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A time like never before

The fate of the Woodstock site never seems to be an easy thing to determine.

We’ve heard what the folks at the Woodstock Preservation Alliance  (WPA) want done with the original Woodstock site. They want to preserve the field and keep those 38 acres free of development. That’s what they’ve always wanted. It’s what other Woodstock-oriented groups have wanted in the past, too.

We know what the folks at the Gerry Foundation (GF) want to do with the original Woodstock site. They want to use the 38-acre field as the cornerstone of their proposed 635-acre performing arts district and performing arts center. That’s what they have always wanted. It’s more than any other group has wanted in the past. Originally, they thought they could keep the field free of development but now they want to place structures right atop a third of those same 38 acres.

So now the fates collide. With two clearly conflicting agendas on the table, both parties would be wise to not fall into the old ruts that have been dug regarding the use of Max Yasgur’s farm.

The WPA would be wise to not pigeonhole itself as a flighty hippie group, a fate that has befallen many other groups who wanted to “save” the Woodstock site. So far, it’s done a good job of avoiding this, working in a very professional way with “the powers that be” in Bethel. Members have done their research and presented well-thought-out arguments in clear and respectful ways to the people in charge. Up until now, that’s been enough. With the new site plan laid out, flying directly in the face of everything the WPA thought it had gained, emotions may begin to run a little high. All it takes is one irresponsible act from one person affiliated with a group like the WPA to cast it in a bad light and destroy its credibility.

It’s an old habit to look upon Woodstock site protectors in a bad light.

On the corporate side, GF has done more than any other group that has ever tried to develop the area in and around the Woodstock site. Even big names like Sid Bernstein failed in attempts to carry out large-scale plans for the site. GF has worked not only with the government, but with community groups like the WPA to draw out plans for the site. It’s spent who-knows-how-much money on thousands of pages of studies and plans mapping out the next decade or more of development for the performing arts center. GF has dodged the “curse” that seems to haunt those who want to control and mold the future of the land. Of course, up until now there wasn’t much planned for those original 38 acres. If something goes wrong now, GF stands to lose more than any other developer connected with the Woodstock site.

But there’s the third side in the mix, which sometimes doesn’t come through as loudly as the two previously mentioned. That side is the people of Bethel. They are the ones who will be most affected by whatever happens on and around those world-famous 38 acres. These are the people who, for more than 30 years, have been hoping that something “good” would come of the near-disastrous, world-changing cultural event of 1969.

Both GF and WPA believe the best interests of those people are being served by its plans. The WPA wants to ensure a commercial-free spot where culture can be experienced unadulterated by corporate interests. GF wants to provide a place where creativity and culture can flourish, creating more chances for future world-changing events. Noble goals all around. But only the people of Bethel know for sure what is in their best interest.

We are now at the point where the hard decisions and real negotiations start. It is a time when everyone, especially the people of Bethel, need to share what they want of that 38-acre field, what they want their future to look like. It is a time to think hard about the conflicting agendas and work to create the best outcome all around.

We’ve never made it to this time before. If we get it wrong, the opportunity to try again may not arrive again for another three decades or more.

If we get it right, though…the possibilities are endless.

Chris Conroy, Bethel Correspondent

What do you think? Talk about it on the discussion board!

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