priority need to provide replacement buildings, structures and other facilities that can accommodate family-orientated programming and visual arts programs.
"Seven years ago, a very important structure was demolished at Artpark; those who live around here knew it as the ART-EL," said George Osborne, president of Artpark & Company, the non-profit organization that operates the facilities. "This is important because it housed all of our family programming, our children's activities and our visual arts programs. For the last seven years, we've been trying to hold that together with patchwork, with tents, with portable buildings, etc."
"This amphitheater renovation project is much more than building a space for the 'Tuesday in the Park' concerts," he said. "It's critical to our entire family programs, because it now provides new space for us to expand and grow the programs that once made Artpark so famous."
The proposed project includes facilities for family-oriented arts and crafts and visual arts programming.
It also involves the upgrade and enhancement of the outdoor amphitheater, along with enhancements to various support facilities. Elements of the preferred concept plan involve a new stage, new seating and viewing areas, enhanced parking and access roads, new concession facilities, new restrooms and ancillary support facilities.
"It's about improving the overall concert experience," Mistretta said.
Though the amphitheater "bowl" will be different, the park's overall footprint will remain the same. The venue is landlocked between the Village of Lewiston and the Niagara Gorge.
"We're in a very limited resource - there's only so many square feet because of this wonderful, natural setting," Mistretta said.
The primary purpose of this project is to significantly upgrade the existing amphitheater and support facilities to better accommodate the current level of attendance and provide a proper venue and support facilities for the types of entertainment now being brought to the facility. State Parks has deemed the entire facility to be in a deteriorated condition and in need of repair and renovation.
Artpark & Company Board Chairman Christopher Brown said the ideal timetable would include construction on the $4 million project this fall, en route to a grand reopening in time for summer 2012 programming. At this point, he said, more than half of the money is in place. The other half would likely come from Greenway Plan/New York Power Authority relicensing funds or related sources. Brown doesn't expect any money to come from village or town taxpayers.
About a half-dozen village residents spoke at the public hearing, and each expressed concern over the noise and parking issues related to Artpark's popular "Tuesday in the Park" concert series.
Bob Giannetti called the venue "Rockpark," and said the concert noise, congestion and pseudo parking lots are "simply not in keeping with the aesthetics of a dignified community."
Claudia Marasco pointed out the grounds are devoid of swings or playground equipment. "It's a park, but there's nothing here for children," she said.
Heather DeCastro said any and all final decision on Artpark should center on the wants and needs of the community. "We should be the most important factor," she said.
Environmental analyst Karen B. Terbush, who moderated the event, said, "Tonight's hearing is an important part of the environmental review process." It was the second public hearing on the topic. The first took place on Oct. 23, 2008.
"Our job is to listen; to understand. ... We're not here tonight to judge or to debate, but to record fully and accurately," she added.
Terbush said all remarks would be recorded and included in the environmental impact statement chapter titled "Comments and Responses."
For those who could not attend Monday's meeting, written comments can be e-mailed by March 25 to [email protected] or sent to the following address: Mark Thomas, western district director, NYS Parks, P.O. Box 1132, Niagara Falls, NY 14303.
Artpark opened in 1974 as a unique public park focusing on the performing and visual arts in a picturesque natural setting on 150 acres overlooking the Niagara River Gorge. Facilities include the Mainstage Theater building, the outdoor amphitheater and a range of outdoor activities, such as picnic areas, hiking trails and fishing docks.
The Mainstage Theater accommodates indoor seating for up to 2,400 visitors, with additional outdoor seating in the adjacent lawn area that can be used when the rear wall of the theater is open. The outdoor amphitheater offers an outdoor stage with a sound system and tiers of outdoor seating with no formal seating (patrons provide their own chairs). The facilities also include concessions and restroom facilities.
Over the 2010 summer season, 300,000 people attended Artpark's summer programs, shows and concerts. An additional 250,000 or more visited the park's nature trails, historic sites, picnic areas, rivershore docks and other natural amenities.
-Reporter Joshua Maloni contributed to this report.