David Rogers, a history buff, revels in Buffalo's past.
The CEO and co-founder of Life Storage also calls himself "sort of a boat guy."
So when Rogers read about the Buffalo Maritime Center's plan to build a replica packet boat, like the one used to mark the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, he decided to get on board in a big way.
The Clarence resident took a tour of the Black Rock boat-building facility. And then afterward, he and his wife Joan offered to foot the entire $325,000 cost to build the 73-foot-long boat.
"I loved the idea that they were building it as historically accurate as they could get it," Rogers said. "All the work they do there is just remarkable, and they had a good plan."
Rogers serves on the board of the Old Fort Niagara Association, and he saw several years ago how commemoration events surrounding the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 stimulated interest in Buffalo's history and boosted attendance.
"I saw how milestones propel organizations," Rogers said.
The Erie Canal bicentennial in 2025 will remind people of the canal's importance in the development of Buffalo and the nation as a whole and could generate the kind of public interest seen at Old Fort Niagara, Rogers said.
Rogers likes that the public will be able to watch the building of the packet boat at Canalside, and even be invited to participate.
He also appreciates how the maritime center trains young people to build boats as part of its daily operations.
"My wife and I like to get involved in educating kids," Rogers said. "Through Catholic Charities, she taught sewing to kids in the Perry projects."
Rogers, who grew up in Cheektowaga, graduated from Maryvale High School and received a bachelor's degree in accounting at the University at Buffalo. Life Storage, a self-storage company, has 15 properties in Buffalo, and some 750 in 56 markets in the United States.
Brian Trzeciak, the maritime center's executive director, said the organization owes Rogers a considerable thanks.
"We have worked so hard to prepare and advocate for this project, but David was the one who opened the door and made this a reality," Trzeciak said. "He really does love Buffalo, and believes in this project as much as we do."
The maritime center received another boost last week, when the Cuomo administration announced it would spend $4 million to construct a building that will house the making of the packet boat at Canalside for the three years the boat will be under construction.
Groundbreaking is expected next spring, with the building of the boat slated to begin Memorial Day 2020.
Once built, the packet boat would be moored in the Commercial Slip and used as a tourist attraction. It will also be taken down the Erie Canal and visit canal towns along the way.
"The living history that people are going to get to experience is going to put a different twist on Canalside, and give another reason for Buffalo to be a tourist destination," Trzeciak said.
Rogers said he is glad to be able to help emeritus director John Montague fulfill his dream of building a packet boat at Canalside.
"John Montague is this combination of academics and practicality," Rogers said. "I'm just thrilled for him. He has gone down so many dead ends to make this happen."
Rogers represents a "gold standard" model of philanthropy, said Deborah Lynn Williams, the maritime center's development director.
"Here's a guy who started and grew a business, and instead of taking his money out of town he's used his position to invest it right back into the community, where it can have a lasting presence," Williams said.