Proposed Center to Focus on Water
Supporters aim to raise $20.5 million for project in Arkville
Monday, March 21, 2005
by Jesse J. Smith
(ARKVILLE) – Supporters of the proposed Water Discovery Center are hoping to raise $20.5 million for the project, which is being touted both as a potential tourist destination and an education center designed to foster greater understanding and appreciation for water resources regionally and globally.
According to Gary P. Gailes, president of the center's board of directors, the project grew out of the 1997 Memorandum of Agreement between New York City and a coalition of watershed communities, which was designed to spur economic development in the watershed region while setting land use rules to protect the city reservoirs that provide water to 9 million downstate residents. One provision of the agreement was for the establishment of a watershed museum, setting aside $1 million in city funds to pay for exhibits.
PLANNING GOT under way in 2001 and initially focused on setting up a watershed museum in Shandaken. The project was later moved to Arkville when, according to Gailes, the Delaware County town of Middletown made the group "an offer we couldn’t refuse" on 44 acres between state routes 28 and 30 on the east branch of the Delaware River.
Using money from the Catskill Watershed Corp., which administers money set aside for the region by New York City under the Memorandum of Agreement, museum supporters commissioned a study on how best to finance the institution.
What they found, Gailes said, was that to build a first-class museum and education center, the board would have to raise more money than would be available locally, and that bringing in big-time donations would require an expansion of the project's scope to include more education and a global focus.
"THE PROJECT morphed into the Water Discovery Center," said Gailes, a governmental affairs consultant who has worked on Shandaken developer Dean Gitter's Belleayre resort plan. "The focus is on local issues of water resource management, but we also wanted to create a world-class educational institution focusing on regional and global (water) issues."
PLANS FOR THE center call for a 20,000 square foot exhibit center featuring displays on the evolution of the Catskills watershed during the ice age, the tapping of the region as a water resource, conservation efforts, global water issues and local tourist attractions.
The museum would also include a sculpture garden, amphitheater, restaurant and a network of nature trails. The center will also include classroom space and online resources for education on water issues.
Today's kickoff of the $20.5 million capital campaign is timed to coincide with the United Nations' World Water Day and the U.N.-sanctioned International Decade of Action to call attention to drought and lack of access to potable water in many regions of the world.
Gitter, who is fighting to win approval for a massive golf and hotel resort near Arkville, is not affiliated with the Catskill Water Discovery Project, said Gailes. But many of the board members have connections with the developer who built Catskill Corners and owns the Emerson Inn.
BESIDES Gailes, Gitter's wife, Lynn, and Keith Porter, director of Cornell University's Water Resource Institute and a consultant on the resort plan, sit on the board. Gailes said he would welcome Dean Gitter’s help with the project, but said the developer is busy with the resort plan.