It’s no secret why the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, one of the largest, most prominent and influential local non-profit community organizations in Western New York, has adopted a strictly hands-off approach when it comes to advocacy on behalf of one of the most famous Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parks in the entire world, Niagara Falls State Park.
It’s because Delaware North pays them off, pure and simple. And to be honest, they come pretty cheap.
Last week Lou Jacobs, co-CEO of Delaware North, pledged $300,000 to Buffalo Olmsted for the various purposes of fighting the invasive emerald ash borer, sponsoring a community lecture series, planting and maintenance of new trees and directing a small subsidy to the city’s Summer Youth Program.
Delaware North owner Jeremy Jacobs, Lou’s dad, has a net worth of over $4 billion, according to Forbes Magazine’s top 400 Richest Americans list.
Therefore, the $300,000 donation amounts to .0075% of the Jacobs family fortune.
By way of comparison, if your net worth was, say, $100,000, it would represent an expenditure on your part of $7.50, about what a six-pack at Tops costs.
The $300,000 will be metered out in three $100,000 payments from 2017 to 2019, presumably so that Buffalo Olmsted doesn’t burn through it like drunken sailors.
Besides the tax write-off, Delaware North received other benefits from their $300,000 expenditure. The Buffalo News and Buffalo Business First both wrote it up. Local public radio affiliate WBFO-FM reported the story during drive time. Delaware North and Buffalo Olmsted each issued press releases and posted it on their websites and Facebook pages.
The unstated purpose of this charitable gesture by Delaware North and the Jacobses, however, was to purchase the ongoing silence of Buffalo Olmsted when it comes to the former’s blatant violation of the Olmsted plan for Niagara Falls State Park, maintaining Top of the Falls restaurant, Cave of the Winds food pavilion and several snack booths scattered across the scenery, violations which opportunely became the subject of public notice recently with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that he intends to build a 100-room “lodge” on Goat Island in the park for his billionaire buddy Jacobs.
“If it were a commercial undertaking into which the State was entering, in competition with the people of the village of Niagara, it cannot be questioned that the restaurant could be made a profitable branch of it,” Olmsted wrote, “But… it is to be considered that no (restaurant or food booth) can be built upon the island that will not in some degree dispossess, obscure and disturb elements of its distinctive natural scenery.
“The question, then, is, will the absence of places of refreshment cause such hardship to visitors, with the general enjoyment by the public of the scenery? It is a sufficient answer to say that there is no point in the Reservation at which a (restaurant or food booth) can be placed that is more than ten minutes walk or five minutes drive from hotels and restaurants standing on land of private ownership.”
Modern-day translation: Delaware North’s food service empire doesn’t belong in Niagara Falls State Park. It mucks up the place, and ensures that the eight million tourists who visit here every year have little reason to patronize establishments in the city of Niagara Falls, which suffers from one of the highest rates of per capita poverty in the state.
It’s bad enough that Delaware North feeds the eight million. Now Cuomo wants to build them a hotel in the park, so they can sleep there too. And the $300,000 makes it extra special hard for Buffalo Olmsted to take issue with either Delaware North or Cuomo on this latest incursion on Olmsted’s hallowed grounds.
A new hotel on Goat Island would compete with all the new, heavily government-subsidized hotels recently built in the city, which are already competing with each other, given that a 2011 USA Niagara-commissioned study determined that downtown Niagara Falls really only needed a fraction of the additional hotel rooms that have been, and will be, built during the current hotel construction boom.
“It is a good balance between the Olmsted principles of creating a naturalistic experience while at the same time accommodating 8 million visitors a year,” stated Buffalo Olmsted president Herrera-Mishler at a March 14, 2013 ribbon-cutting ceremony in the Niagara Falls State Park celebrating the devastation wrought on Three Sisters by Cuomo and his State Parks agency.
President Herrera-Mishler explained to us afterwards why Buffalo Olmsted prefers to remain silent on the total disregard of New York State Parks for the Olmsted plan for Niagara Falls State Park: “I wish we were more involved with Niagara Falls State Park. Such an important part of the Olmsted story in WNY… I should mention a couple of things about DNC (Delaware North Companies). They support the Olmsted parks in Buffalo generously and in various meaningful ways…cool trips for auction at the annual Olmsted gala and an annual cash donation. Mr. And Mrs. Jeremy Jacobs were awarded the Olmsted stewardship award by the National Association for Olmsted Parks last year…”
Delaware North’s corporate logo appears on Buffalo Olmsted’s web site and its monthly newsletter, where it is lauded as a “Major Sponsor” and is credited with providing “Generous Ongoing Support”.