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Editorial: Time to move forward on Nicklaus project in parks

Kevin Gaughan’s exciting and farsighted plan to restore two of Buffalo’s Olmsted parks while improving the golf courses they now host got an important boost last week in winning the praise and formal support of the National Association for Olmsted Parks. The proposal should move ahead as quickly as diligence and good planning allow.

The plan counts as a coup both for Buffalo and for Gaughan, a longtime community advocate who has had some successes influencing the region, but nothing as substantial as this. It’s a winner.
His proposal is to redesign the golf course that now consumes the meadow in Delaware Park while shrinking its footprint, leaving more of the park open to non-golfers. Meanwhile, the plan also includes a new golf course on land adjacent to South Park, allowing the course in that park to close and making room to install the arboretum that had been part of the original plan by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted but never built. Finally, an education and vocational training center for inner-city youth would be created.

Those, alone, are wonderful ideas, but what elevates them into the realm of the exceptional is that the designer of the new courses would be famed golfer Jack Nicklaus, who has offered to provide his company’s professional services at cost. With that, Buffalo could not only make far better use of two historic Olmsted parks while improving two golf courses, but provide the city with new assets that would draw visitors from far away.

This project has been moving ahead fitfully since Gaughan first approached Nicklaus, then presented it to the public. Most recently, it won the enthusiastic support of the national Olmsted group, which is the leading advocate for Olmsted lands around the country. It includes prominent Olmsted scholars, architects, administrators and preservationists.

In addition, the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy offered preliminary support to the plan late last year, though it is also considering other options, including a plan by former Olmsted Parks Chairman David Colligan to restore the arboretum while leaving the South Park golf course. That’s an inferior idea. The conservancy needs to commit to the Gaughan-Nicklaus plan, which would restore South Park, build the arboretum and create a first-class tourist destination golf course in the city.

Golf courses should never have been constructed on these historic parks to begin with. They are exclusionary, denying many of the parks’ benefits to those who don’t golf. The chance to reconfigure the course in Delaware Park and remove the one in South Park while also serving the interests of golfers and restoring Olmsted’s vision should not be missed. Opportunities such as this come by only rarely, and perhaps never will again.

Gaughan has been working diligently over the years to improve Erie County and to leave a mark. In enlisting the help of Nicklaus in a creative plan, Gaughan has surpassed himself and stands to make a lasting imprint on the community. He deserves the thanks and support of the community and its leaders as he continues the work of raising funds to implement the plan.

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