- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - The National Trust for Historic Preservation stepped into a debate Tuesday over whether an 1893 amphitheater on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution should be demolished and replaced.

The group has designated the structure a national treasure, National Trust President Stephanie Meeks said. She asked the Chautauqua Institution to work with preservationists to come up with an alternative to knocking down the outdoor theater, where scores of historic and modern figures, including Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart and Booker T. Washington, have spoken.

While the designation, which was announced during a news conference in Buffalo, does not carry legal weight, it lends credibility to arguments that the western New York amphitheater is historically important.

“The plan to demolish the Amp would tear at the heart of Chautauqua and compromise the historic character that many Chautauquans and visitors from around the country deeply value,” Meeks said.

Leaders of the Chautauqua Institution, a summer arts and intellectual retreat that features programming surrounding weekly themes, have proposed replacing the amphitheater to increase capacity, handicap accessibility and safety.

The plans are opposed by a coalition that includes preservationists, architects and Chautauqua property owners.

Institution President Thomas Becker said last month that the board of trustees is open to ideas and had begun exploring a suggestion to retain part of the existing roof structure in the final design.

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