FAQ: Campaign to Save the Amp

June 5, 2015 by Jason Clement

What is the Chautauqua Institution proposing?

The Chautauqua Institution is planning to demolish its historic Amphitheater to make way for a replica with updated amenities. Under the current plan, every character-defining element of the structure except for its organ loft and the Massey Organ would be lost, including the scale and depth of the Amphitheater, the ceiling, roof, benches, outdoor bleachers, and back porch.

Wasn’t this supposed to be a rehabilitation project? Why is demolition being considered?

Throughout the planning process, the Institution referred to the Amp improvements as an "historic rehabilitation project.” And through last October, the Institution's website called the project a “rehabilitation.” It was not until November 14, 2014, that the Institution’s President, Thomas Becker, admitted a lapse in communication had occurred and stated that the project is actually a demolition and reconstruction.

Haven’t changes already been made to the Amp over the years?

Yes, and the Amp is certainly in need of some upgrades and improvements today. All buildings need to be cared for and maintained over time. In the past, the changes that were made to update and improve the Amp were done incrementally and with great respect to the historic character and integrity of the original design. This work was also often done with financial support from the preservation community, including the New York State Historic Preservation Office. Because of this careful stewardship, the Amp is still very much a historic structure worthy of preservation for future generations.

Can’t the Amp’s status as a National Historic Landmark prevent its demolition?

No. Because private funds are being used for the demolition and reconstruction, this project is not subject to review by the New York State Historic Preservation Office or the National Park Service.

Is demolition and building a replica the only way to improve the Amp?

No. There are many ways the Amp can be updated and improved without demolishing it. CJS Architects, a nationally respected firm, has provided a report of preservation-based alternatives as a starting point for a meaningful preservation discussion. This report responds to the Institution’s publically stated goals for the Amp project, though it was prepared without the benefit of any of the its studies or plans.

Has the Institution asked residents and visitors what they want?

Yes, and their answers don’t seem to support a new Amp. The Institution’s own survey shows that the architectural history of the Amp was the most important feature in defining the Amphitheater experience among respondents. Additionally, 93% of respondents indicated that the current Amp adequately accommodates the Institution’s programming, while 31% felt that the Amp meets those needs perfectly.

What is the status of the Institution’s plan?

Amid growing pressure from residents, preservationists, and concerned citizens across the country, the Institution announced on January 20, 2015, that it was opening up the process for public dialogue and deferring a decision on the Amp until August 2015. In April 2015, the Institution announced that it had sought recommendations on the project from the National Park Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior which has no approval authority. The Institution subsequently established an advisory panel to review the current plans. While the National Trust is not participating on this panel, it does include representatives from three of our preservation partners – Preservation Buffalo Niagara, the Preservation League of New York State, and the New York State Historic Preservation Office.

What can I do to help?

The best thing you can do it to let your voice be heard by signing our petition urging the Institution to develop a preservation-based rehabilitation plan for the historic Amp.

Where can I find more information?

Additional information can be found on the Committee to Preserve the Historic Chautauqua Amphitheater’s website and on the Chautauqua Institution’s website.

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