State boosts projects at Albright-Knox, Botanical Gardens and other cultural attractions | Local News

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s pursuit of funds to pay for its expansion is over, thanks to an infusion from the new state budget, and the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens moved much closer to reaching its fundraising goal.

The funds are among $82 million dedicated to Erie County cultural organizations.

“The $20 million that has been allotted for construction of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum brings us to the finish line of our capital campaign,” said Janne Sirén, Albright-Knox’s director. “Moreover, Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York State’s substantial support for other cultural organizations will have a profound and lasting impact on some of our most treasured institutions.”

The state set aside $9 million for the Buffalo Zoo and $8 million for Kleinhans Music Hall to pay for deferred maintenance and repairs. Plus, $5 million will help build the Hispanic Heritage Cultural Institute on the West Side.

Upstate theaters, community arts and organizations museums are also eligible for $60 million later in the year in state funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a $20 million increase from a year ago. Upstate will also receive an additional $4 million for zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums from the State Environmental Protection Fund.

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Also, a public market, concerts and food stalls could be coming to the long-idled DL&W Terminal in a few years, thanks to $30 million from the state budget.

Reuse of the DL&W Terminal has been a long time coming.

The lower floor serves as Metro Rail’s Yard and Shops complex, but the second floor has been vacant since the last Erie-Lackawanna passenger train left the station in 1962.

After $52 million in preliminary improvements, the NFTA will now use the $30 million to repair and restore the train shed’s second floor.

Plans call for covered skylights to be revealed and bricked windows to once again see the light of day. Improved access is planned to the second floor and better walkability around the site. Structural repairs and making the site ADA-accessible are also on the drawing board.

The price tag for all of the work, said developer Sam Savarino, is $30 million – the amount the state is providing.

Savarino, working with Project for Public Spaces – which created the “cheaper, lighter, quicker” concept used at Canalside – envisions an 8,000- to 10,000- square-foot public market, along with artists studios, food stalls and a moveable stage for concerts and special events.

“Our intent is to make a public space in the size and scale and characteristics of great and successful public places in other communities,” Savarino said.

There’s a need for a music venue between the 400-capacity Buffalo Iron Works music club, which Savarino owns, and the 8,000-capacity amphitheater at the Outer Harbor, he said.

Savarino said weekly concerts that used to be downtown have left a void he’d like to fill in the summer on the site’s 40,000-square-foot outdoor deck, which he said could probably fit 4,000 to 5,000 people, as well as inside on a more limited basis. He wants festivals and special events, too.

“There’s a big hole in the middle,” he said. “One of the things missing from what used to be Thursday at the Square and the Canalside Concerts is a place with easy entry and an easy place to meet other people at.”

Savarino expects to open the second floor of the DL&W Terminal in 2025.

The state’s total contribution to the Albright-Knox expansion has now reached $42.3 million, and the state budget answered Sirén’s appeal to complete the project after the museum raised $168 million. That fundraising included $65 million from billionaire and native Snyder resident Jeffrey Gundlach, the largest philanthropic gift in Western New York history.

The centerpiece of the expansion is a three-story glass building designed by architect Shohei Shigematsu that will allow the Albright-Knox to more than double the amount of artwork viewed at one time. The museum, which will reopen as the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, is scheduled to be completed in the first half of 2023 after enduring delays and rising costs due to pandemic-related supply chain holdups.

Estimates to complete the planned expansion of the Botanical Gardens have also suffered from steep price increases, said Mark Mortenson, the Botanical Gardens’ president and chief executive officer.

A decision to have the site reduce its energy and carbon footprint by becoming LEED certified is also adding to the increased cost, he said.

The plan’s focal point calls for a large glass building on the southwest side of the conservatory designed by Toshiko Mori.

With this investment, it is clear we are going to be able to achieve our largest expansion in over a century to better serve the Western New York community,” Mortenson said.

State funds will also bring the Hispanic Heritage Cultural Institute closer to becoming reality, said Casimiro Rodriguez, project chairman and founder of the Hispanic Council of Western New York.

The project has now raised $11 million, he said, though he is also seeking an additional $4.5 million in operating funds for the building’s first three years.

“We are close to the goal posts,” Rodriguez said. “Now we hope the City of Buffalo can come through to help us close the gap and furnish the building.”

Rodriguez said the planned three-story, 33,000-square-foot building at the corner of Niagara and Hudson streets will include an activities hall, a 150-seat theater, museum, art gallery, learning labs and media and broadcasting center.

A 2020 assessment of the Buffalo Zoo’s aging buildings determined there was $25 million in deferred infrastructure needs, including decades-old roofs, poorly conditioned heating and air circulation systems and ignored plumbing needs.

The $9 million provided by the state gets the zoo more than one-third of the way to its goal, with four years still left in its five-year plan to raise the remaining funds.

A 2020 study of Kleinhans Music Hall identified $15 million worth of improvements. After the state’s $8 million contribution, that lowers the amount needed to $5 million.

The 1940 building needs a new roof, HVAC upgrades, a new boiler and new management system for controlling heat and air flow.

A new liner for the reflecting pool, refinishing the stage, modernizing the kitchen, repairing water-damaged walls in the Mary Seaton Room and installing energy-efficient lighting are also priorities.

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

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