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Olmsted Parks Conservancy gets $3 million from Wilson Foundation

The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation announced Tuesday at Cazenovia Park that it has awarded a $3 million grant to the not-for-profit parks organization that manages and maintains an 850-acre system of city-owned parks, parkways and circles designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

The grant -- the largest in the conservancy's 15-year history -- comes after the city on July 25 renewed the conservancy's role through 2030 and the organization's recent approval of a five-year capital plan.

“Our new partnership agreement with the city is a huge accomplishment, and this incredible grant continues that surge of excitement,” said Elizabeth McPhail, the conservancy's board chairwoman.

“As a nonprofit that currently operates without an endowment, our goal via these funds is to inspire all of Western New York to continue investing in our mission, our historic green spaces and our collective quality of life. We cannot thank the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation enough,” McPhail said.

Half of the Wilson funds will be used as matching dollars when other corporate or community donors give money for park improvement projects but want Olmsted to kick in a share, and the funds will also be used for opportunities to boost revenue.

Park operations will receive $900,000 to further support the conservancy's labor force and equipment needs, with the remaining $600,000 partly used for a fundraising feasibility study, a facilities and revenue-generating study and a business modeling study.

The conservancy previously received three smaller grants totaling nearly $100,000 from the Wilson Foundation and through its fund at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. Those grants have supported soccer field improvements at Delaware Park and the development of unstructured play kits for summer activities throughout the Olmsted park system.

“Frederick Law Olmsted understood 150 years ago, when he first toured Buffalo, that parks provide an opportunity to connect people and place," said David O. Egner, the Wilson Foundation's president and CEO in a statement.

"The historic Olmsted Parks and the entire City of Buffalo park system provide greenspace for thousands of people every day from across the city to walk, play or simply connect with nature,” he said. “The strong collaboration between the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy and the City of Buffalo ensures that this opportunity will continue to exist for generations to come. We’re proud to support this work and help sustain what Olmsted described as the ‘best planned city in America.’ ”

The conservancy's recently approved five-year update to its master plan calls for $19 million in improvements across the Olmsted system.

"We are jumping with joy and appreciation over this generous and diverse pool of funding that will allow us to continue our community-based work for the
Olmsted park system of Buffalo,” said Stephanie Crockatt, the conservancy's executive director.

The Wilson Foundation has established itself as Western New York's philanthropic powerhouse by dispensing a dizzying array of big-figure grants. More than $1.4 billion and ultimately as much as $2 billion — depending on the stock market and other factors — is expected to be split about evenly between Western New York and Southeast Michigan over a 20-year period ending in 2035.

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