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Editorial: Ralph Wilson comes through

Explore & More museum’s Valentine’s Day gift is a box of multimillion dollar chocolates the entire community will enjoy, thanks to the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

The museum will appropriately be named: Explore & More – The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Children’s Museum.

The foundation’s promise to award $6 million to the project if the museum also raises $6 million offers peace of mind to those in charge of this enchanting effort.

By making it a challenge grant, the foundation has sparked even more enthusiasm. If history is any indicator, current and former area residents will step up.

The other aspect to appreciate is the manner in which the foundation’s award will be used: one-half toward construction and the other half to establish an endowment. The endowment is important in ensuring the museum’s long term fiscal health.

The museum is really coming into form, not only physically as the structure goes up at Canalside but also from the psychological perspective. There have been any number of positive developments over the past few years in a once-moribund location – from weekly summer concerts to outdoor ice skating in winter – and family-friendly activities in between.

The museum will serve as an early educational tool and attract more families and visitors. Now it has even more credibility and validation due to the generosity of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, whose president and CEO David Egner said agreed to fund the project because it is expected to “spur economic development.” The foundation is known for its interest in early childhood education, which Egner noted as a positive in considering the museum, along with providing after school programs.

The Wilson grant means the museum will have raised $16 million of the $20 million that it needs. The $29 million project has already received $9 million from the state’s Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. to build the shell and core of the building.

The matching grant is motivating because it requires the $3 million being used for the build-out to be matched by other donors within two years. The match for the endowment has a four-year window. Museum officials should immediately launch a campaign to remind stakeholders – and that would be all residents – that every dollar counts.

The museum will be able to take up to $250,000 from the first $1 million raised for the endowment up to four years, which relieves considerable pressure from figuring out how to deal with early revenue gaps.
Back in 2012, when Explore & More, founded in East Aurora in 1994, announced it was moving to Canalside there were any number of critical questions – doubts, if you will – whether this could happen. Now it is expected to open late this year or in early 2019 with 250,000 visitors projected in its first year.

With the generosity of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation that vision is coming into full focus.

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