Local and national comedy fans won't soon forget Saturday night in downtown Jamestown.
With Jay Leno's sold-out performance just hours away, a crowd of local foundation representatives, elected officials and comedy fans gathered near the Jamestown Gateway Train Station for a separate reason.
National Comedy Center Inc. leadership broke ground on the Comedy Center Park, the first phase of the forthcoming comedy center.
Pictured, from left, are: Gregory Edwards, Gebbie Foundation chief executive officer; state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean; Tom Benson, National Comedy Center chairman; Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center Inc. executive director; Todd Allen, Jamestown Rotary Club president; Randy Sweeney, Chautauqua Region Community Foundation executive director; Barclay Wellman, Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation Board of Directors president; and Lucie Arnaz at the groundbreaking for the Comedy Center Park on Saturday evening.
P-J photo by Scott Shelters
Tom Benson, National Comedy Center chairman, speaks to attendees at the Comedy Center Park groundbreaking Saturday evening, as Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center Inc. executive director, and Lucie Arnaz look on.
P-J photo by Scott Shelters
"Welcome to Comedy Center Park," said Tom Benson, National Comedy Center chairman, drawing a round of applause. "This is happening right now. The design is done. We have the funding."
According to the National Comedy Center Executive Summary, the project embodies Lucille Ball's vision of celebrating comedy and supporting the comedic arts in her hometown. Comedy center leaders have received feedback from Lucie Arnaz, Jerry Seinfeld, Dan Aykroyd, Carol Burnett, Bill Engvall and Paula Poundstone as they prepare for a July 2016 opening.
The comedy center will open in what currently serves as a Jamestown Board of Public Utilities substation.
"You've done such a good job of manifesting what my mother would've loved to have done in her honor," Arnaz said. "The festivals are great, but she was thinking long term. It shouldn't be about her specifically. (The National Comedy Center is) happening, and it's the only place of its kind in the nation and probably the world."
The park, designed by architects from Clark Patterson Lee, will be located behind the train station and will connect with the Greater Jamestown Riverwalk along the Chadakoin. According to Benson, the park should be completed by late fall.
"This is the tangible first step in what will eventually be the whole National Comedy Center project itself," Benson said. "It will be an integral part of what happens at the comedy center."
Located across the tracks from the train station, the park will host entertainment following the construction of the comedy center. In the meantime, it will serve as a destination for picnics and other outdoor activities, featuring benches and a lighted pathway connecting to the riverwalk.
State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, have offered support for the project. Both attended Saturday's ceremony, along with Lori Cornell, who represented Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
When asked this week by Cuomo to rank projects in her district on a scale of one to 10, Young said she enthusiastically broke the scale by giving the comedy center a 100.
"I'm very optimistic and hopeful that we can get some state aid for this (National Comedy Center) project to become a true reality," Young said.
According to Benson, the city of Jamestown has bent over backward to help make the comedy center project a reality. In June, Jamestown City Council approved the Consolidated Funding Application for the National Comedy Center through the state's Regional Economic Development Council Program. National Comedy Center officials submitted an application requesting $6 million from the state for construction.
The Oishei Foundation, Gebbie Foundation, Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation, Lenna Foundation, Chautauqua Region Community Foundation and the Jamestown Rotary Club have provided support for the National Comedy Center. Without their support, Saturday's groundbreaking wouldn't have been possible.
"This is what happens when a lot of people work together," said Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center Inc. executive director. "I just want to thank the community because we wouldn't have momentum if everyone didn't decide to get on board."