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Bethel Arts Center Secures State Aid

A performing arts center blooms at the Woodstock site.

Steve Israel
The Times Herald-Record
[email protected]
September 1, 2000

BETHEL--Gov. Pataki strode to the stage atop a hill at the site of the original Woodstock festival and stood where the floor tape said "Gov."

Before he announced state aid for the $40 million performing arts center on Alan Gerry's land, he looked at the crowd that included everyone from State Police Maj. Alan Martin in his gray uniform to Woodstock veteran Duke Devlin, in a faded blue T-shirt framing his chest-length beard.

The governor had one question.

"Where's Levon?" he asked about Levon Helm, the drummer of his favorite group, The Band, which played the 1969 festival.

Helm, who was supposed to add Woodstock flavor to the event, was late arriving from his home in Ulster County.

But dozens of politicians, business people and media types were there to hear details of the biggest thing to hit Sullivan since 400,000 packed the field in 1969:

  • Construction on the arts center will begin in the spring.
  • Performances of everything from jazz and rock to dance and classical musical should start in 2003.
  • An indoor, barn-like hall will seat 4,000, with another 11,000 accommodated on the lawn. The location of the hall hasn't been set.
  • The $15 million in state aid will be used for infrastructure improvements for roads, water and sewer systems.

That could include widening Route 17B or creating a new exit off Route 17. But Gerry said nothing was definite.

"We haven't gotten to that level yet," said Gerry, a Liberty native. "It's all on the drawing board."

Although the one-time cable TV magnate has said a museum, restaurant and lodging are possible, plans haven't been set.

"We're going to start with the arts center and then they tell me there'll be a little land left over," Gerry said of the 1,000-plus acres he owns near the site.

While the Gerry Foundation and the New York Philharmonic are talking about making the center the orchestra's summer home, no deal has been struck.

"But this is another step in that direction," said its chairman Paul Guenther, who attended the announcement.

After politicians like Assemblyman Jake Gunther, state Sen. John Bonacic and Rep. Ben Gilman thanked Gerry, Pataki and each other for bringing the county a tourist destination that would mirror the likes of Tanglewood or Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Helm ambled to the podium.

With his hair gray and body thin from throat cancer, he may have looked a bit haggard, like he had "wandered the hills of Bethel all these years," as Pataki said.

But Helms words were strong.

"This is what everybody always hoped for," he said.

And in skeptical Sullivan County, where folks have heard so many Woodstock schemes and casino dreams, just about everyone agreed.

"A real project that we control, not like a casino," said Rusty Pomeroy, chairman of the Sullivan County Legislature.

"The times are a changin'," said Devlin, who came to the county for the 1969 festival and never left. "And I think they're changing for the good."

Down the road at the White Lake post office, a man who has seen it all in Sullivan held a letter saying he may have won one of those $250 million jackpots.

But 74-year-old Roy Van Fradenburg thought the county hit it big.

"This," he said, "is for real."