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At Albright-Knox, steel frame for expansion is in place: 'This is a remarkable moment'

At Albright-Knox, steel frame for expansion is in place: 'This is a remarkable moment'

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As a crane lifted the last steel beam into place Wednesday on the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's new building, money continued to come into the museum's treasury to meet a patron's $2.5 million challenge grant.

Some $1 million has been pledged in the three weeks since Jeffrey Gundlach made the matching grant offer, said Janne Siren, the museum's director.

Up and away

The final steel beam is lifted into place atop the Albright-Knox's new Jeffrey E. Gundlach Building, which is under construction amid the gallery's AK360 campus expansion, during a topping out ceremony to mark the completion of the steel frame, Wednesday, July 7, 2021. 

The museum needs to raise $1.5 million more for the latest matching grant effort to succeed. If successful, that would leave $10.5 million still to raise, but with a $5 million pledge from the Cuomo administration, a $2.5 million pledge from the City of Buffalo and the pandemic receding, Siren is optimistic government funds are coming.

"If the government monies come in and we make this match, we'll be nearly at the finish line," Siren said. 

In addition, Rep. Brian Higgins has a $1 million request before the House Appropriations Committee to pay for the nearly 1-acre lawn that will replace a surface parking lot and cover an underground parking garage now under construction.

Together, the three government payouts would account for $8.5 million, leaving just $2 million more to be raised. 

Other funding sources are also being pursued, Siren said. 

Siren said he was encouraged  by the community's response to Gundlach's matching grant offer.

"It was incredible to see how fast the community reacted," Siren said.

Museum officials, staff, supporters and political leaders gathered for the topping out ceremony Wednesday for the new structure, to be called the Jeffrey E. Gundlach Building. 

Gundlach pledged a $42.5 million challenge grant in September 2016 for the museum expansion, setting a record in Western New York for the largest private contribution to a cultural institution. The bond trader and investor pledged $10 million more in November 2017, another $10 million in November 2019 and now $2.5 million, assuming the challenge grant is met.

With the steel frame in place, Gilbane Building Co. will begin pouring concrete floors in the Gundlach Building. Installation of the glass walls is expected to follow in the fall.

"This is a remarkable moment," Siren said. "Much work remains to be done in the coming year, but the topping out of the Gundlach Building is a potent symbol of just how far we have come since breaking ground in November 2019."

The expanded museum, at a cost of $168 million, is expected to reopen in fall 2022, three years since the museum closed in November 2019. When it reopens, the museum will become known as the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. AKG stands for the museum's major contributors: John J. Albright, Seymour H. Knox Jr. and Jeffrey E. Gundlach.

Siren praised County Executive Mark Poloncarz for paying the county's $5 million pledge last summer, even as Covid-19 raged.

"That took leadership to do that in July 2020," Siren said. "It solidified our board's belief in the project at a time when the world was surrounded by a pandemic."

Poloncarz said he honored the county's commitment knowing it would help move the project along and keep people working.

A new report by UB Regional Institute concludes the construction of the new campus has already brought significant economic benefits for the city, region and state.

The project supports 1,827 jobs, with construction over three years expected to generate an economic impact of $281 million for the state, $168 million for the county and $36 million for the city, the report found. 

The report said 84% of the construction money is being spent in New York State, with 52% in Erie County and 21% in Buffalo.

"Every dollar invested in the construction of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum generates twice as much in total economic impact for New York State," the report said.   

Annual economic impacts of the expanded museum are projected from $36 million to $47 million. At least 134 full-time employees are anticipated when the museum reopens, and an increase of 80,000 visitors are predicted that would project annual visitation between 185,000 and 205,000, about 40% from out of town, the report said.

An estimated $3 million to $4 million in local and state taxes are expected to be collected. 

The semi-transparent building being erected on the northern end of the campus, along Elmwood Avenue, will allow the museum to more than double its exhibition space and serve as the new entrance.

New Albright-Knox rendering

An updated rendering of the new building at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

The new building calls for an indoor sculpture terrace that will encircle the main galleries and provide a 360-degree wraparound view of the surrounding landscape.

A bridge will connect the new North Building and E.B. Green's historic 1905 building, and improve the museum's ability to handle and transport valuable artwork. The building is undergoing roof, masonry and drainage repairs and re-creation of the grand staircase.

The 1962 Gordon Bunshaft addition will be used for educational purposes and exhibition space, and a 6,000-square-foot community space will be marked by a "Common Sky" sculptural canopy.

Mark Sommer covers preservation, development, the waterfront, culture and more. He's also a former arts editor at The News. 

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