Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

May 09, 2018

Randy Simons | Dan Keefe
518-486-1868 |

New York State Parks Expands Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park

Acquisition of two properties provides room for improvement of Finger Lakes tourism destination

New gateway and welcome center will improve visitor experience

View the design plan here

New York State Parks today announced a conceptual plan to encourage more visitors and tourists to the acclaimed architecture, statuary, and themed gardens of Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park in the Finger Lakes. The acquisition of two properties adjacent to the Canandaigua site will allow Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion to create a new gateway and welcome center, featuring a new cafe and enhanced program space. Today's announcement complements "Finger Lakes Forward," the region's successful Upstate Revitalization Initiative plan, a comprehensive strategy to grow the economy.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul joined State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey and community leaders at Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion today to unveil artistic renderings of the welcome center concept.

"Herein New York, we have a state park system that features some of the most magnificent natural landscapes in the world," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "As one of just two private gardens in our state parks, Sonnenberg Gardens is a unique treasure. The Finger Lakes region has seen significant investment and growth, and today's announcement truly complements the work we are doing. The upgrades to Sonnenberg Gardens will boost tourism and drive continued economic activity in the Finger Lakes."​

U.S Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said, "With this planned expansion, Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park can blossom into a world-class tourism destination and an even stronger economic driver for the Finger Lakes Region.  I've been glad to work with Sonnenberg officials, New York State, and local stakeholders to help achieve their vision of expanding and modernizing Sonnenberg Gardens with the acquisition of the former Army Reserve property site. This is a win-win that will bring new life to a now-vacant federal building while solving Sonnenberg's lack of a Visitor Admissions Center, space for educational programming, adequate parking, and so much more."

The transfer ownership of a 3.5-acre U.S. Army Reserve property to New York State Parks, as  well as the $220,000 purchase of a roughly 1.6-acre parcel at Charlotte and Gibson Streets will help realign entry to the park and enhance the visitor experience. The not-for-profit organization that operates Sonnenberg will now launch a capital campaign for a series of improvements that will:

  • Better welcome visitors. The former Armory building on the Army Reserve site will be rehabbed to include space to expand programing, welcome/orientation/ticket counter space, a tasting area for Finger Lakes wine and beverages, a café/bistro, gift shop, restrooms and administrative offices.
  • Create a greener, more visible gateway. A new entrance including a bus turnaround will bring traffic to the site off a major street (Gibson Street/Rt. 21) that provides more visibility for the site and a direct link to the New York State Thruway. It will also help divert traffic from a residential street. 
  • Enhance the estate's historic integrity. The Army Reserve property was once part of the estate of Frederick Ferris and Mary Clark Thompson, and the transfer will help unify the site's original footprint. Additionally, when completed, the new Visitor Center will introduce visitors to the gardens and mansion in a way that estate visitors would have entered the grounds. The new Route 21 gateway also avoids impacts to the historically significant wall and tree-lined residential neighborhood.

David Hutchings, Executive Director of Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park, said, "The Sonnenberg staff and corps of volunteers are hard at work to solidify Sonnenberg's place as one of the premier display gardens and estates in the United States. Today it's truly a jewel to the Finger Lakes and a gem in the New York State Park system. This new additional property restoration and our planned adaptive reuse of this Army Reserve facility will provide a new welcoming center, archival storage, standard year-round office space for current staff and a maintenance facility which today is lacking to our operations." 

Rose Harvey,Commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said, "Governor Cuomo is renewing New York State's commitment to our state's most-treasured public places. Cultural destinations like Sonnenberg are building blocks of vibrant, exciting tourism economies, and these will give people more reasons to visit the Finger Lakes region. I am grateful to Senator Schumer and our partners at Sonnenberg for their commitment to this special place."

Senator Pam Helming said,"Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park has long been a highly visited tourist destination in the Finger Lakes region. People from a wide range of diverse backgrounds travel near and far to visit its special collection of architecture, garden statuary, and themed gardens. Living in Canandaigua, my family and I are frequent visitors to Sonnenberg. The creation of a new gateway and welcome center will bring full circle all that Sonnenberg has to offer and serve as an attractive way to welcome visitors from across the state. I appreciate State Parks' continuing focus on the Finger Lakes region's beautiful tourist attractions and rich history."

Assemblyman Brian Kolb said,"Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park is a community treasure that is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. The acquisition of these new properties will enrich visitors' experiences by expanding on the site's original footprint and offering a new welcome center designed to fully capture the beauty of the park. An improvement project of this magnitude will certainly maximize the value of tourism in the region and boost the local economy."

Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park is a late-19th century Victorian Estate with a Queen Anne-style mansion and nine historic themed gardens of the world. Sonnenberg is the former summer home of Fredrick Ferris Thompson and his wife, Mary Clark Thompson.

Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion is one of 250 individual state parks, historic sites,recreational trails, golf courses and boat launch within the New York State Park System. A recent study by Parks & Trails New York found the park system generates $5 billion in economic activity and supports 54,000 jobs,including nearly $289 million in activity and 3,300 jobs in the Finger Lakes region.

New York State is making an historic commitment to improve state parks and expand access to outdoor recreation. The Governor's NY Parks 2020 program is a multi-year commitment to leverage $900 million in private and public funding for State Parks through 2020. The Governor's 2017-18 Executive Budget allocates$90 million toward this initiative. 

Accelerating Finger Lakes Forward

Today's announcement complements "Finger Lakes Forward," the region's comprehensive blueprint to generate robust economic growth and community development. The state has already invested more than $5.2 billion in the region since 2012 to lay the groundwork for the plan - investing in key industries including photonics, agriculture and food production, and advanced manufacturing. Today, unemployment is down to the lowest levels since before the Great Recession; personal and corporate income taxes are down; and businesses are choosing places like Rochester, Batavia and Canandaigua as a destination to grow and invest in.

Now, the region is accelerating Finger Lakes Forward with a $500 million state investment through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, announced by Governor Cuomo in December 2015. The State's $500 million investment will incentivize private business to invest well over $2.5 billion - and the region's plan, as submitted, projects up to 8,200 new jobs.