New York State Parks and Westchester County Parks Unanimously Approve Renewal of Public-Private Partnership Agreement with Jay Heritage Center

Rye, NY New York State Parks and Westchester County Parks have approved the renewal of the Jay Heritage Center’s (JHC) stewardship of the 21.5-acre Jay Property for another 10-year period. Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who personally sponsored ACT 2023-312 in July to affirm the collaboration noted that the public-private partnership amongst the County, New York State Parks, and JHC has been very successful. The legislation was unanimously approved by the Westchester County Board of Legislators 16-0 in August and by the Board of Acquisitions and Contracts on September 7th.

Legislator Jewel Williams Johnson, Chair of the Budget and Appropriations Committee endorsed continuance of the three-party agreement and highlighted the importance of the landmark itself saying, “It’s used for educational purposes and events of opportunity to honor the site and all that it represents, all of the American history and contributions to the building of the American experience over the centuries,” adding with emphasis, “It’s sacred ground if you will.” Legislator Catherine Parker concurred calling the agreement with JHC a “very successful model.”

In the past decade, JHC has raised and invested over $2.5 million in donations and grants along with contributing thousands of volunteer hours, all for community enrichment. The organization, which is chartered by the New York State Board of Regents, was honored by Governor Kathy Hochul and New York State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid in December 2022 with a prestigious Excellence in Nonprofit Achievement Award in recognition of its rehabilitation and stewardship of the Jay Estate Gardens.  The award was the only one given to a Westchester County non-profit.  Commissioner Kulleseid remarked, “The transformational design of the gardens not only reflects the historic context but emphasizes an intentionality to restore native species and original voices and to cultivate an appreciation and understanding of sustainable landscapes through partnerships and public outreach.”

JHC first assumed responsibility for maintaining and revitalizing the 21.5 acres of historic and environmentally significant parkland that surrounds its own two buildings and 1.5 acres of land in 2013. Since then, the appearance, safety, and biodiversity of the now unified grounds, known as the Jay Estate, have visibly improved. The park is the centerpiece of the Boston Post Road Historic District, which was designated a National Historic Landmark thirty years ago. It is notable for its association with peacemaker, jurist, anti-slavery advocate and New York governor, John Jay. It is also one of 16 sites on Westchester County’s African American Heritage Trail and known for dynamic programs and exhibits that focus on Black history.

In 2015, JHC installed a meadow by Larry Weaner replacing 2 acres of invasive species with native grasses. In 2020, JHC completed Phase I of a $500,000 stabilization of a 1916 Indoor Tennis House damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Next, three acres of historic gardens were reimagined by landscape architect Thomas Woltz. The sustainable design includes expansive outdoor spaces for horticultural programs, a reflecting pool and pollinator plantings. The gardens opened to visitors in 2022. JHC has also added new gates and signage throughout the park and will next undertake construction of more ADA paths.

The agreement renewal coincides with the launch of the New York State Parks Centennial Celebration for 2024 and reinforces Governor Hochul’s commitment to “support the State’s outdoor recreation economy, expand access to underserved communities, address the impacts of climate change, and position New York State as a top recreation destination.”

New York Assemblyman Steve Otis who has worked on Jay property issues since 1986, including on the management agreement being extended this year, said, “Renewal of the Jay Property Management agreement is a moment to celebrate the success of one of the most successful not-for-profit/public historic site partnerships in the country. As stewards, the not-for-profit Jay Heritage Center has enriched the region by sharing the cultural, intellectual, civic, historical preservation, and environmental history of our country in ways that are always relevant to the challenges facing our society today.”

“The New York State and Westchester County governments have been well served by the management agreement. Congratulations to generations of volunteers, public officials, Jay Center Board members and contributors who have made this work possible.  The management agreement is a model for historic site partnerships across the country.”

Renewal of the agreement sets the stage for JHC to raise new funds for more projects to benefit the public. The list ranges from planting fruit orchards with historic varietals to making the historic 1916 Palmer Tennis House usable for youth clinics in partnership with the USTA.  Other goals include repurposing a building as an archaeology lab and/or Indigenous Studies center. “Our goal is to continue to improve the visitor experience, connect people with the rich and varied history of the land and above all, make everyone feel welcome,” said JHC President Suzanne Clary.