Helsmoortel on Opus 40

A question came before the Town Board about the status of Opus 40 and the town’s interest in creating a park there.

I know there is considerable interest about this effort, and wanted to give an update on this project.

Opus 40 is, as I think everyone in Saugerties knows, a wonderful outdoor monumental sculpture built by Harvey Fite at his home and property in Highwoods. Harvey’s stepson, Tad Richards, and his wife Pat and a few diehard devotees of Opus 40 have kept it open and available to the public over the years. They have made Saugerties proud by the way the sculpture has been maintained and the programs they have offered. They are retiring and need to pass along Opus 40 for all of us to enjoy in the future.


Last spring, at my request, the town’s special projects coordinator, Vernon Benjamin, undertook a study to see how the town might save this important cultural resource while also using it as a town park. I have discretionary funds available to me in the town budget for work like this, although it was always my intention to cover any of these incidental costs through grants or other income over time.

The first thing that happened was an extraordinary meeting with 20 arts and cultural institutions at Opus 40 for “A Conversation” on its future at our request. That was quite a day. The energy and enthusiasm expressed by these institutions was truly heart-warming. They have since offered excellent advice and some assistance on getting this project off the ground.

It became apparent that operating a cultural resource like Opus 40 was a bit different than running a town park, even though the goals and aims are similar. Like a town park, Opus 40 can give us a place to walk and think, to relax and enjoy the surroundings, to host special events like concerts and charity events, and to pursue the enjoyment of a special cultural resource. But this is special in another way as well. Opus 40 is such a unique artistic treasure and the house and grounds that Harvey built are an important part of that treasure. He was an important sculptor who left a lasting legacy of which Saugerties can be rightly proud.

To protect and best use that legacy, it became apparent that the town should have a partner specifically tailored to those purposes. As a result, and with the assistance of the NYS Education Department and the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Vernon undertook the creation of a new non-profit corporation whose purpose is to turn Opus 40 into a recognized museum and run it as a cultural and arts facility. Jimmy Bruno and I serve on that corporation.

The town will have its park and Opus 40 will be managed like the other cultural and arts treasures of the region. To me, this represents the best of both worlds. We went ahead and applied for a $400,000 grant from OPRHP to purchase Opus 40 for our town park. We got the grant! We need to match the funds, and are currently undergoing a complicated process seeking support from foundations and other governmental avenues—but not from the taxpayers of Saugerties.
I know that some concerns have been raised about the original asking price for Opus 40, which was $3.5 million. That was the family’s estimate based on an assumption that the property could be sold, but actually a non-profit corporation (which Opus 40 Inc. is) cannot sell its assets.

Two parcels of the five that constitute the Opus 40 property are on the tax rolls, and those are the parcels that the town will purchase. The remaining three parcels (including the sculpture itself) are owned by Opus 40 Inc. The plan is for the new non-profit corporation that Vernon created to merge with Opus 40 Inc., take ownership of the non-profit parcels, and donate them to the town in return for a stewardship agreement giving the non-profit corporation the role of managing the property.

That ingenious solution was worked out by the attorney we hired for this purpose, George Rodenhausen, with the consent and approval of the state agencies. The $400,000 grant that the town received required a “match,” and that match comes from the donated parcels. So we have $400,000 toward the purchase and are currently working on raising the additional funds that will be needed.

The $3.5 million figure would only come into play if the value of the property we are purchasing was appraised at that value, which is not likely considering it is only two of the five parcels. The state grant requires that we conduct at least two appraisals to determine the final cost. The family knows that the town cannot pay more than what the property is appraised for.

The non-profit corporation is also active in trying to raise funds. Their first effort is to raise $100,000 to cover any and all town costs related to the purchase of the property. The corporation will then raise the funds needed to purchase what I call the rest of Opus 40—Harvey Fite’s other sculptures, his art collection, his personal papers, his memorabilia and everything to do with his life. This is completely separate from the town’s purchase and will not involve any town funds. Acquiring these assets is important in the creation of the museum. Ultimately, the non-profit corporation desires to cover all the costs, including the annual town park maintenance costs—but that will take time.

I know these are hard economic times. This is the kind of project that is warranted in these times, however, because of the economic benefits it will bring to the town. This ties in with the Winston Farm project in providing a cultural amenity of the nature and quality that the Winston Farm is. It is another reason why major corporations will look to Saugerties to settle in. The non-profit corporation is also working on a strategic plan that will include a component offering retreats and other services to businesses and corporations that might benefit from such a relaxed setting.

That is basically the status to date. The project looks very promising, and Vernon has put together a good team to work toward its completion. Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, UCDC President Lance Matteson, and the state agencies have been very supportive of this effort. I hope that it is successful and that the people of Saugerties will have both a free and open park to enjoy as well as a world-class cultural museum to our credit. It will take time, but that’s the goal. Please remember that the plan is for all expenses to be reimbursed to the Town of Saugerties once this very important endeavor is completed.


Greg Helsmoortel

Supervisor, Town of Saugerties

This column originally appeared in the February 24, 2011 issue of the Saugerties Times.

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