GREENPORT—The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) and The Olana Partnership (TOP) held a virtual public information meeting to discuss a proposed new $11 million visitor welcome facility at Olana State Historic Site on Wednesday April 27. The new proposed building will be on the Olana site near the entrance off Route 9G.
Olana, 5720 State Route 9G, was the home and studio of Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), a preeminent American artist of the mid-19th century. It is designated a National Historic Landmark administered by OPRHP. TOP, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, offers public tours and educational programs year-round at the site.
“Church designed Olana as a holistic environment integrating his advanced ideas about art, architecture, landscape design, and environmental conservation. Olana’s 250-acre artist-designed landscape with five miles of carriage roads and a Persian-inspired house at its summit embraces unrivaled panoramic views of the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains and welcomes more than 200,000 visitors annually. Olana’s landscape is free to all and open daily 8 a.m. to sunset,” according to information from OPRHP.
Linda Cooper, OPRHP regional director, opened the virtual meeting by saying that Olana is a “crown jewel” of the state parks system. She talked about the visitor facility being public and private collaboration and being paid for with public and private funds. Later in the meeting, she said that the project is currently in the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) process and that if there are no issues, construction should start in 2023 with an opening of the building in 2024. But she said that “all depends on everything going smoothly.”
She did say, “no red flags that have been raised so far” in the SEQR document.
Sean Sawyer, Washburn and Susan Oberwager president of TOP, presented the plan and the reason for the building at the virtual meeting. He talked about Frederic Church’s vision for the site and Olana’s Strategic Landscape Design Plan which identified a new orientation point for visiting. Mr. Sawyer pointed out that 90% of the visitors only “really experience 1% of the landscape,” which is the land around the main house, and that only about 16% of visitors took a public tour last year.
“This plan is not about attracting more people, it’s about enhancing the experience for those people already coming to Olana,” he said at the meeting.
The new visitor entry and orientation facility will be located in a wooded setting adjacent to the main entry to Olana, according to the presentation and the website. At the meeting, Mr. Sawyer showed images from the new building looking up at the main house, but he said according to the plans the visitor facility would not be visible from the house.
He also said the new building will have the ticketing area, a 45-spot parking lot, bathrooms and a cafe. From the new building, visitors can use a ramp or stairs to walk up to the main house. Later in the meeting he said most of the gift shop will remain up at the main site. Ms. Cooper said they will be clearing about three-and-a-half acres of trees for the building, but she stressed that it was not a large building at 4,500 square feet. And Mr. Sawyer said a few times during the meeting that the building will be made from sustainable materials, is all electric and will be carbon neutral, and there will be an Electric Car charging (EV) station.
He also said that the estimated cost of the project is $11 million and that the partnership had already raised just over $7 million. They have a fundraising goal of $10 million. In late 2021 state Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106th) announced that she had secured $1 million to support the project. Besides that funding, Mr. Sawyer said that there was a grant from Empire State Development Corporation’s Marketing New York and a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) matching grant for the energy efficiency of the building.
‘This plan is not about attracting more people, it’s about enhancing the experience….’
Sean Sawyer, president
The Olana Partnership (TOP)
“I am proud to announce that I have secured $1,000,000 in funding to support the construction of the Frederic Church Center at Olana, a new state-of-the-art, sustainable center to welcome and orient local and global visitors,” Assemblymember Barrett said in a press release at the time. “As our region continues to grow as a hub for diverse arts and cultural institutions, I look forward to seeing this pivotal New York State project move to its next phase. I thank New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, The Olana Partnership, and New York State Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation for their partnership in this effort.”
At the meeting there were some comments about building a new building instead of using an existing building. Ms. Cooper pointed out that this new building is “performing a function” that is not met by any of the others. Mr. Sawyer said they are talking about future plans for the coach house which current houses the visitor’s center.
A recording of the April meeting is at https://parks.ny.gov/newsroom/meeting-notices/notice.aspx?n=250
Information and images of the center and the Olana are at www.olana.org
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email