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Need to boast is throttled by fund cuts

This is about the agony of Ed Healy.

This is about the pleasure of a wealth at your fingertips and the pain of not cashing in. It is the best of situations in the worst of times.

It is the job of Healy -- a company man with a cultural mind-set -- to tell the world about our stockpile of architecture, art and history. We have a cultural wealth that most cities would kill for, attractions that can bring people from around the world. That is the good part, that is what makes Healy -- the Convention and Visitor Bureau's heritage tourism guy -- happy.

Yet Healy is like a town crier with laryngitis, like a marksman with no bullets, like a master of ceremonies with no microphone.

Just as Buffalo is finally ready to tell its story, the book is ripped from Healy's hands.

We have a glut of great stuff -- from a Frank Lloyd Wright masterwork to a definitive site in American history -- that, within a year or two, will be ready to be unleashed on the world. And the messenger, Healy, has no way to send the message.

It is the sort of madness that chronically afflicts Buffalo. It is the kind of bad luck that feeds our angst and fuels our despair. If it's not Wide Right, it's No Money Left.

The money set aside to sell ourselves to the world, to spread our word instead disappeared down the county budget hole. Half of the "bed tax" was grabbed by lawmakers desperate to cover their backs and to back-fill a financial chasm. Now a city crying to be heard can't speak above a whisper, for want of $1.5 million Healy no longer has.

"We are on the verge of a breakthrough," said Healy. "It's absolutely frustrating."

The Darwin Martin complex near Delaware Park, an early masterwork of genius architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is near the end of a $24 million, 13-year restoration. We are the only American city other than Chicago with masterworks by Wright, Louis Sullivan and H.H. Richardson, America's great architectural pioneers.

Backhoes at the downtown Erie Canal Harbor are excavating the historic western terminus of the canal, Buffalo's page in America's story.

Wright's Graycliff estate on the lakefront is nearly done; money is on line to revive the H.H. Richardson Towers; East Aurora's arts-and-crafts Roycroft Campus is chugging ahead.

When it comes to what we've got that other places don't, we have little better than this. It expands our image beyond Bills, blizzards and chicken wings. But only if people know.

Gone is the Manhattan PR firm hired last year to infiltrate America's cultural center. Gone is the local PR company that persuaded big-city journalists to come here. Gone are Buffalo visits booked by cultural reporters.

It's true, the county needed to do more with less. It had to slash and burn before it reached into our pockets for more taxes.

We knew when jobs got cut and programs hacked in the bring-the-pain red budget that there would be mistakes made. We knew there would be ways in which we hurt more than helped ourselves.

It makes no sense to spend $24 million to restore the Martin House, or $48 million at Erie Canal Harbor, and then not tell the world we've got it. It makes no sense not spending a marketing dollar that brings as much as 20 tourist dollars.

It makes no sense pulling the plug when we've built and filled the tub.

Joel Giambra and county lawmakers deliver a budget to the control board by month's end.

Unless the $1.5 million marketing money comes back, we will be the tree that falls in the forest that nobody hears. We will be the secret that stays untold. We will be the chumps who dumped millions into restoring masterpieces and reviving history and got little in return.

It is the agony of Ed Healy. But we all share the pain.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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