Olmsted is Alive and Kicking in Buffalo

Friday, May 30, 2008 – 11:59 AM EDT
Olmsted plans rich investment in parks
Business First of Buffalo – by Tracey Drury Business First

The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy has unveiled a plan to invest nearly half-a-billion dollars into the system over the next 20 years, including $28.6 million in the next five years.

The Conservancy’s Plan for the 21st Century, a 200-page tome several years in the making, includes improvements and major projects at all six city parks, as well as the parkways and circles that make up the system.

Outlined at the organization’s annual meeting May 29, the plan also calls for rehabilitation or adaptive reuse of historic structures at the parks and demolition of underutilized structures.

Work already started includes the restoration of the Parkside Lodge at Delaware Park; restoration of pathways and removal of an abandoned ice rink and underused tennis courts at Front Park; restoration of greenhouses at Martin Luther King Park; and new tree plantings throughout the system.

The plan, according to CEO Thomas Herrera-Mishler, will expand and complete Olmsted’s original vision of a city within a park.

“There’s been portions of the parkway system that have eroded or been lost. We’re proposing a plan that basically knits back together the fabric of the city,” he says.

“So this is a strategic reinvestment in Buffalo and a way to ensure that people’s access to parks and parkways throughout the city is equal and equitable. It also is a way to maximize the value of these parks for the economic development (benefit) of the city.”

David Colligan, a partner with and newly elected president of Olmsted’s board of trustees, was enthusiastic about the plan.

“We have world-class parks. We just have to get them in world-class shape and that’s what this plan allows us to do,” he says.

The total cost for all the recommended projects in the plan totals $428 million in 2008 dollars, including $252.5 million for restoration of everything in the parks, parkways, circles, and small spaces. The remaining $175.5 million covers projects outside the parks, including connections and extensions to the system.

Despite the scope of the plan, Herrera-Mishler isn’t daunted.

“Because it’s a long-range plan, I think it really is quite achievable,” he says. “There’s already a great deal of it already in the pipeline for the first five years.”

The conservancy says the project costs for the first five years will be split, with 75 percent borne by various government entities, including potential funds from the relicensing agreement and Niagara River Greenway funds; 6 percent from corporate donations; 10 percent from foundations; 8 percent from individuals; and 1 percent through in-kind donations.

“We know there are grants out there for the types of things we need to do, the historic preservation things. The money is there. Now we have to write for it,” Herrera-Mishler says.

Colligan pointed to the return on investment, which will include an increased tax base as property values rise around the parks. As a regional asset, he says, the Olmsted Parks system is growing in value every year.

Additionally, several studies were cited showing how people who live near parks are healthier: a study showed Buffalo could save $50 million in health-care costs annually if all aspects of the plan were implemented.

“In the long run, it’s an investment that will pay off enormously to the city,” Herrera-Mishler says.

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