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Wilson Foundation Donates $100 Million to LaSalle Park and Area Trails

“Ralph was committed to exercise, staying active and enjoying life"

October 17, 2018 - 5:54 am

(WBEN/AP) - The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation is helping remake waterfronts and improving recreational trail systems with a monumental donation.

The Foundation announced a gift of $200 Million that will be invested in parks and trails in both the Western New York and Detroit, Michigan communities. Each community will receive $100 Million.

The Detroit-based philanthropy on Wednesday announced investments of $50 million for LaSalle Park in Buffalo, which will be renamed the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park. A Detroit-area park will undergo the same change.

Another $50 million each will go to support regional trails in Western New York and southeastern Michigan.

Wednesday’s announcement marks what would have been Wilson’s 100th birthday. Wilson died in 2014 at age 95 at his Grosse Pointe Shores home in suburban Detroit.

The 77-acre LaSalle Park sits where the Niagara River meets Lake Erie. A planning grant from the Wilson Foundation supported a community engagement process led by Buffalo city officials and the University at Buffalo Regional Institute to create a vision for the park. The planning process is underway, but the Foundation hopes the multi-million dollar investment serves as a catalyst for future public and private investment in the park.

“Foundations don’t build parks. Communities build parks,” said David Egner, the foundation’s president and chief executive.

“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,” Egner added. He said the foundation also wanted to fill in gaps in trails running through southeastern Michigan and western New York.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown calls Wilson one of the city’s “greatest champions.”

“His vision illuminated our landscape and his humanity enriched our community,” Brown said

Wilson was born in Columbus, Ohio, but his family moved to Detroit. Wilson took over his father’s insurance business, and in 1959 he founded the Bills and helped establish the American Football League.

“Ralph was committed to exercise, staying active and enjoying life,” his widow, Mary Wilson, said in a release. “It would make Ralph so happy to see people of all ages enjoying these enhanced parks and trails for years to come.”

West Riverfront Park is 22 acres (8.9 hectares) along the Detroit River. It’s part of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy’s plan to develop 5.5 miles (8.8 kilometers) of the riverfront.

Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, the Wilson Foundation already had invested $25 million in parks and trails in the Buffalo area and southeastern Michigan.

The foundation focuses on projects to benefit children, young adults, working-class families, caregivers and livable communities.

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