Philanthropy and hospitality

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

The first time I met Emily H. Fisher, the primary investor of the Emerson hotel and spa complex in Mt. Tremper, New York — who recently purchased local developer Dean Gitter’s shares to become sole owner of the sprawling complex along the Esopus Creek between Phoenicia and Boiceville — the place was still called Catskill Corners and its main claim to fame was the giant kaleidoscope just opened there. Gitter was flashily opening up a second kaleidoscope attraction…and hadn’t yet started talking about his plans for a Belleayre Resort in nearby Highmount, for which Fisher would also provide financial backing.

Fisher quietly moved into whatever photo op her longtime friend asked her to join for the gathered press that day, and smiled benignly as he referred to the architects, designers and artists on hand with Bush-like nicknames. Later, I made the mistake of referring to her in terms of her role as a backer in a local newspaper.

Fisher has since been even quieter in local circles, especially as controversy built around Gitter’s Belleayre Resort plans, which are still under review some 14 years since they were first introduced.


“I have been a philanthropist, which has gotten and kept me involved in many things,” Fisher said during a recent interview down in Ellenville, where she was driven by Emerson staff last week to meet me the day after the 2012 elections took place because I couldn’t get to her. “Hospitality is sort of a new career for me.”

Over the ensuing hour she tells me about her many interests, the years she’s known Gitter, and how she started getting more and more involved at The Emerson three and a half years ago following a Gitter illness, from which he has since recovered,.

Fisher’s first husband Dick Fisher was a school mate of Gitter’s at Harvard Business School in the early 1960s. Dick Fisher later went on to become chairman of Morgan Stanley, director of the New York Stock Exchange, and a prominent board member for several key institutions, including Bard College — the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center is named in his honor. Over the years, she got to know Gitter as a golfing partner…and then, following her divorce, took over her ex-husband’s interests as a financial backer of Gitter’s.

“Dean started this place in 1994. It finally opened in 1996,” she recalls. “We shifted names around 2000, first to Emerson Inn and then to Emerson Place. Now it’s just The Emerson.”

The resort and shops complex’s PR Director Tamara Murray refers to a press release sent out last week that notes how, “The sale of the Emerson will allow Dean Gitter to devote his time to completing the Belleayre project.”

Gitter is quoted in the piece. “Emily and I have worked together for almost two decades to bring to Shandaken an asset which has brought national attention to the town. At my age, I cannot continue to ride two horses; so Emily will continue her stewardship of the Emerson, while I concentrate all my energies on the Belleayre Resort initiative.”

The release adds how the property now includes, beyond the World’s Largest Kaleiodoscope, various shops, such establishments as The Inn, The Lodge, two dining venues and a spa.

“Dean’s passion for restoring tourism and economic stability to the Catskills is tireless,” Fisher is quoted in that same release. “Working with Dean has been an inspiration.”

How will things be changing from here on in, I ask her in person.