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Wilson Foundation dedicates $200M for 'signature' legacy parks, trails to namesake

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LaSalle Park will be renamed Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park.

The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation Wednesday announced a $200 million investment in parks and trails in Western New York and Southeast Michigan. The funds will be split evenly between the two regions and are being dedicated in honor of what would have been the 100th birthday of the former Buffalo Bills founder and owner.

Signature parks will be created from both LaSalle Park, the largest waterfront park in Buffalo, and West Riverfront Park in Detroit. Once completed, they will both be renamed Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park.

“We are proud and honored to celebrate Ralph’s birthday today with a lasting gift that matches in scale the passion and pride he had for his hometown of Detroit and ‘adopted’ hometown of Buffalo, where he founded and owned the Buffalo Bills,” said Mary Wilson, widow of Ralph Wilson and life trustee of the foundation. “Ralph was committed to exercise, staying active and enjoying life. It would make Ralph so happy to see people of all ages enjoying these enhanced parks and trails for years to come.”

For both locations, the foundation is committing a total $40 million for construction activity and $10 million to support the broader efforts for long-term sustainability. To help complete a connected regional trail system in both communities, the foundation will invest another $50 million in trails in each region.

For each region, $40 million will be allocated toward yet-to-be determined projects that close physical gaps in each region’s trail systems and $10 million will be designated toward helping operate and
maintain the trails for decades to come.

“Through the years, there have been many organizations and funders who’ve worked hard to develop these parks, trails and waterfronts in both Southeast Michigan and Western New York. We’re honored to join with them in the continuation and acceleration of that work,” said David Egner, foundation president and CEO. “The signature parks mirror each other in many ways, with both situated at the ‘front door’ to each city and region along an urban waterfront and international border. Each park also serves as an anchor to a larger, more robust and burgeoning regional greenway system, connecting to other parks and  neighborhoods, encouraging access for all.”

Earlier this year, the foundation provided a grant to support a community engagement process to further the vision for Lasalle Park, what it could look like if and when renovation funds become available. To prepare for this landmark $200 million gift, the foundation hired James (J.J.) Tighe as director of parks and trails in 2017 to access opportunites and work with both communities.