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Questions About Our Future Answered

The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival has moved from its longtime site at Boscobel House and Gardens to a 98-acre property in Philipstown offered by philanthropist Chris Davis as a permanent home for the non-profit theater company. With a focus on ecological restoration and climate-smart investment in green design, this new home will provide HVSF the long-term stability of a secure foundation and will serve as a vibrant hub for our local community, a year-round cultural anchor for the Hudson Highlands, and a model for environmental sustainability in the performing arts. Chris Davis’ generosity to HVSF will also achieve permanent protection of the land from residential or commercial subdivision and development through (i) legally enforceable deed restrictions and (ii) establishing a financially and ecologically sustainable use for the land that will be an asset to the community.

Future view of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare lawn

These FAQs were last updated on June 6, 2024. 

If you are seeking any additional information or have concerns not covered on this page, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at questions@hvshakespeare.org.

1. What’s the backstory? How did this happen?

In 1999, Chris Davis bought the property when it was on the verge of being developed into a suburban-style residential subdivision and development, and continued to operate it as a golf course while he sought a viable adaptive reuse for the property that aligned with his conservation values. In HVSF – an arts organization that has been in Philipstown for over three decades, and has deep roots in this community – Chris Davis identified an opportunity to realize his original goal of permanent protection and conservation of the land, while maintaining its role as a community resource and an important economic engine for Philipstown.

After over three decades of short-term rental agreements at Boscobel House and Gardens in Garrison, HVSF was presented with the generous offer from Chris Davis to become the stewards of 98 acres of river-view land. In addition to ensuring HVSF’s long-term future with its first-ever permanent home, the opportunity has allowed both HVSF and Boscobel to focus on its own distinct missions and programming priorities. 

2. Where is the new location?

Located less than four miles from Boscobel, the new site is situated within a larger 200+ acre property that was formerly The Garrison Golf Course at 2015 U.S. 9, Garrison, NY. That property will be divided into three parcels, including the 98 acres that are to be HVSF’s new home and another parcel retained as a residence for the Davis Family. The remaining acreage has been conveyed to the Hudson Highlands Land Trust. If the HVSF project is approved by the Planning Board, all 200 acres of the former golf course lands will be permanently protected and conserved.

3. What's the latest update?

On June 6, 2023, HVSF was awarded the tremendous grant of $10 million from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) to support the construction of our plans for a LEED-Certified outdoor theater, and the ecological land restoration of our site. This grant is part of a record large capital project funding announcement by NYSCA, which totals over $90.5 million distributed to 19 projects across New York State. The $10 million award represents one of the largest expressions of support  by NYSCA in history, marking a milestone achievement for our organization and a remarkable validation for the project. 

On November 16, 2023, the Philipstown Planning Board unanimously voted to adopt the Finding Statement, which concludes the final step of the SEQRA approval process. This was a major milestone in the approval and permitting process, and represents three years of review by the Planning Board of study and analysis carried out by an extensive team of experts in traffic, acoustics, ecology, and hyrdogeology.

We are nearing the end of the final process before the Philipstown Planning and Conservation Boards, and anticipate a groundbreaking for the construction of our new home in September of 2024.

4. How has HVSF responded to community input over the course of the approval process?

Since the initial announcement of its move to a new home in August 2020, HVSF has taken steps to keep its audience, artists, and the Philipstown community fully informed of its plans. We sought input through dozens of site walks with members of our community, held site model open houses at six locations in Philipstown, and participated in numerous public hearings as part of the approval process. Starting in 2022, during performance season on our new site, we have hosted walks and briefings for audience members nightly. We will continue to update the answers to the most frequently asked questions here, in an effort to provide the most accurate and current information, and make ourselves available to input and feedback from our community.

As the project has progressed, we’ve taken many suggestions into consideration and adjusted our plans significantly to get the best results for our community. To date, changes include:

  • Permanently protecting a substantial area of land with important environmental and scenic attributes.
  • Further safeguarding Philipse Brook, its tributaries and adjacent terrain with a committed contribution of 17 acres to the Hudson Highlands Land Trust.
  • Redesigning the plan for Artist Lodging to ensure: no visibility of the structures from Route 9; an eco-friendlier design by conglomerating units; and the privacy and safety of our visiting staff.
  • Following three public hearings surrounding HVSF’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR), as well as three public site visits and civic conversations throughout the community, HVSF announced on March 29, 2022 that it will narrow the scope of its proposed plan by removing the proposed 20-room inn and a year-round indoor theater from the application.
  • Adjusting the placement of the proposed parking lot out of the designated wetland buffer zone.
  • Proposing a new open-air theater design, which was submitted to the Philipstown Planning Board on September 1, 2022, as part of the next phase of the environmental review process after receiving a positive declaration under SEQRA from the Philipstown Planning Board on June 16, 2022.
  • Sharing the intention to plant additional greenery and trees to provide further screening and limit any view of its permanent open-air theater from both Snake Hill Road and Route 9.
  • Eliminating a proposed new entrance to Snake Hill Road – and the bridge that would be constructed for the new entrance – in the September 1, 2022 filing with the Planning Board, as the existing entrance on Snake Hill Road was sufficient and safe operating on a one-way basis during the 2022 performance season.

5. What is the timeline for the project?

HVSF plans to open the new open-air theater in time for the 2026 Summer Season, which will be our first performances in our new home.

6. What changes are envisioned on the property?

The former 200+ acre, 18-hole golf course closed in November of 2021, and is being transformed into an ecologically managed, community-accessible landscape.  

Ninety-eight of those acres are being transferred to HVSF to become an environmentally sustainable theater campus with accessible parkland for all in our community. HVSF’s latest proposal, submitted to the Philipstown Planning Board on September 1, 2022, includes a LEED-Platinum permanent open-air theater in addition to environmentally sensitive parking, accessible pathways for strolling, native meadows, and wildflower gardens. The native plant materials planned for the passive recreation area will allow for maintenance practices that eliminate the regular application of pesticides and herbicides and support a dramatic reduction in the use of irrigation.

Use by HVSF will be an ecological benefit to the site as compared to golf, which required an enormous amount of water and caused nitrogen-rich runoff to our waterways, resulting in a biologically sterile grass monoculture. The Trust for Public Land has identified former golf courses as priorities for conservation, since they are ideal targets for intensive development and can be restored to ecological health. 

In HVSF’s proposal, the built structures on the site will take up less than two acres of the total site plan. All told, HVSF’s facilities, new pathways, and new parking will amount to just five acres. If the HVSF project is approved, this land will be permanently conserved and protected from residential or commercial development by legally enforceable deed restrictions imposed by Chris Davis at the time of transfer to HVSF. 

7. How will this project benefit the environment?

The latest open air-design theater design, submitted to the planning board on September 1, 2022, would be the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum purpose-built theater in the country. Solar panels, rainwater capture, reduced embedded carbon and other cutting-edge green design elements will minimize climate and other environmental impacts, and better protect the theater from extreme weather and wear. 

HVSF’s plan requires none of the water and pesticide overuse and ill effect on biodiversity that maintaining a golf course requires.

Chris Davis purchased the site in 1999 to prevent it from unwelcome commercial development. By making this extraordinary offer to HVSF, Chris Davis ensures its permanent protection from subdivision and development through deeded restrictions. In our new role as stewards of this property, HVSF will extend Chris Davis’s legacy of conservation, and we have hired a world-class team to design the campus with a sustainable, landscape-first approach.

The proposed conversion will reduce the amount of water required to maintain the site; diminish, if not eliminate, the need for pesticides; and promote a rich ecology and habitat matrix. As the new caretakers of the property, we are also committed to maintaining and restoring the existing wetlands on the site. We are conducting a tree survey of any areas of the site affected by the plan, and for any tree removal that will be required, our landscape-led plan will focus on strengthening the ecological systems already on-site while supplementing with new native plantings.

8. Where are we in the planning process?

At the Philipstown Planning Board meeting on November 16, 2023, the Board unanimously voted to adopt the Finding Statement, which concludes the final step of the SEQRA approval process. This is a major milestone in the approval and permitting process, and represents three years of review by the Planning Board of study and analysis carried out by an extensive team of experts in traffic, acoustics, ecology, and hydrogeology.

In January of 2024, we submitted our application for Site Plan and Subdivision approval to the Philipstown Planning Board, and a Wetlands Permit to the Philipstown Conservation Board.. We anticipate that the approval process before both Boards will conclude during the summer of 2024.

9. Who is HVSF working with on this project?

To complete this project, HVSF’s board and senior leadership, working closely with The Garrison’s General Manager Chip Allemann, have engaged a team of experts:

  • Landscape Architects and Master Planners: Thomas Woltz and Lanie McKinnon, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects
  • Civil Engineering + Survey: Glenn Watson, Badey & Watson
  • Legal: Adam Stolorow, Sive, Paget & Riesel; P. Daniel Hollis, Hollis Laidlaw & Simon
  • Traffic Engineering: John Canning, Kimley-Horn
  • Environmental Planning: Jan Johannessen, Kellard Sessions
  • Acoustics: Carl Giegold, Threshold Acoustics
  • Owner’s Representation: Faye Premer and Alexandra Patrone, About The Work
  • Architect: Jeanne Gang and Wes Walker, Studio Gang
  • Theater Consultant: Joshua Dachs, Fisher Dachs Associates

10. How many overnight accommodations is HVSF envisioning for the site?

In the non-profit regional theater, it is both customary and a union requirement to provide housing for visiting artists. In the early days of our theater, our artists were housed during the season with Philipstown neighbors, but now are housed in commercial motels in Fishkill. We are eager to welcome these artists back to Philipstown with a plan for on-site lodging that can accommodate them during the season and other guests to our community at other times throughout the year. The zoning for the site currently allows for guest accommodations of up to 40 rooms (including the 8 that are currently available at the inn) and we are requesting an increase of 14 rooms to allow all of our artists to stay on site. We will collaborate with the Planning Board and Town Board to ensure that this lodging follows all required local codes. Having lodging near the theater will reduce carbon emissions and commutes for artists traveling between different locations.

11. What will happen to special events and weddings at The Garrison?

Absolutely nothing. The property is large enough that both weddings and performances can happen concurrently without disturbance or interruption, and that has been proved by the successful operations of both throughout the summer of 2022 .

12. What are the traffic implications of this move?

Following a successful first season at The Garrison, we now have empirical data that provides tangible evidence of stable, safe, and sustainable traffic both entering and exiting the site. In addition, the proposed new open-air theater concept’s seating capacity is no larger than the tent currently being used; in fact, it’s a little smaller. 

The Project also proposes to install turn lanes on NYS Route 9 at the site driveway and a long-sought  traffic signal at the intersection of Snake Hill with Route 9. NYSDOT is currently reviewing the Permit Application for this signal.

 

13. Will performances still take place in a tent?

No—our latest filing with the planning board consists of an open-air theater design made of local and sustainable materials such as timber and slate, thoughtfully designed to blend into the natural landscape. The low-slung structure mimics the contours and geology of the Hudson Highlands and offers a lower profile design to minimize any visual impacts while conforming to the town code. It’s still open-air, but covered by a beautiful pavilion-like roof structure, instead of a fabric tent. 

Additionally, we eliminated the proposed second indoor theater from our application in March of 2022.

14. Will neighbors of the site experience sound and light pollution?

From the start, we’ve worked closely with acoustical and design experts to minimize any impact of light and sound within the area. Most recently, as part of our draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), we conducted a new study that produced updated findings pertaining to sound pollution. The study utilized sound data from HVSF’s 2022 performance season at the Garrison and concluded that even with simultaneous theater and wedding events, noise from the project will be well within the Town Code noise limits.

Following a successful first season at The Garrison, we now also have empirical data that provides a tangible measure of our sound and light impact. We are thrilled to now have evidence from a full season of performances to accurately demonstrate both our commitment to being a good neighbor, and our full compliance with Philipstown code regarding both noise and light.

15. Will HVSF expand programming in its new home?

Yes! In the coming seasons, we are looking forward to expanding our season later into the beautiful Hudson Valley fall, with performances running into mid-October. Performances in September and early October will allow us to grow our education partnerships and welcome school groups to matinee performances. We also look forward to making the currently-existing indoor gathering spaces at The Garrison (now used almost exclusively for events on the weekends) available for HVSF community events, after-school educational programming, and use by other Hudson Valley non-profit organizations in need of space.

16. What about the astonishing view? Will guests still be able to picnic on the lawn?

We anticipate the magnificent view to be a backdrop for all our performances, and picnicking will still be encouraged. HVSF’s new home has a jaw-dropping northward view of the Hudson River, with Storm King Mountain on the left, Breakneck Ridge on the right, and the gateway to the upper Hudson Valley. Audience members can continue to picnic before performances, just as they have done for decades. Additionally, guests will have the option of dining indoors or on the terrace at the Valley Restaurant or World’s End Bar. The magnificent new view will provide the backdrop for our performances, and our company of actors will continue to appear over a ridge on the horizon, a signature of HVSF productions.

 

17. Will the community be able to enjoy the campus, even when there are no performances?

Yes! While not envisioned as a public park, we intend to continue to allow passive-use access for neighbors to walk their dogs, or snowshoe in the winter, as they have done in the past. Because of its spectacular view of the surrounding landscape, the site is a unique place from which to appreciate the natural beauty of the Hudson Highlands. As a privately owned property, with reasonable restrictions on permitted uses and times of access, we want to be able to share this experience with our neighbors and the members of the public, not just with HVSF patrons. At the same time, HVSF will reserve the right to thoughtfully and responsibly manage access to the property to prevent overuse.

18. What will the economic impact be for the community?

A permanent campus and the ability to add amenities and extend our season will grow our economic impact by several million dollars, by our projections.

As one of the largest employers in western Putnam County, our existing 160-person seasonal staff consists of both local and national talent. These staff members work and play in our community, and have a significant impact on our local small businesses. With our planned seasonal expansion and performances continuing into the fall season, we are planning for nearly 50 additional staff positions, six additional weeks of employment for our seasonal company, and five more year-round administrative positions. Previously, without the ability to expand our season or alter facilities, our annual economic impact has been constrained to roughly $4.6M. By extending our performance season later in the fall and adding critical audience and artist amenities, we project our regional impact will grow to $7.6M annually by 2025.

As testimony to its economic importance, the project was designated as a “Priority Project” by the State of New York Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council and so far has received $2.5 million in state economic development funding.   

19. How can you get involved with the project?

If you are interested in joining the growing group of HVSF’s friends and supporters working together to bring this project to fruition, please email Director of Development Semra Ercin at sercin@hvshakespeare.org

20. How can I get more information?

If you still have questions, or would like additional information, we are happy to share links to any of the studies we have completed or address any of the concerns you may have. We make it a priority to reply to every email that we receive. Please contact questions@hvshakespeare.org.