New York State Sustainable Development Conference

Our beginning in Catskill, N.Y.: Unlikely match turns perfect

Sustainable Development Conference

Sharing the story of LUMBERYARD’s development in Catskill, N.Y. is one of the best parts of my job.

It’s a happy story that reflects the good that can result when talented people come together in the right place.

Earlier this week, I was invited to speak about LUMBERYARD’s Catskill, N.Y. project at the Sustainable Development & Collaborative Governance Conference in Schenectady, hosted by Governor Andrew Cuomo at the beautifully restored Proctors Theater – itself a shining example of culture as a catalyst for revitalization.

After HUD Secretary Julian Castro welcomed guests, Jamie Rubin led a panel discussion that considered successful economic development strategies at the local level, with a focus on adaptive reuse.

It was an honor to be among such an accomplished group of community leaders, including my fellow panelists on the “Local Tools for Sustainable Best Practices and Adaptive Re-Use” panel: Christine Schudde from Habitat for Humanity; Meghan Cook from the Center for Technology in Government; Erin Tobin from Preservation League of NYS and Barbara Nelson, representing Breathing Lights.

In my talk, I outlined how LUMBERYARD’s collaboration with Catskill, N.Y. residents has been pivotal to our process here so far, and, we believe, sets us up for future success.

Interestingly, and quite organically, collaborative planning and authentic community engagement emerged as consistent themes across the panelists’ remarks.

To illustrate how an arts initiative like ours can help drive economic growth for a place like Catskill, N.Y., I reflected on a discovery we made early on: the town’s assets and needs are complementary to LUMBERYARD’s.

I also pointed to which factors we see as encouraging signs that LUMBERYARD’s beginning in Catskill, N.Y. is the start of a very good thing, including:

We found the right spot

Our property is close to Catskill, N.Y.’s idyllic Main Street and it’s a very open space that’s conducive to our intended use: the buildings are column-free and can be easily adapted.

Where once lumber was stored, we see a contiguous space for indoor and outdoor public gatherings. The largest interior space provides a dramatic setting for our flexible-use theater.

The second floor offices will become artists’ housing and studio space. The buildings across the street will become an additional studio/performance/community event space and a restaurant or other commercial venture.

The creekside area lining the east end of the property is a bonus. We imagine it as the future site for a restaurant patio, outdoor public plaza and performance site, and possibly the site of a ferry dock to help connect Catskill, N.Y. to other Hudson River locales.

A warm welcome

Moving to Catskill, N.Y. was an easy decision for us in large part because of the warm reception we received from residents.

Since our arrival, it’s become even more clear that our future neighbors are Catskill, N.Y.’s greatest asset, and we’re looking forward to exploring ways to work with residents and especially young people.

Partners in every sense

We feel a momentum building in Catskill, N.Y. and recent press suggests that others see change taking place as well.   

While closely tracking LUMBERYARD’s impact on economic development, we’re also keeping a very close eye on a less tangible metric: Catskill, N.Y.’s dynamism.

We’re always asking ourselves: does what LUMBERYARD contributes to Catskill, N.Y. amplify the good already here?  In instances where the answer is anything but yes, our next question for Catskill, N.Y. is how can we do better together?

Let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.


We’re grateful for the recent support from the Regional Economic Development Council, which awarded Lumberyard a $300,000 grant to develop our waterfront building on Water Street.

We appreciate the confidence the Council is showing in our vision to help lead efforts in attracting more and more artists and art lovers to the area.

We’re proud to share this exciting moment with our neighboring cultural organizations which also received grants from the Council, including Thomas Cole House, Olana Historic Site and Hudson Opera House.

*The photo appearing alongside Jilian Gersten’s byline was taken by Brigitte Lacombe.