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TRR photo by Chris Conroy
Carolyn Madsen, left, and Veronica and John Kiarney display signs made to express their views on the proposed performing arts center. (Click for larger image)
Concern over arts center draws a crowd


BETHEL - Participation in the process is alive and well in Bethel.

On September 9, over 50 concerned individuals gathered beneath increasingly cloudy skies at the monument to the historic Woodstock concert of 1969. Their goal was to figure out what they could do to keep the historic rolling green hills from becoming the foundation for GF Entertainment's proposed $40 million performing arts center (PAC).

"We're not against the PAC," said Bob Parnicky. "We just don't want it built on the original concert site."

Parnicky is the webmaster for MuthaTheresa.com, the website where the idea for the Saturday afternoon meeting came together. The concerns put forth on the site have reached far and wide since they surfaced less than a week ago. "We've gotten a lot of international hits [to the site] recently," Parnicky said.

Generally speaking, the crowd was all for the idea of a PAC in Bethel. More important than the building itself, though, was the preservation of the natural amphitheater where the original concert took place. One of the ideas proposed during the open discussion was that Alan Gerry, the patriarch of GF Entertainment, should build the PAC on land adjoining the original site and leave the main piece of history alone.

"If he keeps the [original] site, he can have two venues," said one participant.

Many of those who came together to speak their minds had traveled more than a little bit to get to Woodstock. Some came from New York City, others from as far away as Connecticut. They had all heard about the meeting through the Internet.

In a show of technological solidarity, posters to the MuthaTheresa.com website were encouraged to vote in The River Reporter Online poll conducted the week of August 31. Unfortunately, the results printed in last week's TRR were gathered before many of them had cast their votes. By the time the website was updated on Thursday, September 7, participation in the poll had more than doubled and the results had changed dramatically. In the end, 61.5 percent of respondents were against the construction of the PAC on the original site and 32.33 percent were in favor.

Parnicky took the ideas presented at the meeting and, serving as impromptu chairman of the quickly coalescing group, called for definite resolutions.

The first resolution gave the group a name. Utilizing the pre-existing "Friends of Yasgur's Farm" moniker, the group then proceeded to define what it would do to get the word out.

Parnicky encouraged the gathered members to go for that goal but to be realistic and sensible. "If we come off as flaky, we're going to be dismissed," he said.

The plan of action calls for Gerry to be notified by mail, e-mail and by the delivery of a petition requesting that the original concert site be kept free of construction. A hope of many of the Friends of Yasgur's Farm is that the 37.5 acres of the original site can be made completely free for all to enjoy. In a printed statement from The Woodstock Nation Foundation, the call was made for the site to be "kept open, unfenced and undeveloped."

As of now, GF Entertainment has made no official announcement of where the PAC will be built. Before that decision is finalized, there will be opportunities for public feedback. Any building proposal will have to go through the Town of Bethel Planning Board review and approval process which includes a public hearing.

"Public funds are going to be used [to build the PAC]," Parnicky said. "Gerry should be held to a higher standard." The only way to ensure that, he pointed out, is through participation in the process.

Now, it's a waiting game. "We have to give Gerry a chance to respond," Parnicky said.

"He [Gerry] has the opportunity to be a hero," Parnicky said. "Not many people get that chance."

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