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Board votes to demolish, replace historic Chautauqua Amphitheater

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After more than five hours of discussion, the Chautauqua Institution board voted Wednesday to demolish and replace its historic amphitheater. The move comes after much debate, with construction bids coming in higher than expected. The board spent the last two months studying the situation leading up to the meeting.

The plan calls for some work in the first few months of next year, before the summer season. Chief Marketing Officer George Murphy says a replica is fully paid for.

"It was a great vote, a great day for Chautauqua. It's a $41.5 million project. All the funds have been raised through private and foundation donations, so it's fully funded through philanthropy. Contracts will probably be signed in January. Our hope is to have construction starting in Feburary," said Murphy.

Murphy says the major construction will start after the 2016 season closes at the end of the summer.

A vocal group of opponents to replacement of the building built in 1892 favored major repairs and renovations instead, claiming it would save a historic structure and cost less.

Brian Berg, chair of the Committee to Preserve the Historic Chautauqua Amphitheater, says a fight is looming.

"As the great Yogi Berra said, it's ain't over 'til it's over," said Berg. "The building will stand for at least until the end of next August. As long as it's standing, there's a way and there's time."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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