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Insurer makes splash with $1 million pledge; MLK Park basin to be repaired

BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York has committed $1 million over 10 years to repair and operate the now-dormant splash pad and surrounding basin being rebuilt at Martin Luther King Park, making it a year-round attraction.

The money will flow to the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, which maintains Buffalo's Olmsted Parks and has called the reconstruction of the vast five-acre basin its most important project.

Once reopened next year, the splash pad will resume operations in the summer months; the basin will become a reflecting pool in the spring and autumn; and in the winter, it will be used as a skating rink, weather permitting.

Meanwhile, BlueCross BlueShield expects to deliver some of its "Healthy Zone" programs at the park to encourage exercise and healthy lifestyles.

The money from BlueCross BlueShield will help the conservancy promote the facility, keep it clean and secure, and cleared of snow in the winter to allow skating, said Thomas Herrera-Mishler, the conservancy's president and chief executive officer.

He called the $1 million commitment -- $100,000 a year over 10 years -- the conservancy's largest-ever corporate contribution.

"Our goal is to provide funding to ensure the basin opens next spring, so residents of the surrounding neighborhoods have access to healthy activities year-round," Alphonso O'Neil-White, the insurer's president and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement. "Statistics show that vandalism drops by more than 25 percent, as do obesity rates, when 'active' parks are placed in neighborhoods."

The first $100,000 will close the final gap in financing required to complete the reconstruction, Herrera-Mishler said Monday.

City Hall has covered most of the $4 million undertaking to rebuild the basin designed 135 years ago by Frederick Law Olmsted, who envisioned it as a wading pool and a place to launch toy boats. Olmsted designed for Buffalo a system of six parks and parkways considered among the nation's finest.

The "Humboldt Basin" at Martin Luther King Park is nearly as large as the footprint of HSBC Arena, according to city public works officials. At one time they had hoped to have the splash pad operating this summer, even as reconstruction took place around it, but decided that strategy was hazardous.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com