The tourism industry in the Hudson Valley will get a welcome shot in the arm over the next two years as New York State invests $25 million in one of its most artistically significant and heavily visited historic sites: Olana, the Persian-style 19th-century manse and surrounding landscape designed by Hudson Valley School painter Frederic Church. On December 13, governor Kathy Hochul announced that the Olana State Historic Site – located in Greenport, near Hudson in Columbia County – is about to undergo major capital and site improvement projects. The centerpiece of the upgrades will be a new sustainably designed, all-electric entry and orientation facility, to be called the Frederic Church Center for Art and Landscape.
“The new projects will build on the legacy of Olana: the visionary home, studio and landscape design of artist Frederic Church and his family,” Governor Hochul said. “The Frederic Church Center will add to this canvas and help to welcome patrons to one of the most strikingly beautiful places in New York State.”
Construction is scheduled to begin in spring 2023, with an opening date of spring 2024. The new visitors’ center will include a spacious entry lobby for ticketing and orientation, a café, restrooms and a multipurpose room adjoining outdoor terraces and paths that connect to Olana’s historic five-mile carriage road network, making all 250 acres of the historic landscape an integral part of public interpretation. As the principal entry point for a National Historic Landmark and New York State Historic Site that attracts over 200,000 visitors annually, the Frederic Church Center will provide a highly visible, publicly accessible demonstration of sustainable design and carbon-neutral construction.
Other site improvements are also planned for the next year: a complete exterior painting of the historic mansion itself, including windows, doors, porches and decorative cornices, limited woodwork restoration and asbestos abatement of the window glazing ($1.5 million); construction of a state-of-the-art maintenance facility ($6 million); rehabilitation of a dam and spillway, new ADA parking area, Dark Sky lighting and native plant species ($2 million). Collectively, these projects are the result of an award-winning Strategic Landscape Design Plan developed in 2015 among the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Olana Partnership, the LA Group and Nelson, Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. The plan received the 2017 National Honor Award for Analysis and Planning from the American Society of Landscape Architects.
The design of the new Frederic Church Center features a “whole building systems” approach to achieve a low environmental impact and reduced energy consumption with minimal maintenance. It will also expand Olana’s visitor capacity by serving as a base for sitewide interpretive programming and recreational use. There will be a yet-to-be-designed solar component. Doreen Harris, president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), said that the Center “will serve as a model for clean and resilient design with the incorporation of energy efficiency and electrification features, clean renewable solar energy and electric vehicle charging for an overall lower carbon footprint. This project will enhance what is already a gem in the Hudson community while providing the health benefits of a greener site from the visitor-facing perspective, as well as maintenance behind the scenes in support of the Climate Act goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent by 2050.”
To complement the Frederic Church Center and facility operations, design has already started on the expansion and upgrade of the existing Olana maintenance building. The building will have new functions such as electric equipment and vehicle charging stations and improved staff facilities. Site improvements will include better circulation in and around the maintenance area, with provisions for improved equipment and materials storage facilities. This phase has a completion goal of late 2024.
In addition, improvements to the Historic Farm Complex are underway, relocating a temporary parking area in the farm complex to restore the historic one-acre kitchen garden, improving lighting, creating ADA parking near Cosy Cottage (Frederic and Isabel Church’s original home on what would eventually become a 250-acre estate) and repairing the dam and spillway in the lake.
Supplementing the State Parks funding, the Olana Partnership has raised approximately $10 million in private donations and grants, including a $1.4 million Empire State Development Market NY Regional Tourism Grant and $1.8 million in support from NYSERDA’s Carbon Neutral Community Economic Development Grant Program.