A time like never before
The fate of the Woodstock site never seems to be
an easy thing to determine.
We’ve heard what the folks at the Woodstock Preservation
Alliance (WPA) want done
with the original Woodstock site. They want to preserve the field
and keep those 38 acres free of development. That’s what they’ve
always wanted. It’s what other Woodstock-oriented groups have wanted
in the past, too.
We know what the folks at the Gerry Foundation
(GF) want to do with the original Woodstock site. They want to use
the 38-acre field as the cornerstone of their proposed 635-acre
performing arts district and performing arts center. That’s what
they have always wanted. It’s more than any other group has wanted
in the past. Originally, they thought they could keep the field
free of development but now they want to place structures right
atop a third of those same 38 acres.
So now the fates collide. With two clearly conflicting
agendas on the table, both parties would be wise to not fall into
the old ruts that have been dug regarding the use of Max Yasgur’s
The WPA would be wise to not pigeonhole itself
as a flighty hippie group, a fate that has befallen many other groups
who wanted to “save” the Woodstock site. So far, it’s done a good
job of avoiding this, working in a very professional way with “the
powers that be” in Bethel. Members have done their research and
presented well-thought-out arguments in clear and respectful ways
to the people in charge. Up until now, that’s been enough. With
the new site plan laid out, flying directly in the face of everything
the WPA thought it had gained, emotions may begin to run a little
high. All it takes is one irresponsible act from one person affiliated
with a group like the WPA to cast it in a bad light and destroy
It’s an old habit to look upon Woodstock site protectors
in a bad light.
On the corporate side, GF has done more than any
other group that has ever tried to develop the area in and around
the Woodstock site. Even big names like Sid Bernstein failed in
attempts to carry out large-scale plans for the site. GF has worked
not only with the government, but with community groups like the
WPA to draw out plans for the site. It’s spent who-knows-how-much
money on thousands of pages of studies and plans mapping out the
next decade or more of development for the performing arts center.
GF has dodged the “curse” that seems to haunt those who want to
control and mold the future of the land. Of course, up until now
there wasn’t much planned for those original 38 acres. If something
goes wrong now, GF stands to lose more than any other developer
connected with the Woodstock site.
But there’s the third side in the mix, which sometimes
doesn’t come through as loudly as the two previously mentioned.
That side is the people of Bethel. They are the ones who will be
most affected by whatever happens on and around those world-famous
38 acres. These are the people who, for more than 30 years, have
been hoping that something “good” would come of the near-disastrous,
world-changing cultural event of 1969.
Both GF and WPA believe the best interests of those
people are being served by its plans. The WPA wants to ensure a
commercial-free spot where culture can be experienced unadulterated
by corporate interests. GF wants to provide a place where creativity
and culture can flourish, creating more chances for future world-changing
events. Noble goals all around. But only the people of Bethel know
for sure what is in their best interest.
We are now at the point where the hard decisions
and real negotiations start. It is a time when everyone, especially
the people of Bethel, need to share what they want of that 38-acre
field, what they want their future to look like. It is a time to
think hard about the conflicting agendas and work to create the
best outcome all around.
We’ve never made it to this time before. If we
get it wrong, the opportunity to try again may not arrive again
for another three decades or more.
If we get it right, though…the possibilities are