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History Museum to undergo $1 million upgrade

The Buffalo History Museum will soon have brighter lights in its auditorium, its first public address system and surveillance cameras.

A nearly $1 million investment by city taxpayers in the city-owned property was announced Thursday.

“I will be so happy not to tell people the lights are actually on in the auditorium,” said Melissa Brown, executive director. “Our lighting systems will no longer be part of our historic charm here.”

Standing in the 1901 building, Mayor Byron W. Brown said the city supports the improvements because they will help the museum achieve its goal of increasing visitors by 35 percent.

It’s important to examine the needs of “our cultural institutions that help to promote tourism, who bring people into our community,” he said. “We just felt that the improvements they were requesting were merited.”

Work on the upgrades to the museum is scheduled to begin in a month and last 120 days. The museum, at Elm-wood Avenue and Nottingham Terrace, will be open during construction except for two weeks when work will prevent access to the public restrooms, forcing the facility to close to the public.

“There will be noticeable pardon-our-dust signs while this is happening,” said Melissa Brown.

While many of the improvements will not be immediately noticeable to the public, they will help the museum accommodate more functions in its auditorium and bring in more visitors. The work will also enhance safety and security for museum visitors.

The lights in the 200-seat auditorium will be brighter, and there will be more exterior lighting, which may keep away graffiti artists and provide more security to people walking in Delaware Park at night. Interior lighting fixtures will also be upgraded, and will be more energy-efficient. Upgrades are also planned for the fire alarm and telephone systems and electrical panel boards.

The work will help the museum achieve its goal of increasing its annual visitors by 35 percent, Melissa Brown said. Currently, 45,000 visitors come through the doors every year.

While traditional exhibits, such as the museum’s display focusing on the War of 1812, attracts history buffs, the museum is learning that other types of exhibits draw a bigger crowd. The first day an exhibit showcasing the Buffalo Sabres opened, 1,000 visitors walked through the door, Melissa Brown said.

The museum is hoping for another rush of visitors when an exhibit dedicated to NBC broadcaster Tim Russert is installed in October. The exhibit is being moved from the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Funding for the upgrades were allocated in a past capital budget, and the work is expected to cost $932,925. Over the last four years, the city has spent $206,548 on improvements to the museum.

The city receives $125 million in capital requests every year and must choose among them. Capital spending is capped every year at $22.5 million.