Museum group will tour Yates sites July 21

Gwen Chamberlain
Proposed locations for the Finger Lakes Museum

Interest in bringing two unique museums to locations in Yates County is growing.

Local business people are working to promote Yates County as the location for the Finger Lakes Boating Museum and the Finger Lakes Cultural and Natural History Museum, an attraction proposed as a focal point and gateway to the Finger Lakes Region.

The group planning the development of The Finger Lakes Cultural and Natural History  Museum envision a world-class state-of-the-art facility where visitors can experience the ecology, wildlife, history, culture and arts of the Finger Lakes.

If the group is successful, they’ll bring a project estimated to be worth $40 to $50 million to the area. Although the Finger Lakes Museum project is still just an idea, it’s one that the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance (formerly the Finger Lakes Association)  began supporting over a year ago and the Yates County Chamber of Commerce decided to pursue for the county in May.

Now, the newly formed Finger Lakes Visitors Association (FLVA), a group of tourism related businesses whose goal is to bring growth in tourism and the local economy, is joining the effort.

Representatives from the FLVA said last week that FLVA board members have been meeting with the Finger Lakes Cultural and Natural History Museum and the Finger Lakes Boating Museum to secure locations within Yates County.

David Wegman, FLVA president and owner of the Esperanza Mansion, said, “The Finger Lakes Cultural & Natural History Museum that is being proposed is perhaps one of the most significant endeavors to be brought to the Finger Lakes region in recent years.  We in the FLVA and in the community want to do all we can to support this wonderful project and hopefully bring it to Yates County, which would be a tremendous economical development and tourism-related benefit to all.”

Wegman has invited members of the Finger Lakes Cultural & Natural History Museum site selection committee to use the Esperanza Mansion as their meeting headquarters. 

Jon Adamski, president of The Finger Lakes Cultural & Natural History Museum project, says about 30 to 40 committee members will hold their monthly organizational meeting at the

Esperanza Mansion at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 21. Following that meeting, which typically lasts two hours, the site selection committee will tour the proposed Yates County locations for the museum. 

Adamski said the committee of eight has already visited two sites in Aurora, and was visiting the Sampson State Park and Seneca Depot in Seneca County on Tuesday, July 14.

Wegman added, “We are pleased that they will be joining us and look forward to a strong and beneficial relationship for both organizations.” 

Anyone interested in promoting Yates County tourism and supporting the Finger Lakes Cultural & Natural History Museum is invited to attend the July 21 meeting at the Esperanza Mansion, according to an announcement released by the FLVA on July 10.

One area tourism official who can’t attend the meeting because of another commitment is

Michael Linehan, president of the Yates County Chamber of Commerce. He says he’s been following the project’s process for some time.

“I thought it was important because I’d been following the development of the project and as it moved along, it appeared it was one that was going to happen. This project is Yates County, for crying out loud,” Linehan said after learning of the July 21 meeting.

The four sites presented by the Chamber of Commerce and the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center to the site selection committee are:

• Near Dresden. This property is near the intersection of State Routes 14 and 54A. It has access to the Keuka Lake Outlet and Seneca Lake and is connected to the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail. Public utilities are available on several acres and economic development incentives are available. It is located within the Yates County Empire Zone. Since Seneca Lake is part of the New York State Canal system this site can be reached by boat from any location in the world.

• Former Branchport School. This property is located near State Route 54A and has an existing 15,000 sq. ft. building. It too has public utilities and ample acreage. Economic development incentives are available here too.

• Former Morton Salt plant in Himrod. This 150 acre property is near State Route 14 and Seneca Lake is nearby. It is a rural setting with lake views and a railway runs along one of its borders. Economic development incentives are available.

•  Keuka Lake near the state park. This land borders State Route 54A and has access to Keuka Lake. The state park has an established network of walking, hiking and biking trails with on site camping facilities, public utilities and ample acreage. Economic development incentives are available.

Other sites are proposed in Seneca Falls, Romulus, Aurora, Owego, Auburn, Taughannock, Ithaca and the Town of Orange in Schuyler County.

The site-selection committee will review the proposals and narrow them to five finalists.

Proponents for these five will then submit a more formal proposal, with the site-selection committee or an independent consultant recommending one site to the Board of Trustees.

If all goes according to plan, engineering and architectural work will be completed by the end of 2011, with bids for construction awarded in 2012. Building will begin in 2013, with doors opening in 2014.

The location must meet a demanding set of criteria. It  must be a site of 50 to 200 acres, have sufficient water to supply a major aquarium and other water-related exhibits, and allow for on-site wastewater and storm water treatment. It should have lake access and/or lake views, open fields, a native hardwood forest, the presence of wildlife unique to the region, be adjacent to public or undeveloped land, and have easy access to a major highway.

The Finger Lakes Boating Museum is also an established organization that is searching for a home. The boating museum has sought use of the former Penn Yan Boats site in Penn Yan which is a major portion of an area considered for major waterfront development. Boat Museum directors are also reportedly considering a site on Seneca Lake near Geneva.

Plans for the Finger Lakes Cultural & Natural History Museum include a natural scale-model exhibit of the Finger Lakes, indoor aquarium featuring native fish species, wildlife habitat trail, indoor/outdoor wildlife exhibit, historical exhibits highlighting the settlement and development of our region, bookstore, research library, as well an auditorium highlighting cultural, visual and performing arts. 

To learn more about the Finger Lakes Cultural & Natural History Museum, please visit  www.FingerLakesMuseum.org.

Includes reporting by Julie Sherwood, GateHouse Media.