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Questions About HVSF’s Future Answered

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Garrison resident Chris Davis, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival will soon have a permanent home. After 35 years as a seasonal tenant in Philipstown, we are eager to put down roots in this community in ways that have never before been possible.

Thank you for your interest in learning more about the plans for HVSF’s new home.

If you have any questions or concerns not covered on this page, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at questions@hvshakespeare.org.

1. What’s happening?

HVSF was generously offered a new site just as a short-term lease was ending at Boscobel.

The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival is moving from its longtime site at Boscobel House and Gardens to a new location in Philipstown offered by philanthropist Christopher Davis as a permanent home for the company. 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’s 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 also be an asset to the local community.

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

Chris Davis decided to close the golf course because it is losing money and decided to offer up the land as a new home for Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.

After over three decades of short-term rental agreements, HVSF was in discussions with Boscobel regarding a long-term lease. Amid these conversations, HVSF was presented with the opportunity from philanthropist Chris Davis to become the stewards of 98 acres of river-view land. HVSF and our partners at Boscobel agree that this represents a great opportunity for both organizations and the community. In addition to ensuring HVSF’s long-term future with our first-ever permanent home, it will allow both organizations to focus on their own distinct missions and programming priorities. We could not be more grateful to our generous donor for making this possible.

3. Where is the new location?

Less than four miles from the current location in Garrison.

The new site is located within a larger 200+ acre property that is currently The Garrison Golf Course at 2015 U.S. 9, Garrison, NY — less than four miles from HVSF’s current performance site at Boscobel. The 200-acre property will now be divided into three parcels including approximately 98 acres to become HVSF’s new permanent home and a residence for the Davis Family. The remaining acreage will be preserved in perpetuity through conservation easements (or similar structures) in partnership with local environmental groups.

4. What is the timeline for the move? What will happen in 2022?

We have proposed a phased approach to the transformation of the new site. Summer 2022 will be HVSF’s inaugural season at its new site in Garrison at a scale and format consistent with the municipal regulations of the town of Phillipstown.

We plan to open our first season in our new home in the summer of 2022. Whether guests share in the Festival’s open-air performances in HVSF’s new home under our current temporary tent (which is the hope of the Festival) or in another manner on-site that is in line with the Town of Philiptown’s directives, the main goal for HVSF is to ensure that the ‘show goes on’.

5. What are you changing about the property as part of the move?

The golf course will become an environmentally sustainable theater campus with ample open space for recreation.

The site is currently a 200+ acre, 18-hole golf course. 98 of those acres will be are being transferred to HVSF to become an environmentally sustainable theater campus with accessible parkland for all of our community. This campus will include a permanent open-air theater tent, new environmentally sensitive parking, accessible pathways, native meadows, and wildflower gardens. Our long-term vision for the site allows for: a second, smaller indoor theater; a barn for rehearsals and a costume shop; lodging for our visiting artists; and an outdoor community pavilion. Nearly 19 acres of the existing golf course will become passive recreation open space with lawns, native meadows, and a network of paths for strolling. The native plant materials planned for the passive recreation area will allow for maintenance practices that utilize organic products and support a dramatic reduction in the use of irrigation.

The plan that HVSF and Chris have proposed contemplates restoration and conservation of all 200 acres of the current golf course into open meadows, wildflower gardens, pedestrian pathways, responsibly managed forest, and open lawn space. Use by HVSF will be an ecological benefit to the site as compared to golf, which uses a great deal of water, results in nitrogen-rich runoff to our waterways, and where a grass monoculture flattens biodiversity. Our restoration plans will be implemented in partnership with local conservation groups. The built structures on the site will take up 1.39 acres of the total site plan. All told, HVSF’s facilities, new pathways, and new parking will amount to just 5 of the 98 acres being transferred to us.

6. What impact will this project have on the environment of the site?

An overwhelmingly positive one, with none of the water and pesticide overuse and ill effect on biodiversity that maintaining a golf course requires.

Currently, this property is only protected by the existing zoning regulations applicable to the site – which allow for a 40-room hotel & spa (that were never realized) as well as events spaces, a restaurant, and golf course. Chris Davis purchased the site in 1999 to prevent it from unwelcome commercial development, and he has maintained it as a golf course for over two decades while searching for a long-term land conservation solution that would be financially self-sustaining and also be an asset to the local community. By making this extraordinary offer to HVSF, Mr. 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.

Central to these plans is the conversion of almost 19 acres of existing golf fairways to parkland, trees, and meadows. Maintaining a golf course requires a great deal of water and pesticides that result in nitrogen-rich runoff and a grass monoculture that negatively impacts biodiversity. 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.

7. Who is HVSF working with on this project?

To complete this project, HVSF’s board, and senior leadership, working closely with Chip Allemann, the General Manager at The Garrison, 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: P. Daniel Hollis, Hollis Laidlaw & Simon
  • Traffic Engineering: John Canning, Kimley-Horn
  • Environmental Planning: Jan Johannessen, Kellard Sessions
  • Acoustics: Jaume Soler, SoundArts
  • Owner’s Representation: Faye Premer and Alexandra Patrone, About The Work
  • Architect: Rodia Valladares and Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang
  • Theater Consultant: Joshua Dachs, Fisher Dachs Associates

8. What will be the hiring process for local contractors or construction managers for this project?

A construction manager will be selected through a transparent and competitive bid process following the completion of SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review) review. The construction manager will support the design team to ensure constructability and logistics are considered throughout design. A general contractor will be selected through a transparent and competitive bid process upon the completion of the planning, approvals, and design processes.

9. How many overnight accommodations are you envisioning for the site?

A modest increase of 14 guestrooms, over what’s currently allowed, for a total of 54 onsite.

Since HVSF’s earliest beginnings we have been welcoming visiting artists into this community. They first stayed in local homes generously hosted by our Board Members and friends of HVSF. Over the years, they have stayed at the Graymoor Monastery, at Mount Saint Mary’s College in Newburgh, and most recently at hotels in Fishkill at the intersection of Route 9 and 84. In the non-profit regional theater, it is both customary and a union requirement to provide housing for visiting artists. We are eager to be able to welcome these artists back to Philipstown with a plan for on-site lodging that can accommodate artists during the season and other guests to our community at other times during 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 our artists to stay on site. We will be collaborating with the Planning Board and Town Board to ensure that this lodging follows all required local codes. Having comfortable lodging on the campus will reduce carbon emissions and commutes for artists traveling between different locations. Tucked discreetly into the landscape and away from the central core of the campus, these lodging facilities (when not in use by HVSF artists) could also fill an established need in Putnam County, where overnight accommodation for visitors is hard to come by.

10. What is going to happen with special events and weddings at The Garrison?

Absolutely nothing. The property is large enough to comfortably accommodate both without interruption.

The Valley Restaurant and Events business at the Garrison will continue to be run by the current leadership and management. The property is large enough that both weddings and performances can happen concurrently without disturbance or interruption.

The offer from Chris Davis to HVSF will include the facilities that house the events business and the restaurant and bar. We are grateful for Chip Allemann, the General Manager at The Garrison, and the amazing staff there who will stay on to manage and operate the hospitality business.

11. What are the traffic implications of this move?

We hope the move will facilitate a much needed traffic signal at the intersection of Route 9 and Snake Hill Road.

HVSF understands that our community is concerned about traffic, and we are committed to ensuring that access to the site is both safe and sustainable. The proposed new tent theater’s seating capacity is no larger than our current tent in use at Boscobel; in fact, it’s a little smaller. So the volume of traffic generated by HVSF audiences on local roads will not materially change in the near term. Our current location at Boscobel has only one exit onto 9D, and our new campus will have two exits (on Route 9 and on Snake Hill Road), which will improve the flow of access and egress significantly.

We have hired a traffic engineer to study the impact of the various uses proposed on the surrounding roads. The intersection of Route 9 and Snake Hill Road is a particular area of focus for this study. If the community, neighbors, and the town of Philipstown favor New York State DOT installing a traffic light at the Rt. 9/Snake Hill/Travis Corner intersection, HVSF will strongly support that effort, with the goal of improved safety at an intersection that has been an area of concern in this community for many years.

Now that golf operations will end at the close of the 2021 season, any golf-related traffic from players or maintenance vehicles will not be a concern moving forward.

12. What about the neighbors of the site? Will they experience noise and light pollution?

We are working closely with acoustical and design experts to minimize any impact of light and sound within the area.

We are eager to build on our reputation as good neighbors and citizens in Philipstown. Most of the performances under the HVSF theater tent are not amplified, relying on our actors’ natural projection. We have brought on an acoustical expert who has previously measured our sound output during performances at Boscobel in 2019, and he will be using that data to study sound travel at our new location. This information will inform design recommendations to ensure that the sound from our theatrical performances does not impact our new neighbors. The distance from our tent to the nearest neighbors in our new location is even greater than it has been at Boscobel, and noise from our performances has never been an issue for neighbors during HVSF’s 34-year tenure there.

As we consider site lighting for our new home we are very conscious of the increased use of artificial light and the Dark Sky impact. We will be working carefully with our design team to ensure that any site lighting points downwards to thoughtfully illuminate pathways, allowing for safe access and egress for HVSF guests, without impacting our neighbors. Regarding the performances themselves, we aim to replicate the current theater experience with our new tent, and have minimal lighting bleed outside the tent itself.

13. Will performances still take place in a tent?

Yes!

Yes, we love performing in a tent and think it’s an essential part of what makes HVSF unique. We are reimagining our seasonal tent as a permanent structure, with improved ventilation, sightlines, and acoustics, and better backstage facilities for actors and crew.

In the longer term, we are also proposing a second smaller indoor theater, which would allow for more intimate performances in the colder months, and provide a location for collaborations with other arts organizations in the community, as well as both school districts in Philipstown.

14. Will HVSF programming expand in your new home?

Yes!

In the near term, 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 for 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.

As mentioned above, in the longer term, we are also proposing a second, smaller indoor theater that would allow for more intimate performances outside of the main summer season.

15. What about the astonishing view? What about picnicking on the lawn?

We anticipate the magnificent view to be a backdrop for all of 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, 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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

Moving from our longstanding tenancy at Boscobel to our first permanent campus will have positive financial implications for our local and regional economies. 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 2024.

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 having a significant impact on our local small businesses. With our planned seasonal expansion, 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.

18. How can you get involved with the project?

HVSF’s plans for the site are currently under review by the Philipstown Planning Board. The Philipstown Planning Board typically meets at 7:30pm on the third Thursday of each month. Due to the pandemic, these have been taking place over Zoom. Members of the public are welcome to watch these meetings. More information on the agenda and how to RSVP to watch the meeting will be posted on: https://philipstown.com/government/town-board/town-board-meeting-schedule

Later on in the process, there will be a public comment meeting where community members can speak about 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 Kate Liberman, Managing Director, at kliberman[at]hvshakespeare.org.