The future Explore & More Children's Museum at Buffalo's Canalside will have a late local icon's name added to the building when it opens next winter. The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation is providing a $6 million challenge grant to help complete construction and support its long-term sustainability.
As a challenge grant, the Foundation will match future contributions by public or private donors. Half of the Wilson grant will be applied to construction of the future museum while the other half will be placed in an endowment.
"It's especially appropriate that we're making this announcement on Valentine's Day," said David Egner, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. "It really illustrates, in many respects, Mr. Wilson's 54-year love affair with this community of Western New York."
Wilson is best known as the founder and original owner of the Buffalo Bills professional football franchise. Michelle Urbanczyk, Chief Executive Officer of Explore & More, said she never got to meet Wilson in his lifetime but his continuing philanthropy makes her feel as if she knows him closely.
"He has a legacy in the community. He has done so much, so much behind the scenes," Urbanczyk said. 'You learn of all the things he's done that's larger than just football. But for me, it's huge because I already feel I have a relationship with someone I had never met. We want to do well by him. He deserves that. He deserves that great legacy."
The building, when finished, will be renamed the Explore & More Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Children's Museum. David McNamara, who chairs Explore & More's Play It Forward capital campaign, says the two institutions are a great match.
"The Foundation focuses on strengthening young minds and bodies with early childhood initiatives, which is also the essence of Explore & More's mission," McNamara said. "The Foundation is also highly committed to livable communities, strengthening and making communities more sustainable."
When opened, the new facility will feature seven themed zones providing hands-on educational play, emphasizing local themes. Educating potential donors of what the center will offer is, according to Urbanczyk, part of the challenge of Explore & More's ongoing fundraising efforts.
"I think it's really educating the community that it's not just come and play on a cash register and you're done. It's what goes behind that. All our exhibits are linked to learning," she said.
A soft opening of the new museum is scheduled for late this year with full access expected in early 2019.