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Olmsted Conservancy backs Nicklaus-designed golf courses

The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy has given initial support for a plan to redesign the Delaware Park golf course and create a destination-caliber course on a brownfield near South Park.

The plan, created by civic leader Kevin Gaughan and first revealed in June, would also seek to restore Frederick Law Olmsted’s arboretum in South Park and build an education center to train inner-city youth for employment skills related to the natural environment, stemming from Delaware Park’s status as a racial melting pot for golf.

“We believe the value of the ideas you have presented supports the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservatory mission, and thus merits our collaboration and input as you begin preliminary planning steps,” said Kevin T. Kelly, chairman of the board, and Stephanie L. Crockatt, executive director, in a Dec. 6 letter to Gaughan.

Gaughan made three presentations before conservancy trustees. A September meeting included Nicklaus Cos. CEO John Reese, based in North Palm Beach, Fla., and scholar Francis R. Kowsky, author of “The Best Planned City in the World: Olmsted, Vaux, and the Buffalo Park System.”

“I’m pleased to partner with the conservancy in this exciting endeavor, and now eagerly look forward to fundraising,” Gaughan said. “In effect, I have convinced the conservancy to let me go out and see if I can raise funds to accomplish what they’ve long sought – full restoration of the South Park arboretum  and enlarging the Delaware Park meadow by shrinking its golf course.”

John L. Thornton, co-chairman of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., has been enlisted by Gaughan to guide the $40 million fundraising effort. Gaughan has said the project will be privately and philanthropically funded. Nicklaus, who is providing design services at cost, has offered to assist in fundraising.

Crockatt said the group’s master plan has long called for shrinking the size of the Delaware Park golf course. A feasibility study looking at restoring the arboretum, with or without its golf course, is also underway. The letter of initial support, she said, was primarily for the addition of the Nicklaus-designed courses.

“I don’t think anyone would disagree that this is a very exciting proposition,” Crockatt said. “We are supportive of Kevin looking at this whole concept involving Jack Nicklaus. Having a professional golf course designer involved is the new twist to all of this.”

Crockatt said that additional studies are still needed and that public engagement has yet to occur. She also said funds should come from outside the region, since local foundations have already been tapped for a variety of development projects underway.

The City of Buffalo has final say on what happens in the Olmsted Parks, and Brown administration spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said the city has yet to see a formal plan on which to take a position. “The city has not received a formal proposal outlining a business plan, funding, construction costs and other details,” DeGeorge said.

Crockatt said Gaughan’s plan has unmistakeable appeal. “The idea has been floated about engaging Jack Nicklaus, and everybody’s ears have perked up, so it’s really now a matter of feasibility,” Crockatt said. “It’s an exciting thing to think about.”

The conservancy held a public hearing Thursday on restoring the South Park arboretum, and Crockatt said the conservancy and Gaughan are “on parallel tracks” in their pursuits.

Gaughan has created the not-for-profit Nicklaus Olmsted Buffalo to raise funds, and said he was confident he will succeed. “In all of my discussions with potential funders, beyond their enthusiasm for the Nicklaus designs, they have responded to the restoration, recreation and education aspects of my plan,” Gaughan said.

“The animating idea of my plan is utilizing Olmsted’s pastoral settings as a catalyst for educating inner-city youth. That’s at the heart of this plan, and I think that’s what’s going to comprise its unique strength.”

In January, Gaughan plans to announce a steering committee made up of community leaders, launch a website, hire consultants to conduct marketing and feasibility studies and hold the first of three public forums to gain community input.

email: msommer@buffnews.com

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