Finger Lakes Museum Proposal Update

In the last issue of this magazine, I wrote an article, “Showered with Ideas,” which proposed the creation of a new museum to showcase the Finger Lakes region. A lot has happened since that article was published. Life in the Finger Lakes posted a poll on its website to gauge reader sentiment and the results were overwhelming. Not only was the number of responses impressive, but also the vote was clearly in favor of the idea. Positive feedback is still coming in.

The almost-universal reaction was that it’s “a great idea!” That phrase appeared in nearly every response. Some readers from across the 14-county region suggested various locations at which to build a new museum, and others recommended existing facilities that they felt could be readapted. Still others volunteered to participate in developing the concept further, and several offered to help in funding the project.

After first proposing the idea to Life in the Finger Lakes editor Mark Stash last fall, I called professor emeritus Bill Banaszewski, the founder and longtime chair of the environmental conservation department at Finger Lakes Community College, to ask for his opinion. He endorsed the idea and asked to be a part of making it happen. Bill and I have been a team ever since. His expertise in environmental sciences will be a vital contribution to the success of the project. And so, it looks like the Finger Lakes Cultural and Natural History Museum is growing legs – history in the making, so to speak.

The ground we’ve covered so far
Bill and I have already met with several area groups and organizations including the Finger Lakes Future Alliance, the Finger Lakes Sierra Club, the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance and The Nature Conservancy. More meetings are being scheduled. In early April, I met with DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis in Albany who put me in touch with Empire State Development Director Dan Gunderson. They are all powerful allies who can provide valuable assistance to the project.

A number of individuals and groups have advocated the Seneca Army Depot as a museum site, a good choice indeed. We have received many other excellent site suggestions as well. But insofar as the project is still in a conceptual stage, site selection at this time is somewhat premature. Until a formal organization can be formed and a board of directors is seated, site selection will have to remain on the back burner.

Because of the structural and plumbing requirements needed to support a large freshwater fish aquarium, we perceive constructing a new facility of about 40,000 square feet, which will feature state-of-the-art interactive indoor and outdoor exhibits. Preliminary cost estimates are nearing $15 million and although that figure may sound ambitious, the project must be a first-class museum to provide a prominent tourist attraction that makes the Finger Lakes Region even more of a vacation destination.

Taking the next step
The next step is to form an exploratory committee to study feasibility, fundraising potential, prepare a business plan and search for board members. Fundraising could begin as soon as a not-for-profit corporation can be formed. Even though these are not the best economic times for fundraising, some offers to contribute have already been received, an encouraging note indeed.

The editorial staff at Life in the Finger Lakes has become a valuable partner as well, not only for solidly supporting the museum concept, but also by contributing space in the magazine and on its website, and for handling all of the press releases. The magazine, together with the museum’s new website, FingerLakesMuseum.org, will be the official clarions for news and events regarding the project, which is fast becoming a full-time endeavor for me, a challenge I’m excited to undertake. A new partner, Mystic Media in Hornell, has generously contributed the design, management and hosting of the project’s website.

And now a correction: In my previous article, I stated, “We have no cultural or natural history museum to focus attention on one of the most beautiful, ecologically diverse and popular regions of New York State.” In fact, we do. The Paleontological Research Institution, located in Ithaca, has a world-class collection of fossils and shells with over two million specimens. However, our missions are different and our collections will not overlap.


by John Adamski