Gaughan gains traction

Agree­ment with Olm­sted Con­ser­vancy moves Nick­laus course closer to a re­al­ity

The Buffalo News - - OPINION -

If the Buf­falo Olm­sted Parks Con­ser­vancy and the group be­hind Kevin Gaughan’s ef­fort to bring a Jack Nick­laus-de­signed golf course to South Buf­falo were up­dat­ing their Face­book pages, they could check two sta­tus boxes: “In a re­la­tion­ship” and “It’s com­pli­cated.”

The mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing the groups an­nounced on Tues­day was not a pub­lic dis­play of af­fec­tion, but it ad­vances the goal of putting a Nick­laus “sig­na­ture” course ad­ja­cent to South Park and mod­ern­iz­ing the golf course at Delaware Park so that it oc­cu­pies less space. Both would be ben­e­fi­cial to Buf­falo and, with the new agree­ment, seem more likely to oc­cur. It’s hope­ful.

Gaughan, a civic ad­vo­cate and lawyer, first pitched the plan to the Con­ser­vancy in 2014. Gaughan’s late brother, Vin­cent Gaughan, worked for Nick­laus in Moscow.

The Con­ser­vancy, a non­profit that over­sees 850 acres of parks, park­ways and cir­cles de­signed by Fred­er­ick

Law Olm­sted, is pro­tec­tive of Buf­falo’s spe­cial parks and has never warmly em­braced the Nick­laus project, nor Gaughan’s pub­lic­ity cam­paign for it.

The mem­o­ran­dum in­cludes an agree­ment that the Con­ser­vancy and Nick­laus Olm­sted Buf­falo, the not-for­profit headed by Gaughan, will speak with one voice when mak­ing an­nounce­ments.

Nick­laus Olm­sted Buf­falo last June pur­chased a 107-acre tract of meadow, once owned by Repub­lic Steel and ad­ja­cent to South Park. Un­der Gaughan’s plan, the new course would al­low the South Park golf course to be re­moved and Olm­sted’s ar­bore­tum to be re­stored. A vo­ca­tional cen­ter to teach golf course-re­lated skills to city youth is an­other part of Gaughan’s vi­sion.

The agree­ment will rep­re­sent a sig­nif­i­cant boost to Gaughan’s fundrais­ing ef­forts. He needs to demon­strate lo­cal fi­nan­cial sup­port for the project in or­der to at­tract donors from out­side the re­gion.

Gaughan said Tues­day that new fund­ing will pay for two stud­ies on which the project de­pends. One is a fea­si­bil­ity study on re­vamp­ing the course at Delaware Park; the other, a study on build­ing the Nick­laus sig­na­ture course on the South Buf­falo land, as a pos­si­ble re­place­ment for the South Park course.

Stephanie Crock­att, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Con­ser­vancy, says her group’s sup­port for the project de­pends largely on what the stud­ies show.

“We haven’t reached any fore­gone con­clu­sions yet,” Crock­att said in a meeting Tues­day with The News’ ed­i­to­rial board. “Peo­ple start get­ting ner­vous think­ing that there are shov­els go­ing in the ground – noth­ing’s go­ing in the ground. We still need to see how it could be a ben­e­fit to ev­ery­body.” She also em­pha­sized that the city, which owns the parks, will need to sign off on any agree­ments.

Gaughan, who meets pe­ri­od­i­cally with Nick­laus in the golfer’s Florida home, said the 79-year-old Nick­laus is ex­cited to work on a civic-fo­cused project.

“His in­ten­tion is to make it a recre­ation space like no other in Amer­ica,” Gaughan told The News.

Nick­laus Olm­sted Buf­falo en­hanced its cred­i­bil­ity when it en­listed Peter Hunt, chair­man and CEO of Hunt Real Es­tate, as a mem­ber of its board of di­rec­tors. Hunt on Tues­day said at­tract­ing cap­i­tal to the golf ef­fort will be a cat­a­lyst for other projects to en­hance the Olm­sted parks. As Crock­att said, the Con­ser­vancy un­der­stands that it’s not 1868 any­more and that some mod­ern­iza­tion needs to take place. A Jack Nick­laus course would be a great way to start.

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