Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

October 25, 2018

Randy Simons | Dan Keefe
(518) 486-1868 |

New York State Parks Announces $2.8 Million Robert Frederick Smith Center for the Performing Arts at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park

Project to Revitalize Cultural Performance Center Led By $1 Million Gift from Philanthropist Robert Frederick Smith

Public-Private Partnership to Upgrade Year-Round Hub of Park Activity

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) announced that a $2.8 million public-private project to upgrade and revitalize the Cultural Performance Center at the Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park in Harlem has begun. The performance space will be renamed the Robert Frederick Smith Center for the Performing Arts in recognition of businessman and philanthropist Robert Frederick Smith's $1 million donation.

"Riverbank enriches the lives of Harlem community members in so many ways - and a big reason why is the range of experience opened to them by the cultural performance center," said State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey. "I am grateful to Governor Cuomo and our partners for their work to improve and modernize one of the state park system's most unique places. Their commitment to celebrating art and culture in West Harlem is an inspiration."

"Music and artistic expression have a unique power to unite families and communities," said Robert F. Smith. "Few places embody that more than Harlem. I'm humbled by the opportunity to contribute to a center where people of all ages can come together in appreciation of the arts. By bringing together leaders in the public and private sectors for this effort, we are ensuring West Harlem's rich culture and heritage can take center stage."

The cultural performance center serves as one of Riverbank's most popular and outstanding features—hosting scores of social, educational, and performance-related activities and events each year. From ballet, jazz and orchestra performances to classes, summer camp activities and community programs, the facility welcomes more than 60,000 people a year.

Smith's generous gift will help revitalize a center that had become run down and unable to fully accommodate a full range of activities and events. The project will elevate production values and bring added vitality to the center by:

  • replacing outdated house lighting and inadequate sound equipment;
  • installing new theatrical lighting;
  • modifying the stage area;
  • replacing 25-year-old bleacher seating; and
  • replacing the 25-year-old flooring.

Smith's gift is the largest contribution to a capital campaign launched by the Open Space Institute in partnership with the New York City Regional Parks Commission and the Natural Heritage Trust, which has raised nearly $2.8 million in public and private grants and donations. Other major support has come from the Waletzky State Parks Fund at OSI, the Durst Organization, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation. Public support comes from Governor Cuomo's NY Parks 2020 program and grants from the late Assemblyman Denny Farrell, for whom the park was renamed last year, as well as Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and New York City Councilman Mark Levine.

"Robert Smith's generous gift will have tremendous benefits to the people of West Harlem and all who use the cultural center to socialize, celebrate, enjoy performances and experience the arts," said Kim Elliman, OSI president and CEO. "We thank him and all the donors and supporters who have joined us in making the revitalization of this popular Harlem community centerpiece a reality."

"Robert F. Smith's exceptionally generous gift will transform a functional, drab auditorium to a glorious performing arts and community space," said Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky, chair of the New York State Council of Parks. "State parks are community anchors, serving as recreational, cultural and natural mainstays. Nowhere is that more evident than here at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park. I am grateful to all who stepped forward to support this project, and am confident that this new cultural center will be a lively hub of music, dance, laughter, joy and community activity for generations to come."

NYS Assemblymember Al Taylor said, "I would like to thank Governor Cuomo and because of Robert Frederick Smith's generous contribution, the stage is set for success- literally!!"

New York City Councilmember Mark Levine said, "For decades, Riverbank State Park has been an invaluable resource for countless members of our Manhattan community. I applaud the tremendous generosity of Robert Smith and the commitment of all the partners involved to ensure that the center's revitalizations continue to provide amazing recreational and performance opportunities."

"We are thrilled with the generous support from Robert Smith as well as the efforts of other private and public partners to revitalize one of Riverbank's exceptional features," said Alexander Durst of The Durst Organization. "The modernized upgrades to the cultural center will ensure that the park and West Harlem community continue to be a focal point for programming and performance events for years to come."

"The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has always believed that technology can improve the quality of life for all," said Senior Vice President of the foundation, Leisle Lin. "It was a great pleasure to provide funding for the much-needed technological improvements for the Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park, so that the New York City community can continue to enjoy all the park has to offer."

Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park has served as West Harlem's recreational and cultural hub for almost 25 years. The park welcomes more than 3 million people each year, ranking it among the most visited state parks in New York State. It serves as a community resource for an area that was once cut off from the Hudson River. Providing a four-season recreational resource for a community that has been traditionally underserved, Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park is a pillar of the West Harlem community.

Smith's donation is consistent with his commitment to preserving culture and support of the arts. Mr. Smith is the largest individual donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, Chairman of Carnegie Hall's Board of Trustees and has made significant donations to notable landmarks such as the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and Lincoln Hills in Colorado.

Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, New York State is making a historic commitment to improving and expanding access to outdoor recreation. The Governor's NY Parks 2020 program is a multi-year commitment to revitalize the state park system. The 2018-19 State Budget allocates $90 million toward this initiative.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 individual parks, historic sites, golf courses, recreational trails and boat launches, which are visited by 71 million people annually. For more information on any of these recreation areas, visit