HENDERSON HARBOR — The Henderson Harbor Performing Arts Association owns 18.5 acres of land at 12469 County Route 123. With the former Mark Hopkins Inn now gone, the association has been thinking of how best to use the space. With an idea to build a more substantial space, a feasibility study is underway for a potential performance facility, though until results come in from the study and attached community survey, it is too soon to tell exactly what that will look like.
The idea is for an outdoor stage or theater area that can be used as weather allows and accommodate large acts like symphony orchestras, plays, festivals, and more, as well as various art exhibitions.
For 25 years, live performances have entertained audiences at the location, but generally under some tents or the open sky, so the Association is ready to upgrade to something larger.
Eunice Wescott, director of the Henderson Harbor Performing Arts Association, Inc., has been with the organization since 1996, when it got the property.
“Having a larger scale performing arts space, that would be my dream,” she said. “When we started this project, in the very beginning, that was a dream that we had that it was going to be a place where everybody could come and enjoy arts, music, plays and things. And we’ve had a lot of stumbling blocks over the years, but we seem to be moving ahead pretty good right now.”
A study is underway by RMS Research and Marketing Strategies of Syracuse to provide demographics of the area and north country region. The association has teamed up with CNY Jazz of Syracuse to complete and publish the study, and a survey has been put out to the community to gather resident responses and feelings on the proposed structure.
Mrs. Wescott said that as of Wednesday, the survey had gathered 90 responses, a good indicator of support from the public.
“I just hope that that people give us their honest opinion of it, are they interested in us making it better, or do they want us to just forget it?” Mrs. Wescott said. “Are we working with a hopeless problem? I don’t know. I’m anxious to see how people feel, whether we’re spinning our wheels or we’re gonna make progress — I’m hoping 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 make determinations on if and how to move forward with planning. The survey can be found here: http://wdt.me/zEd5aE.
Having been with the association for a long time, Mrs. Wescott said she’d like to see something really positive there before she passes the reins on to somebody else. She said the board of directors works hard and some have other jobs, so it’s wonderful that they can give their time and not get paid for anything. She said their payment is to see something good happen at the property.
According to John Culkin, chair of the committee working on the feasibility study, the goal of the study is to ascertain what level of performance venue would be feasible in the area.
“We don’t want to build anything too big, we’re not building Tanglewood here, but we don’t want to under build either if the area and the population will support something a little more elaborate,” he said. “What they’ll do is they will take that data and make a prediction or an assessment of just what type of venue would be supported. They’ll also help us develop funding strategies in terms of places to go to start seeking grants and low interest loans and things like that as a way to fund what we’re talking about building but right now, this is the very beginning. We have no idea what we’re going to build because it’s the results of the survey that will guide us towards that decision.”
Along with a more established performance space, the association also hopes to upgrade its sanitary facilities, as the events currently being put on at the location feature Port A Potties as the only available offerings. As far as an indication that there is public buy-in to what the association is looking 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’m imagining at some point we’ll have some conversations with other stakeholders,” Mr. Culkin said. “If we’re gonna build a large venue that will bring in a fairly sizable amount of people, we’ll want to talk to the town about parking, traffic issues and things like that. So it’s gonna be a snowball rolling down the hill in terms of the involvement of a variety of different perspectives. We want to do this right, we don’t want to build something that’s going to die on the vine because it’s too big, we don’t want to build something that’s going to disappoint people because there’s no seats available.”
Somewhere in between they hope to find what Mr. Culkin referred to as the “Goldilocks Zone,” where it’s not too big and not too small, instead just right.
A seasonal resident of Henderson Harbor for more than 30 years, CNY Jazz Executive Director Larry Luttinger has had a summer place on Stoney point for 30 years. As a result of having that address, on an area survey from a few years ago, he said he’d be glad to help with whatever initiatives they were working on in the arts. He said that John Culkin called him back the day that they received his survey in the mail.
A few conversations later, they fleshed out their plans for the property.
“I got very excited because it’s a wonderful location and location is everything,” Mr. Luttinger said. “It’s ideally situated to become a cultural attribute on Lake Ontario that I think is unique and could have major cultural and economic benefits for the entire region. And so I presented to their arts association and to the town of Henderson and they agreed to take the next fundraising steps to finance a marketing study.”
The document will be comprehensive and include recommendations for walkability, lodging capacity, parking, signage, energy efficiency, and pedestrian safety, as well as economic impact.
Recognizing the immense benefits that a cultural tourism destination can bring to the Eastern Lake Ontario region, the initiative that will create a strategic plan leading to the creation of a new performance facility and surrounding access infrastructure on property overlooking Henderson Harbor at the corner of Military and Harbor roads. The centerpiece of the facility is a substantial outdoor space capable of hosting a symphony orchestra, as well as concert and festival programs in all the performing arts. It will also be capable of serving as a platform for various fairs and shows devoted to autos, food truck rodeos, arts and crafts, antiques, and others, as well as private and corporate events.
“After 40 years in the arts business and having been part of other infrastructure studies, I think that this facility is destined for success,” Mr. Luttinger said. “It’s ideally situated.”