BUFFALO, N.Y. — One of Buffalo's biggest parks is getting a major upgrade with $110 million in improvements over the next few years.
Community members and public officials broke ground Tuesday on the former LaSalle Park, now known as Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park, or just Ralph Wilson Park.
It's long been a place for people to enjoy the outdoors along Lake Erie and the Niagara River. Marnetta Malcolm of Buffalo knows it well.
"As a child, we would come here,” she said. “This is what we did on Sundays. Family came down, had cookouts throughout the years.”
Years later, she was asked to be in a focus group to look at the park, and others around the country, and imagine what they would like it to become. That's one step closer to happening with the improvements on the way.
"This park is not going to look anything like it is now," said Malcolm, who is now part of the Ralph Wilson Park Conservancy.
The revamped park is named after the late Buffalo Bills founder Ralph Wilson. His foundation spearheaded the project with an initial promise of $50 million and a host of other federal, state and local agencies and different organizations have stepped up to the plate. Wilson's widow, Mary, can't believe they're already breaking ground after four years of planning.
"Very inspiring to see so many people come together, working together for something that is going to be iconic and is going to be truly talked about all over the world," Mary Wilson said.
The park will transform in several phases. It will include a new pedestrian bridge to connect the community on Buffalo's West Side with the waterfront over the 190. The ball fields will get an upgrade, along with new landscape designs with hills and meadows with new park trails and paths.
There will also be more shelters and bathrooms, plus a three-story playground. The project also includes rehabilitating the shoreline to give people better access, a habitat for wildlife, and protect against storm damage and erosion.
"This park didn't get a lot of love and it's going to bet a ton of love now,” Ralph Wilson Park Conservancy board president Keith Belanger said. “This is going to be a park unlike anything in our community and I think will be a national attraction. People will come to Buffalo because of this park.”
The conservancy has been created to help the city manage, maintain and program the park. Construction on the pedestrian bridge and other aspects of the reimagined park are happening this year. It's expected to be complete by late 2025.