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Donor’s Delaware Park project wilts over concerns about what was planted

Timothy Sick said he just wants to give back to the community.

The 5,000 daffodils and tulips and 463 trees and shrubs were just the start for the Ivy Bridge area in Delaware Park.

But giving back has proved more troublesome than the Buffalo resident anticipated.

Two years into a five-year, $100,000 landscaping project that Sick and his partner, Salvatore Zambito II, agreed to pay for, the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy halted work in April until further review. Sick said the Conservancy told him the bridge plantings needed to be re-evaluated.

“I was very disappointed,” Sick said. “I had spent a great deal of time planning for this year to install more evergreen shrubs – like an evergreen arboretum – that has already made it a destination point in the park. After five years, this area would look gorgeous, even more beautiful.”

Sick said he’s baffled why the Olmsted Parks Conservancy would halt the fully-paid-for project. He spent $42,000 during the first two years. Sick said he offered to pay for planting lilacs in Cazenovia Park to mimic the look of the annual lilac festival in Rochester’s Highland Park. That was rejected, too.

Instead, the Olmsted Parks Conservancy asked if he would take part in a campaign urging people to give money to the organization, he said.

“They asked if I would be willing to act as a poster child to facilitate more donations, such as the one I had given,” Sick said. “I said it’s hard to be a poster child if you’re putting my project on hold.”

It was in late 2013 that Sick and Zambito offered to restore the Ivy Bridge evergreen area in the park, a popular spot in the Frederick Law Olmsted park. The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy accepted the offer. Sick, who has a degree in landscape design, went to work with Brian Dold, the conservancy’s design director.

Rhododendrons, azaleas and hemlock now brighten an area around the bridge near Hoyt Lake. So, too, do ornamental pines, smoke tree and hydrangea. Sick promised much more to come.

But then the work came to a halt.

Stephanie Crockatt, the Olmsted Parks Conservancy’s executive director, said the plan Sick worked out with Dold raised concerns.

“Plants started going in all over the place, and we needed to reassess not only their locations but the species being put in because they can require certain care, and we don’t always have the staff for resources to do that,” Crockatt said.

She said the project needs to be re-evaluated by the organization’s Design Review Committee.

This year’s drought, coupled with the lack of an irrigation system, puts more strain on maintaining the park system’s plants, she said.

“I don’t want this gift squandered, definitely, but we just have to make sure all parties understand the expectations going forward,” Crockatt said. “(Sick) has been very generous. But with all of the zillions of issues that have been hopping around the parks the last year, this project has not risen to the top of the priority list.”

Dold said a park user questioned whether some plantings were historically appropriate for the park. The design committee also grew concerned about the process. Dold said there may also have been “slip-ups in communication” with Sick.

“It was thought we should get on the same page and get an inventory of everything that has been done, so we can take the next step and pick the right group of plants, with everyone feeling good about the process,” Dold said.

The project has helped in another way – as a catalyst in securing Niagara River Greenway funds. The money will pay for the design phase for pathway and landscape restoration through Rumsey Woods, including the area where Sick has himself put in mulch around the flowers and trees.

Dold said the Olmsted Parks Conservancy appreciates Sick’s hands-on approach, which includes choosing the plants.

“We really appreciate when donors are passionate about the project they want to be involved in, specifically landscape restoration,” Dold said. “We strive to find donors who have a passion for parks.”

Sick still feels in the dark about the project’s halt. He said he was told the Olmsted Parks Conservancy wanted to do a Google positioning map of the plantings for its records, but never shared other concerns.

“No one indicated anything was amiss,” Sick said. “Brian had a record of all the plant materials purchased ahead of time.”

The evergreen project was greenlighted by former director Thomas Herrera-Mishler, who left the Olmsted Parks Conservancy in 2014 and is now chief executive officer of the Balboa Park Conservancy in San Diego.

“It was a very unembellished area of the park, and it seemed like a really good and thoughtful plant selection,” Herrera-Mishler recalled. “I also loved the passion and expertise of the donor.”

Sick, who restores old homes in Buffalo and Florida, said he planned the gift to be made anonymously until word leaked out.

Sick still hopes the Ivy Bridge project can resume. He’s heartened by the positive responses relayed to him by board members, park-goers and those in wedding parties.

Sick said his model for gift-giving is Andrew Carnegie, the industrialist-turned-philanthropist who gave to concert halls, universities, libraries and charitable foundations.

“I don’t have that kind of money, but we don’t have children and believe in giving back to the community that has been good to us,” Sick said.

He plans on leaving the Olmsted Parks Conservancy one-fourth of his estate.

If the Olmsted Parks Conservancy doesn’t restore his project, there are other worthy endeavors to get involved in, he said.

“I have other charities I could donate to,” Sick said. “People call me all the time.”


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