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Chautauqua Institution Ampitheater construction contract approved by board

January 8, 2016
By Jimmy McCarthy ( , Westfield Republican

CHAUTAUQUA - Construction of a renewed Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater took a step forward Wednesday as the board of trustees approved the facility's final design and authorized a construction contract.

The $41.5 million project, funded entirely through private and foundation donations, includes an expanded bowl and roof structure, enlarged seating area and a new, 21,000-square-foot back-of-house facility, among other features. The contract was awarded to LPCiminelli Inc., of Buffalo, whose administration will serve as the project's construction manager.

"We are incredibly excited to be moving forward with a renewed amphitheater. This is one of the most significant projects in the 142-year history and a commitment to the future of this institution," said Tom Becker, Chautauqua Institution president. "We are grateful to the 58 private donors and foundations who have made this a reality and we are ready to begin work."

Construction will begin in early February once building permits are complete and contracts are finalized, according to John Shedd, Chautauqua Institution director of operations. Foundation work around the seating area, groundwater diversion and partial Massey Organ underpinning will follow.

A substantial portion of the current back-of-house will be taken down during the winter and spring. Work will also require tree and bleacher removal. Construction will pause for the 2016 season.

"We'll start construction back up at the end of the 2016 season," Shedd said. "All materials will hopefully be here on site as soon as things start happening. That will go until June 2017 which is our goal to have it finished by."

The choice of LPCiminelli, a construction group for institutional and commercial clients, as construction manger is the culmination of a process that initiated in 2013. The project is expected to employ over 160 tradesmen from the region and add $3 million to the local economy. James A. Pardo Jr., board of trustees chairman, said the board reviewed bid packages and the changes made in them in achieving the project cost target.

"We will deliver an amphitheater that meets all of the goals and objectives that were set for this facility," he said.

Brian Berg, chair for the Committee to Preserve the Historic Chautauqua Amphitheater, said they recognize the amphitheater is long overdue for improvements and that the historic structure must evolve with the times. However, Berg said the committee disagrees with the change being proposed to destroy and replace the entire Amphitheater.

"The committee and its partners remain committed to the preservation and improvement of the Amp and are now weighing their options in light of (Wednesday's) announcement," Berg said in a released statement.

Jordan Steves, Chautauqua Institution director of communications, said the new facility will seat around 4,400 people and will accommodate a large number of people coming to Chautauqua. Steves said a new amphitheater will give audiences, performers and resident artists the kind of space they deserve and expect out of a modern institution.

"We're still going to very much be Chautauqua, but it will give us a lot more capacity and hopefully that will be able to reflect in the acts and speakers we bring in," he said. "It's been a long process with a lot of community and expert input for five years - and a lot of fundraising. We're really excited for people to experience the amphitheater when we have the grand opening in 2017."



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