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Editorial: Wilson Foundation's green good deal with conservancy

In the popular 1950s TV series “The Millionaire,” a wealthy benefactor named John Beresford Tipton Jr. each week had his assistant give a check for $1 million “to persons he had never met.” The drama centered on how the money changed the recipients’ lives.

The people who work for the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation are living in a real-life re-creation of the show’s premise. They get to award life-changing gifts to people that the late Buffalo Bills owner never met, but very much had in mind when he directed that the proceeds from the sale of the team after his death be used to fund a foundation that over 20 years will enrich lives in Western New York and Michigan, two places that Wilson called home.

The latest recipient of Wilson’s largesse is the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, the nonprofit steward of the parks, parkways and circles throughout the city that were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. The Wilson Foundation just awarded the conservancy a $3 million grant, the largest in the conservancy’s 15-year history.

In reality the grant could be worth $4.5 million because half of the award is to be used as matching funds to attract donations from others.

Of the other $1.5 million, $900,000 will be used for park operations, for the conservancy’s labor force and equipment, and $600,000 for a fundraising feasibility study, a facilities and revenue-generating study, a business modeling study and development of their strategic plan.

It seems like a large share of the grant to devote to performing studies, but Crockatt says they are “tools of due diligence for nonprofit organizations,” planned in cooperation with the Wilson Foundation. And part of the funds will also go toward hiring two new staff members, Crockatt said.

This is a triumphant summer for the conservancy, which in late July announced a new 12-year agreement with the City of Buffalo for its management of the parks. The deal allows the conservancy to keep 100 percent of the revenue from fees collected at the Olmsted Parks golf courses, casinos and concession stands, yet another financial boost.

The Olmsted Parks held anniversary celebrations throughout 2018, marking 150 years since the great landscape architect made his first visit to Buffalo. The next 150 years are off to a momentous start.
Crockatt calls the Wilson Foundation grant “a catalyst in the right direction” for their plans.

Ralph Wilson believed in the value of outdoor recreation. His foundation in 2018 announced a stunning donation of $100 million to transform LaSalle Park and develop a completed regional trail system in Western New York.

The gift to the Olmsted Conservancy is one more way to keep our green spaces thriving far into the future.

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