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The Buffalo of Yesteryear: Naval Park, built using urban renewal in the '70s

Many Western New Yorkers will spend part of Memorial Day weekend visiting the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park at Canalside, widely known for its military vessels, which include three naval ships that are on display where the Buffalo River meets Lake Erie.

The park didn’t open to the public until 1979; before that, the property was in a post-industrial neighborhood in need of urban renewal.

The nonprofit organization that manages the park was formed and incorporated as an educational institution in 1976 from the New York Board of Regents, according to the park’s website. The same year, the nonprofit applied along with the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency to the U.S. Department of the Navy for a decommissioned naval vessel.

The Navy in 1977 donated to the City of Buffalo the destroyer USS The Sullivans, which had served in World War II and the Korean War and was slated to become in 1986 a National Historic Landmark, and the guided missile cruiser USS Little Rock. (The park later acquired the World War II submarine USS Croaker in 1988.)

After funds from the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency helped build a visitors center, the park opened. Since then, the area surrounding the park has undergone great change – Memorial Auditorium was demolished, KeyBank Center was built, the Canalside attraction was launched and HarborCenter rose from the ground – but all the while, the ships have attracted visitors from near and far.

The park’s collection also includes an X-Ron 1 Rotorcycle helicopter, an Army M-41 tank, a Marine M-84 Armored Personnel Carrier, a UH1 “Huey” Helicopter, an Air Force F-101F Voodoo Fighter Interceptor Jet, a PTF-17 PT boat, a Navy FJ-4B Fury Jet and a P-39 Airacobra, according to its website.

The nonprofit that runs the park, Buffalo Naval Park Committee Inc., reported revenues of more than $1 million in 2016 against expenditures of about $983,000, records show.

Every year for five days, a volunteer crew dubbed the Tin Can Sailors, composed of veterans who served on destroyers, visits Buffalo to help maintain and spruce up the USS The Sullivans, The Buffalo News reported in 2013. Another similar group, the Navy Cruiser Sailors Association, comes at another time of year to help on the USS Little Rock.

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