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Pine Grill Reunion Delivers the Economic Development Chris Collins Talks About

In October, when Chris Collins named his top 10 cultural organizations for 2011 county funding, he made at least two mistakes. First, he stated that he was funding the top 10 cultural organizations that had previously received the most money in funding from Erie County. He was not truthful in that statement because the African American Cultural Center has been consistently in the county top 10 in funding allocation for years. County Executive Chris Collins removed them from consideration and instead delegated their funding status to the Teddy Roosevelt Inaugural Site and the Hamburg Museum of Natural History. These two cultural institutions, although worthy endeavors, were nowhere near the top of the list of 10.

Secondly, County Executive Chris Collins stated that he was funding organizations such as the Buffalo Zoo, the Buffalo Science Museum, Burchfield Penney Art Center, and the Darwin Martin House because of their ability to bring in “outside tourists spending their outside dollars,” right here in Erie County. That may all be true but, what does he thinks the Pine Grill Reunion is, chopped liver?

The first and second Sunday in August of each year are Pine Grill Reunion days in Buffalo. On these two successive weekends, there are tens of thousands of revelers in Dr. Martin Luther King Park, and many of them don’t live in Buffalo anymore. They come from Amherst, Cheektowaga, St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans, Atlanta, San Diego, Chicago, and everywhere else in between. These former residents and their families and friends stay at the Hyatt, Adam’s Mark, and Embassy hotels. They eat at E. B. Green’s, Gigi’s, Anchor Bar, and Chef’s restaurants. They go shopping at the Galleria, Eastern Hills, and Boulevard malls. If this is not economic development in its purest form, then I don’t know what is.

The Pine Grill Reunion is sponsored entirely by the African American Cultural Center. The money they received from vendors and supporters does not cover the total cost of putting on the event. The small amount of funds the African American Cultural Center receives from Erie County is returned to this area 10 times over when those hotel rooms are filled with paying guests and the restaurants are able to employ additional people to service their out-of-town, Pine Grill Reunion patrons. The sales tax that is generated at the shopping malls and gasoline stations help refill Erie County government’s depleted coffers.

So, Mr. County Executive, please don’t tell me that the cultural organizations you refused to fund are not generating revenue for Erie County or promoting economic development for the region. Furthermore, by eliminating funding to all of the cultural organizations in the African-American community, you are sending us a terrible message. I do not wish to be blunt and tell you what many in this community believe that message to be.

Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant

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