Home Economic Development New amphitheater in Yonkers

New amphitheater in Yonkers

The stars with greasepaint and musical instruments and the stars of the cosmos are aligning on the north Yonkers waterfront, further revitalizing a part of the city that existed for decades mostly in school field trip memories of the 1923 Hudson River Museum and its 1969 planetarium.

A new 400-seat, open-air amphitheater at the museum opened July 4 and as of July 18 had already attracted 820 people to events there. The planetarium will open in October after a $1.4 million remake.

“I think we are part and parcel of the rebirth we’re seeing in Yonkers,” said Michael Botwinick, the museum’s director. “The museum is the northern tip of the redevelopment plan. We think of ourselves not as a big player, but as a northern anchor of a real success story. We are another piece of assembling the downtown puzzle – including long-term benefits like daylighting the Saw Mill River – that’s making a huge difference.”

The new $4 million amphitheater at the Hudson River Museum.
The new $4 million amphitheater at the Hudson River Museum.

Long Island businessman Ted Bahr, 54, grew up a few miles away on Ellison Avenue, attending Yonkers’ P.S. 8. He said the waterfront was another world … and not one he was particularly curious about: “We never ever went there,” he said. “We had 3 highways to cross before making it to the Broadway shopping district in Yonkers. Given that Central Avenue was right next door to us, we tended to do all of our shopping north on Central Avenue, south at the Cross County Shopping Center, or in nearby Bronxville, Eastchester and even Mount Vernon and New Rochelle. Yonkers was a world away from us then.”

The museum’s director of public relations and marketing, Linda Locke, shared a similar experience, having grown up in Tuckahoe. “Our focus was always toward the center of the county,” she said.

But for the last 10 years Yonkers has been chipping away at that mindset, attracting restaurants, upscale housing, even a nascent movie industry to the area.

“People love it,” said Botwinick of the $4 million, county-funded amphitheater. “It’s been a little warm, but the response has been very positive and the audience has been diverse. It recalls a time when people used to come down to the river.

“Being free is part of the concept,” he said. “We did not want to compete with paid venues.” He advised: “Bring a picnic; it’s very enjoyable.”

When the planetarium opens, tickets are expected to remain low; it currently charges $1 and $2, as opposed to Hayden Planetarium admission in Manhattan, which runs $19 to $30.

Entergy, whose Indian Point power plant is north of Yonkers in Buchanan, sponsors free weekend nights at the museum. The nights began with a concert and fireworks July 5 and will continue through Aug. 24. On Friday and Saturday nights, 5 to 7 p.m., Entergy foots the $5 museum admission for patrons who are then welcome to step into the amphitheater for free. “That’s capital F-R-E-E,” Botwinick said.

The Yonkers Philharmonic Orchestra appropriately played the initial performance, abetted by fireworks, attracting 300 persons. Other offerings so far have included national-caliber jazz and “Othello,” performed by normally Boscobel Restoration-based Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in Garrison. Movies are on tap, as are free family days on Sundays, the first of which attracted 160 people on July 14.

In August, family films are slated for Fridays from 8 to 10 p.m. and alternative music is on the playbill on Saturdays from 7 p.m.

The planetarium will have a new dome to capture the sky, a new star projector, and a state-of-the-art projection system to show videos, animations and allow for digital flight through the universe. Nashua, N.H.-based Sky-Skan, which builds planetariums around the world, is custom-building the museum planetarium’s projection equipment at its headquarters.

Staffing will partially be funded by federal Community Development Block Grants for the next two years.

Citing July 4 as “the perfect time to inaugurate an amazing facility,” Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said, “Yonkers’ economic development revitalization efforts continue and the theater’s opening is a celebration of the future for our city.”

Botwinick praised the efforts of both Spano and his predecessor, former Mayor Phil Amicone. “We have seen a consistent commitment from the administrations of Mayors Spano and Amicone to really invest in the growth of this city,” Botwinick said.

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