The plan for an amphitheater and esplanade perched above the Big Eddy has been discussed by town officials for 20 years. Now, officials have voted to take another step toward building it.
At a town meeting on February 27, the Tusten Town Board voted four to one to grant the contract to design and engineer the project to the Chazen Companies. The cost of the work will be about $150,000, with about half of it coming from a grant secured three years ago. Supervisor Carol Wingert said she would be working to secure more additional funding through grants. Council member Norman Meyer was opposed.
The centerpiece of the plan is an amphitheater, to be located below the existing observation deck. A river walk behind Main Street buildings (the esplanade) and further development of the gazebo area are also being examined. Depending on the final scope of the plan, the project could cost anywhere from $700,000 to $2 million.
Councilmember Tony Ritter said the amphitheater would benefit the town and would draw more people to Main Street, and allow the town to take better advantage of the Upper Delaware River. He also pointed out that it is not necessary to carry out all three parts of the plan at the same time.
Two residents questioned why the town would commit to spending some $77,000 for the design when it is unclear how the remainder of the project will be funded.
Ned Lang asked, “How do you spend $77,000 of our money, and not know if you can complete the project yet? You don’t even have a clue where you’re going to get this money from. Why is this not put out for a referendum?”
Chuck Hoffman also said the matter should be put to referendum, and he also noted that the esplanade part of the project would be built on private land; he said the project should be built only on public land.
It was also noted that the town has not yet acquired easements from the landowners who will have to grant easements to allow the esplanade to be completed, and there was the suggestion that the project would be built with taxpayer money and would benefit only a few property owners.
Councilmember Eileen Falk said, “I hear talk that this is something that is being done for the shop owners on Main Street. That’s ridiculous. This is being done for all of us. I mean, we don’t even have a place to swim and we live on the river. This is to push ahead.”
ingert said property owners could not be asked to sign easements before it’s clear what the parameters of the project will be, which will be determined in the design and engineering work.
Patrick Harrison, who owns the Rasmussen building and some of the property on which the amphitheater may be built, said there is a mortgage on the property, and his bank informed him that he would not be allowed to sign an easement.
Karl Wasner, who owns one of the buildings in question, said he would grant the easement. He said, “I see it as a gift to the town.” He said he wanted people in the town to enjoy the location as he and his wife have. He said the decision to share it with the public was a tough one.
In other town news, according to a letter read at the town meeting on February 13, the town has been fined $3,860.70 in penalties and interest for late payments of withholding tax of town employees.
Supervisor Carol Wingert read the letter aloud to the board, and detailed six different payments that were filed and/or paid late resulting in the interest and penalties. Wingert said she talked with an official in Albany who said there was a possibility that some of the penalties may be abated, but none of the interest.
The payments were made by former supervisor Peg Harrison, when she and the board were involved in a protracted conflict over who would have authority over hiring a town bookkeeper, and Harrison was acting as both supervisor and bookkeeper.