Two leading preservation organizations foundered in recent years as their effectiveness and visibility diminished.
The merger of the two groups, the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier and the Preservation Coalition of Erie County, into a professionally run, full-service organization aims to change that.
Members of both organizations -- which have a combined membership of 500 -- approved the consolidation into a new entity, Preservation Buffalo Niagara, in separate votes Thursday in the Karpeles Museum.
Catherine Schweitzer, who has headed the transition committee, said the organization will become "dynamic and visible" as it advances its goals of identifying, preserving and revitalizing historic and architecturally significant structures and areas.
"One of the deficits in Buffalo is our knowledge about preservation. We hope to train the community to be alert to preservation challenges so we are working on the problems early and not at the crisis stage," said Schweitzer, executive director of the Baird Foundation and one of two New York State advisers for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which will be holding its national convention in Buffalo in 2011.
Preservation Buffalo Niagara, which will focus its efforts on both Erie and Niagara counties, announced it has received $330,000 in grants. The John R. Oishei Foundation has given $230,000, followed by the Baird Foundation and DB Trust, each providing $50,000.
That gives Preservation Buffalo Niagara a head start in reaching its planned $400,000 annual budget, which would far exceed any local preservation organization before it. The organization plans to be self-sustaining after three years, Schweitzer said.
In addition, the Preservation League of New York State has awarded Preservation Buffalo Niagara a $7,500 grant to survey historic buildings at North Prospect Hill on the Lower West Side. The area abuts the Grant-Ferry and Peace Bridge neighborhoods, which have been surveyed in recent years.
"Our support for Preservation Buffalo Niagara speaks to our belief in this new organization, which is building on the combined strength of formerly disparate groups to develop sound preservation policies for the 21st century," said Jay DiLorenzo, president of the Preservation League of New York State.
Preservation Buffalo Niagara will be governed by a 21-member board, with 10 of the slots filled by current board members of the two groups. An executive director, preservation specialist and education coordinator will be hired, along with support staff.
The area's other preservation organization, the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, has had the largest activist presence of the three groups and will remain a separate entity.