HENDERSON HARBOR – The Henderson Harbor Performing Arts Association owns 18.5 acres of land at 12469 County Route 123. Now that the former Mark Hopkins Inn is gone, the association has been thinking about how best to use the space. A feasibility study for a potential performance facility is underway with the idea of building a larger space, but until the results of the study and the accompanying community survey are available, it is too early to say exactly what that will look like.
The idea is an outdoor stage or theater area that can be used depending on the weather and can host big acts such as symphony orchestras, plays, festivals and more, as well as various art exhibitions.
For 25 years, live performances have entertained audiences on location, but generally under some tents or in the open air, so the Association is ready to upgrade to something bigger.
Eunice Wescott, director of the Henderson Harbor Performing Arts Association, Inc., has been with the organization since 1996 when she acquired the property.
“Having a bigger performing arts space would be my dream,” she said. “When we started this project, at the very beginning it was a dream we had that it would be a place where everyone could come and enjoy art, music, plays and other things. And we’ve had a lot of stumbling blocks over the years, but we seem to be making pretty good progress at the moment.”
A study by RMS Research and Marketing Strategies of Syracuse is underway to provide region and northern country demographics. The association has partnered with CNY Jazz of Syracuse to complete and publish the study, and a survey has been sent to the community to gather residents’ responses and opinions on the proposed structure.
Ms Wescott said the poll had garnered 90 responses as of Wednesday, a good indicator of public support.
“I just hope that people will give us their honest opinion on this, are they interested in us doing better or just want us to forget about it?” said Ms. Wescott. “Are we working on a hopeless problem? I do not know. I’m curious to see how people feel, if we’re going to spin our wheels or if we’re going to make progress – I hope it’s progress.”
She noted that the association should have the results of the study by the end of August and can then use the results to determine if and how to move forward with planning. The survey can be found here: http://wdt.me/zEd5aE.
Ms Wescott, who has been with the association for a long time, said she would like to see something really positive there before handing the reins to someone else. She said the board works hard and they have some other jobs so it’s wonderful that they can give their time and not get paid for anything. She said her pay was to see something good happen on the property.
According to John Culkin, chairman of the committee working on the feasibility study, the aim of the study is to determine what level of performance would be feasible in the area.
“We don’t want to build too big, we’re not building Tanglewood here, but we don’t want to underbuild either if the area and the population support something more elaborate,” he said. “What they’re going to do is they take that data and make a prediction or estimate of what type of venue would be supported. They will also help us develop funding strategies in terms of places to start looking for grants and soft loans and things like that to fund what we are talking about, but for now this is just the beginning. We have no idea what we are going to build as it is the results of the survey that will lead us to this decision.”
As well as a more established venue, the club are also hoping to improve their sanitation facilities as events currently taking place at the site include Port A Potties as the only offerings available. Indicating that there is public support for what the association intends to do, Mr. Culkin said this study cost $18,000 and $8,000 was funded by local grants. In addition to a $5,000 grant from the Northern New York Community Foundation and a $1,500 grant from the Six Town Community Fund, the association also received $1,500 from the Henderson Business and Community Council.
“I envision that at some point we will have discussions with other stakeholders,” said Mr. Culkin. “If we’re building a big venue that’s going to draw quite a lot of people, we should talk to the city about parking, traffic issues and things like that. So it’s going to be a snowball rolling down the hill in terms of incorporating a variety of different perspectives. We want to do this right, we don’t want to build something that will die on the vine because it’s too big, we don’t want to build something that will disappoint people because there are no more places.”
Somewhere in between, they hope to find what Mr. Culkin has dubbed “Goldilock’s Zone,” where it’s not too big and not too small, but just right.
Larry Luttinger, a seasonal resident of Henderson Harbor for more than 30 years, has had a summer site at Stoney Point for the past 30 years. As a result of having this address, he said in an area survey a few years ago that he would like to help with any initiatives they are working on in the arts. He said that John Culkin called him back the day they received his survey in the mail.
A few conversations later, they fleshed out their plans for the property.
“I was very excited because it’s a wonderful place and the place is everything,” said Mr. Luttinger. “It is ideally situated to become a cultural feature on Lake Ontario that I believe is unique and could have major cultural and economic benefits for the entire region. And so I pitched it to their art club and the City of Henderson, and they agreed to take the next steps to raise funds to fund a marketing study.”
The document will be comprehensive and will include recommendations on walkability, accommodation capacity, parking, signage, energy efficiency and pedestrian safety, and economic impact.
Recognizing the immense benefits that a cultural tourism destination can bring to the Eastern Lake Ontario region, the initiative will create a strategic plan that will lead to the creation of a new performance facility and surrounding access infrastructure on a property overlooking Henderson Harbor on the corner of Military and leads harbor roads. The heart of the facility is a large outdoor area that offers space for a symphony orchestra as well as concert and festival programs in all performing arts. It will also be able to serve as a platform for various fairs and shows dedicated to cars, food truck rodeos, crafts, antiques and other themes, as well as private and corporate events.
“After 40 years in the arts business and having been part of other infrastructure studies, I think this facility is destined for success,” said Mr. Luttinger. “It is ideally located.”