Officials Eye Construction, Funding For Comedy Center

A conceptual drawing of the National Comedy Center. National Comedy Center officials have finishing the capital financing for the $25 million project. Submitted photo

National Comedy Center officials will now look to finish construction and raising sustainability funds for the national attraction based on the celebration of comedy.

With the completion of the capital funding campaign for the $25 million project, Tom Benson, National Comedy Center chairman, said the new entrance addition and connector between the former Jamestown Board of Public Utilities building and the Jamestown Gateway Train Station will be completed during the next couple months. He said construction will begin on the plaza area between the National Comedy Center entrance and the former Erie-Lackawanna Train Station.

Inside the wings of the train station, work has started on the attraction exhibits, Benson said. He said there are 74 different components that will be fitted into the train station, which will require running electronic connections throughout the building to the attraction components and lighting fixtures.

“This is all underway at full speed. It is happening inside the train station so it won’t be visible to the public,” Benson said. “The main concourse is not part (of the National Comedy Center). That will remain open during the construction.”

Benson said the attraction components are being constructed off site. He said each component will be installed as they become available section-by-section. He added if all the construction aspects stays on schedule, there will be a “soft opening” for the National Comedy Center around Memorial Day 2018, with the grand opening during the 2018 Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, which will take place during the first week of August.

“Now that we have all the contracts in place and have timelines in place … that is the plan and we think it is achievable,” Benson said.

Benson said even though they have raised $25 million for the capital construction, they’re not done fundraising for the National Comedy Center. He said now they will focus on raising funding for an endowment fund. He added the goal is to raise an additional $15 million to make sure the facility is self-sustaining for the foreseeable future.

“The endowment fund we are looking to raise money for is in three pieces. One will be for sustainable operations. Another will be to replace equipment and electronic devices once their life is over. These items make the attraction go and periodically they need to be replaced. The third piece is so we always remain current. We have some ideas on what the next phase of what the comedy center might look like. We have ideas about what add-ons might be as we go down the road,” Benson said.

Benson said National Comedy Center officials will also be working to make sure the operation plan comes to life. He said they have a comprehensive business plan that was created by a Californian consultant on when they need to hire people and what the job descriptions should be for each employment position.

“We have to bring people on board, and that starts with a training program and an operations manuel. This attraction will be like a Disney experience, and you don’t get that type of caliber and quality customer service unless you pay attention to this type of stuff well in advance,” Benson said. ”We still have a lot of work to do to make sure this will be the blockbuster experience people are expect it to be and what we want it to be.”

The National Comedy Center is a nonprofit that embodies Lucille Ball’s vision for her hometown of Jamestown. The team of stakeholders in the National Comedy Center project includes the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy; the Gebbie Foundation; the Oishei Foundation; the Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation; Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation; Lenna Foundation; and the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation. Clark Patterson Lee is the lead architect and E.E. Austin & Son of Falconer are the contractors for the project.

Global leisure economics firm AECOM, who has been the financial feasibility consultant on the project, estimates a $23 million annual economic impact from the National Comedy Center on the region resulting from a projected 114,000 visitors. The creative design for the National Comedy Center has been provided by Jack Rouse Associates, with input from Local Projects, the interactive specialist on the 9/11 memorial museum experience.

The National Comedy Center is designed to be a national attraction based on the celebration of comedy: the craft and its contributors, and embodies Lucille Ball’s vision for her hometown of Jamestown.