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EDITORIAL: Olana enters new phase


IT WAS AN OCCASION worth celebrating: $1 million in state funding and not just any million bucks. This happens to be “the largest single grant from the Assembly to a New York State Historic Site,” Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106th) said last week on the porch of Olana, the architecturally quirky home of 19th century artist Frederic Church.

The new money puts the historic site in Greenport—part of her district—close to fully funding a project that the non-profit Olana Partnership and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation call The Frederic Church Center.

The total cost of the plan is $11 million, which includes funds from other public sources as well as private donations. State Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Erik Kulleseid told the audience of a couple of dozen people that the Frederic Church Center “is going to change the way people experience Olana.”

In part that is attributable to Church, who was not only a painter, he also oversaw the landscaping of Olana’s 250 acres, which include dramatic views of the mid-Hudson Valley and the Catskill Mountains, as well as the open spaces that Church farmed.

The new Frederic Church Center will be a “carbon neutral” facility with a cafe and other amenities. Maybe they should consider wind power too, considering the gusts from the south that competed for the attention of invited guests. Commissioner Kulleseid assured the dignitaries the center would become an “international platform” for introducing Frederic Church and Olana to the world. Olana officials say the site draws 200,000 visitors a year.

The hero of the event was Assemblymember Barrett, who thanked Assembly Speaker Carl Hastie for his support (he was elsewhere that day), and Meredith Kane, chair of the Olana Partnership Board of Trustees, who lauded Ms. Barrett for having “connected all the dots” in Albany and elsewhere to secure the $1 million for the Frederic Church Center, adding, “I’ve never met a more effective legislator.” And so forth, all of which makes it clear that there were, in effect, two celebrations going on last week at Olana.

There was the undeniable progress that Olana has made on its way to becoming a world-class destination, which is scheduled to open in 2023. And then there is evidence that for the first time in years this county is represented by a lawmaker in Albany with undeniable clout.

Clout can be helpful, whether or not you agree with Ms. Barrett politically. A couple of days before the Olana press event, the non-profit Columbia Economic Development Corporation listed 10 Projects in Columbia County that had won a total of more than $6.3 million in Round XI of The Regional Economic Development Council Initiative. These awards are based on merit. Two of the ten winning projects comprise the funding for Olana; an additional seven other winners are projects in Assemblymember Barrett’s district. Nine out of 10 winners. Imagine that.

Keep in mind, this is legal and ethical. It’s how politics works. Or, if you prefer, it’s how good you are at connecting the dots.

Congratulations Olana. Best of luck navigating this new and exciting phase of a precious county asset.

Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106th) addressed guests at and event announcing new funding for improvements at Olana. Behind her is state parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid. Photo contributed
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