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COMPETITORS FOR GRANT DISPLAY VARIETY

Visitors were offered everything from chocolate guitars to biodegradable pens that melt in the rain Monday evening in Rich Renaissance Niagara.

The hawkers at the 24 booths were representatives of nonprofit organizations competing for a grant of up to $150,000. The patrons were dues-paying members of the 21st Century Fund, each authorized to vote on which project to fund.

Last year's winner, the Martin House Restoration Corp., used its $125,000 grant to demolish two buildings near the Darwin Martin House on Jewett Parkway. This year's winner will be determined in March.

Two bowls of chocolate guitars were on hand at the booth for the Buffalo Niagara Guitar Festival. It was runner-up last year, after delivering its official application in a guitar case.

The group held a four-day festival in June at the Erie Basin Marina, but Marty Biniasz of WNED said it needs $147,750 to market a North American Rock Guitar Competition as a year-round educational tour in which the winner will be a cultural ambassador for the region.

Giving away the biodegradable pens -- made from algae and recycled paper -- was Natalie Bulera, executive director of the Center for Great Lakes Environmental Education.

"It might get a little sticky in the rain," she joked, "but we got your attention."

The center, located at Buffalo State College, boasts the annual Great Lakes Beach Sweep, in which 2,000 residents clean beaches and riverbanks each fall.

"We need $150,000," she said, "mostly to fund our long-distance learning lab. We'll use Web-based and interactive video tele-conferencing (to create) a high-performance learning environment."

Giving away model cars at her booth was Wendy Attea Huntington of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center. Surrounded by "art on wheels" prototypes, she explained how artists will reinvent the wheel in 2003 with an arts heritage route that will take tourists to three dozen sites across Erie and Niagara counties.

Wielding a foot-long talking wand that costs $6,000, David Colligan demonstrated how visitors would carry it around while touring the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens. With 200 of these audio guides, the Botanical Gardens could charge users $4, which might add up to $100,000 a year in income to help make the new master plan a reality.

A book-thin TV monitor showing the faces of passers-by was the attention-grabber at the booth of the Western New York Partnership for Regional Networking. The consortium seeks $150,000 to create simultaneous video-conferencing among all the area's hospitals, education centers and government agencies. The 21st Century Regional Inter-networking Center would operate at the University at Buffalo's Information Technology Center.

Joyce Stilson of the Alleyway Theatre showed how its Upper West Arts Center will look after the final $150,000 is found to complete the former church's transformation into a multiuse arts center for the surrounding community to use. Once the final dollars are in place, she said, the center can open within six months.

Created by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, the 21st Century Fund seems to be inspiring some projects that wouldn't otherwise have been proposed.

"Some of these projects look like they were generated specifically because of this fund," said Ted Marks, co-chairman.

e-mail: acardinale@buffnews.com

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