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Grants bolster Martin House campaign Funds from M&T Bank, Erie County will help move landmark closer to completion

Two grants are giving a boost to efforts to complete the interior of the Darwin Martin House.

With the Martin House Restoration Corp. looking to the private sector to raise $10 million to complete the Martin House Complex, M&T Bank announced a grant Tuesday of $350,000 to kick-start the campaign.

County Executive Chris Collins is expected to announce a commitment of $500,000 today after $1 million is raised from the private sector. The funds will come from the county's surplus and must be approved by the Legislature.

To date, about $41 million has been raised for the Martin House, said Mary F. Roberts, chief operating officer.

"We are humbled by M&T Bank's generosity and continued leadership," John N. Walsh III, president of the Martin House board of trustees, said in a statement. "We likewise welcome Erie County's wonderful challenge and assistance.

"We are committed to the successful completion of this critical community asset. It is among New York State's most treasured destinations for visitors from around the world."

Erie County and M&T Bank are longtime supporters of Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House Complex.

Work is being done with an eye toward the National Trust for Historic Preservation's national conference in Buffalo in October. The remaining work will involve all three levels of the 15,000-square-foot Martin House.

Completing the Martin House interior will require $6 million.

Work that is either under way or planned includes plastering walls and applying decorative finishes; replicating historic light fixtures; reinstating elaborate interior woodwork; upgrading mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; installing security, telecommunications and fire monitoring and suppression systems; installing a museum-quality HVAC system linked to a new geothermal exchange system; and installing an educational space in the lower level of the house, which will be named the Junior League/Buffalo News Learning Center.

The Martin House Complex -- which consists of the Martin House; the reconstructed pergola, conservatory and carriage house; Barton House; Gardener's Cottage; and Greatbatch Pavilion designed by Toshiko Mori -- will remain open while the work goes on.

"The beauty of this project is it's really about economic development as much as historical preservation," Roberts said.

"The Martin House will pay for itself in three to five years, and create a spinoff of $17 million a year in the region's economy, with two-thirds coming from outside Western New York," she predicted.

Collins' decision to fund the Martin House continues his 2011 support for 10 of the largest cultural organizations, including the Martin House, while defunding 23 other arts groups.

"This just supports what many people, including the Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance, were saying during the 2011 arts funding process: That there is sufficient money out there to support arts and cultural organizations," said Randall Kramer, spokesman for the alliance and artistic director of MusicalFare Theatre.

"I think the Darwin Martin House is an incredible asset for our community. I'm proud to live in a community that has so many other wonderful cultural organizations," he said.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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