Two preservation groups have made it possible to take self-guided tours of 50 historic sites in Buffalo.
Western New Yorkers or tourists can now learn about the historic importance of Niagara Square, the stunning architecture of Market Arcade or, say, how the Cyclorama Building originally was built to exhibit panoramic paintings, by dialing a cell phone or downloading an MP3 file.
The audio tours, which last 2 to 5 minutes, are provided by Buffalo Tours, a joint project of the Preservation Coalition of Erie County and Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier.
"For years, we've been giving tours of downtown, neighborhoods and the waterfront," said Todd Mitchell, education chairman for the Preservation Coalition. "Offering audio tours that provide 2 4/7 , 365-day access to information is an extension of that."
Mitchell said the idea of providing audio tours has been talked about for years but required the last two years to turn it into a reality.
"A lot of people either can't take a regularly scheduled tour or they don't want to -- they just want to go at their own time or pace," Mitchell said. "The audio tours make it possible for them to do that."
Visitors can access an audio tour by calling 844-1111 and then punching in the extension number for the desired site. The information also is available at www.buffalotours.org, and can be downloaded to any MP3 player or iPod. It also will be printed on Buffalo Tours brochures that are expected to be available this week.
Mitchell said there was considerable volunteer and donated help. The Preservation Coalition's Denise Prince wrote the text, historian Martin Wachadlo checked for accuracy, and WBFO's Christopher Jamele provided the voice. Audio services were offered by Eclectic Electric, and the Talking Phone Book agreed to provide the phone service.
The State Council for the Arts provided $2,500 for the endeavor.
Mitchell does not expect the self-guided tours to compete with Buffalo Tours, a source of funds for the nonprofit groups.
"If anything, it will just whet people's appetite," he said. "If people want that human interaction, they're going to do it with someone on a guided tour who knows the area."