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Region's military history is its No. 1 attraction

Everyone I speak with agrees there is no silver bullet to restore the Buffalo waterfront. We keep hearing about the Erie Canal Terminus, Bass Pro (right), the proposed $750 million project and on and on. Not very much time or money is given to an attraction that already exists, the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park.
All of the proposed projects will take several more years to come to fruition, but this park will begin to make a difference this year. Yet funding to assist in the proper packaging of the history of Western New Yorkers is being basically ignored by the organizations that have been given the responsibility to develop the Buffalo waterfront.

I work in the hospitality industry and have clients all over North America and in 51 other countries. During the last five years, I have conducted "unscientific surveys" of approximately 500 clients, and asked two questions:

* What do you know about the Erie Canal? The answer from everyone was, "nothing."

* What do you know about the military and veterans? Everyone in every country provided some type of answer on the past or current status of their military.

I am not Zogby, but my survey confirms what I have been preaching for years: This community continues to ignore the one viable attraction that already exists, the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park.
When are the leaders in this community going to realize that we veterans are also preservationists? Our focus differs from the common definition, but our goals are to preserve the history of the men and women from this area who have served and died for this great country.
Some 25 million veterans live in the country, including about 150,000 in Western New York. About 5 million veterans belong to veterans service organizations or military associations. These groups hold hundreds of conventions and reunions every year and represent a target market for Buffalo.

Can anyone tell me how many members there are in the American Canal Association or the Erie Canal Association or Inland Waterway Association, if such organizations even exist?

I am making a plea to all business, political and veteran leaders in this community to work together to:

* Utilize the attraction on the waterfront that will bring people to the water, the Naval Park.

* Work on creating a destination that will attract people, get them to spend a night or two in the community and support the local economy.
* And, in doing these, start to create an environment that businesses will want to be a part of and thus plant the seeds of further development.
History, properly packaged and promoted, sells. We have a great story to tell in Western New York; let all of us preservationists work together to benefit this community.

Patrick W. Welch is chief operating officer of Adaco Services, LLC and president of Chapter 77, Vietnam Veterans of America.

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