Heritage tourism and education in Western New York have received a boost with the recent congressional approval of a 327-page management plan and environmental assessment for work done by the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area Commission.
That big step is on top of the July 13 approval of the management plan for the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area.
Too bad we’re still waiting for the Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor Commission to get its act together.
Otherwise we would have three links in a chain taking full advantage of the cultural and historical treasures that exist in the Buffalo Niagara region.
But for now, two links are better than none.
The good work done by the Falls National Heritage Area Commission will add to the 49 national heritage areas across the United States. The local commission is expected to get an increase in funding with approval of the plan. Congress can appropriate up to $1 million a year for the Heritage Area Commission, up to a total of $15 million.
Fitting into that national effort is the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area. That area commission won state approval of its proposal within four years of being seated and well before the commission sunset date this April.
That is far and away ahead of the Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor Commission, beleaguered from its inception by politics, lack of the same level of interest shown by Niagara Falls and, quite frankly, lack of dedicated money.
State legislation established the commission in 2007 and a master plan was due in 2011, but the deadline had to be pushed back to this year. The commission just recently got its first money from the state – $35,000 of the $120,000 secured by Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes.
Unlike Buffalo, the City of Niagara Falls embraced its heritage area process, using a professional city planner to manage most of the request-for-proposals process for hiring a consultant.
The links in this area’s cultural heritage tourism chain are ready to be locked together, creating a regional experience for schoolchildren, residents and visitors. The Michigan Street commission needs to do better and the city needs to do more to help. If nothing gets better soon, then the commission needs new leadership.