Saugerties drops plans to buy Opus 40

Photo of bluestone sculpture at Opus 40 in Saugerties by Flickr user Insignifica. Published under Creative Commons license.

In the Daily Freeman today: A letter from the supervisor of Saugerties announced today that the town is pulling out of an effort to buy Opus 40, the legendary homestead and life's work of bluestone sculptor Harvey Fite.

The town had been trying since last year to find a way to buy the bluestone sculpture park on Fite Road and make it a public venue, and a non-profit corporation called the Committee to Create Opus 40 Museum was formed to work with the town to turn Opus 40 and its assets into a museum chartered by the state Board of Regents.

[Supervisor Greg] Helsmoortel’s letter states the town’s decision to withdraw acceptance of the $400,000 state Environmental Protection Fund grant and no longer seek ownership of Opus 40 was made after consulting with the Committee to Create Opus 40 Museum.

The Freeman's story cites political pressure from opponents of the plan, who have been critical of town spending on the effort to purchase the property.

In his letter, Helsmoortel writes that the effort to preserve the historic site as a public museum will continue:

The [Committee to Create Opus 40 Museum] wants to work free of controversy for this extremely worthwhile project that has benefited Saugerties in the past and will continue to benefit Saugerties even greater with increased planned exposure.

Opus 40, which Fite worked on perpetually for 37 years before his accidental death in 1976, is currently run and maintained by Fite's stepson Tad Richards. Last spring, Richards put the property on the market for a cool $3.5 million. But Helsmoortel wrote in an op-ed in the Saugerties Times this spring that the listing, and $3.5 million figure, were based on a misunderstanding of the law:

That was the family’s estimate based on an assumption that the property could be sold, but actually a non-profit corporation (which Opus 40 Inc. is) cannot sell its assets.

The town's Historic Preservation Commission is currently weighing a proposal to give Fite's studio and the Quarryman's Museum, both on the grounds of Opus 40, a historic designation. On Monday, the commission will be speaking with local artists about the significance of Opus 40:

In order to allow public input before the official August 15 public hearing the commission will hold an informational “conversation” at its regular meeting on Monday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall’s Building Department Conference Room, when it hopes to hear from artists, sculptors, architects, landscapers and others who have long appreciated the intrinsic strength, color, texture and density characteristic of bluestone which is native to Saugerties.