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Ambitious project for transportation museum would enlarge a downtown focal point

James and Mary Ann Sandoro’s love for the City of Buffalo has transformed a dream into reality at the Buffalo Transportation/Pierce-Arrow Museum, and now that affection is going to get displayed on a magnificent scale.

As News staff reporter Mark Sommer noted, the couple plan to greatly expand the museum’s exhibit space at Michigan Avenue and Seneca Street, apparently making it the largest auto museum in the world.

Indeed, the grand plan is for 300,000 square feet of exhibit space, or two square blocks, which would exceed the Miami Auto Museum at the Dezer Collection, at 260,000 square feet the nation’s largest.

It would also surpass the largest car museums in Europe: the National Automobile Museum in Italy and the National Automobile Museum-Schlumpf Collection in France, at 200,000 square feet, and the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Germany at 177,000 square feet.

The Sandoros’ vision has created one of the area’s cultural assets. The museum features a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed filling station that opened last June in a 40,000-square-foot glass-and-steel atrium. It has proven an international attraction.

Sandoro has collected a quarter-million transportation artifacts – more than enough to fill the addition. He said the project would cost about $10 million and he hopes it can be completed by 2020.

The project will require a capital campaign and state grants. As one more attraction to bring visitors downtown, the museum is worthy of state support.

The museum is a destination that last year saw around 18,000 paid admissions. Sandoro said he expected paid attendance to reach 40,000 to 50,000 annually, including corporate parties, special events and high-end trade shows.

Sandoro wants to broaden the museum’s focus to provide more for visitors. By using the Wright filling station and items from his extensive collection, Sandoro wants to re-create a streetscape of early 20th century Buffalo. He may even re-create the Dan Montgomery Steak House, which was a Buffalo institution at 160 Exchange St.

The expanded museum would be a great addition to the reawakening under way in the city.

Best of all, this ambitious plan is coming from the hearts of a couple who view it as a gift to Buffalo. A wonderful gift, indeed.