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Concord Tears Down to Build Up

KIAMESHA: The wrecking claw ripped into the Concord. But this wasn't about demolition.

Barbara Gref and Barry Lewis
The Times Herald-Record
[email protected] & [email protected]
October 11, 2000

Before the rockets burst from the 10th floor of the Concord's towers, before the balloons gushed from the roof, before lunch for 340 on the front lawn, there was, for a moment, just Helen and Louis.

Helen Kutsher, matriarch of what's left of the Catskills' grand past, took the hand of Louis Cappelli, the man who'd soon give the signal to wreck the Concord. She held his hand tightly.

"Like she knew me a long time," he said.

She said, "I'm Helen Kutsher. We're the other hotel."

"It struck me for the first time," he said. "My own sense of what it meant to be a hotel owner in Sullivan County."

In a county long-bereaved over the loss of its old resort economy, developer Louis Cappelli yesterday blew away skepticism over his plan to rebuild the 1,200-room place at a price of $500 million. Yesterday when the jaws of an excavator's grappler sent a shower of concrete to the earth, it began five months of demolition to what was once the biggest hotel in the Catskills. From there, it's 14 months of construction on a $150 million, 525-room hotel and convention center. That's what is called "phase one."

"We've all waited a long time for this day," Cappelli said. Cappelli, a consummate showman bolstered by the backing of Wall Street partners Reckson Strategic Venture, timed the wreck of the Concord to match his 49th birthday. With him these things are no coincidence. A master of detail and planning, he's got a billion dollars worth of upscale projects under the belt of a company his father began from scratch in Westchester.

Cappelli snagged the shiniest of Catskills gems, both the Concord and Grossinger's in 1998 and 1999 as they slid into further ruin and bankruptcy. Grossinger's was $6 million. The Concord was $10.25 million; it had closed in late 1998.

The Cappelli organization always said it would rebuild the Concord first.

Cappelli's Concord caps a resurgence of hope in the mountains. In August, native millionaire Alan Gerry announced plans for a $40 million performing arts center at the site of the original Woodstock festival. This week the New York Philharmonic said that'll probably be its summer home. Despite a round of scuttled casino plans, the world's largest casino company now swears it'll have an Indian casino at Kutsher's within two years.

Though every other speech from a dais packed with dignitaries began with "I remember" thoughts were on the future.

"A launching pad for a Renaissance here in the Catskills" is how Sheldon Silver saw Sullivan's comeback. The highest ranking official there, the Assembly speaker has a second home in the Catskills. But cynicism has surrounded this day for so long, it was like a guest that had to be shooed away from the ceremony.

"They always said it would be a cold day in hell when they broke ground on the Concord," said Tony Cellini, supervisor of the town where the Concord's always been the biggest part of the tax and jobs base. "Well, they got the cold right."

Mrs. Kutsher, whose Kutsher's Country Club stands to gain the first casino in the region, said the Catskills won't come back like they were. That won't be possible.

"I came here when I was 10 years old," she said. "I've seen the downfall, I've seen the growth ... I can see what was and what will be.

"It'll be different," she said. World-class different.

The promise of some kind of grand was there, under the vast heated tents on the main entrance lawns. Food burdened the lunch tables, waiters worked the crowd. A jazz quartet kept playing as the biggest crowd in two years left the Concord's grounds to wait for spring 2002.

"It's the end of one era and the start of a new one," said bass player Jon Hart, who played many a night in the Concord lounge when it was full of guests. "And it feels good."

Enough talk, said Louis Landon, keyboardist and leader of the quartet.

"Next number--and funkify it."

Concord timeline

  • 1935 --Russian immigrant Arthur Winarick took possession of The Ideal Plaza in Kiamesha Lake in settlement of a debt. This marks the beginning of what would become the Concord Resort Hotel.
  • 1950s -- With a reputation for sumptuous kosher dining and top entertainment, the hotel becomes one of the top vacation spots in the Northeast. Winarick's daughter, Clara, and her husband, Raymond Parker, take over the hotel operation. The hotel is passed on to Raymond's sons.
  • 1960s -- The decline of the Catskills resort industry takes hold, as city dwellers move out to air-conditioned homes in the suburbs and affordable air travel makes vacations to more exotic locations possible.
  • 1985 -- With mounting debt, Grossinger's is sold for $9 million. Attempts to reopen it fail. It's later sold again in foreclosure.
  • 1988 -- Brown's Hotel is sold for $5.3 million
  • January 1997 -- Albany lawmakers reject a casino referendum, which Concord owners were banking on heavily.
  • February 1997 -- Concord files for bankruptcy protection. Sullivan County, owed more than $8 million in taxes, is the resort's largest creditor.
  • January 1999 -- The hotel sells at a bankruptcy foreclosure auction for $10.25 million, to a partnership led by Joseph Murphy with Westchester developer Louis R. Cappelli as a silent partner. Cappelli later buys out Murphy.
  • March 2000 -- Cappelli and the publicly traded Reckson Strategic Venture Partners announce a plan to redevelop the Concord as a world-class resort.
  • Oct. 10, 2000 -- Cappelli and his partners break ground and begin demolition.