Niagara Gazette — “We were unsure of when or whether the casino money would come in,” DeSantis said. “The actual capitol improvements will be undertaken by the commission using the casino money.”
DeSantis said the commission remained active while awaiting the funding, working on other projects and further researching the role the Customs House and Niagara Falls played in the story of the Underground Railroad.
The commission also secured a grant to develop an application that will allow tourists to take a computer-guided walking tour of Underground Railroad sites.
Several commissioners also attended a Harriet Tubman symposium where historical interpretation of the secret network used to help slaves escape to Canada was a main topic of discussion.
“The point of that was to see what other groups are doing with Underground Railroad interpretation across the state,” DeSantis said.
Mark Onesi, who serves on the commission’s board, said the group had to be judicious with the limited funds available during the casino dispute, but was able to advance the Heritage Area Management Plan, one of its most important projects to date.
“Until you have your management plan in place you’re not going to do much else,” Onesi said. “Because that’s your document you have to follow.”
The plan, which was compiled by the land planning, design and environmental consulting firm EDR Companies, was approved by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in July of 2012.
The lengthy document — 229 pages — pieces together the history of the freedom movement in the Niagara region, naming 27 historic sites in the city and county related to slavery, the Underground Railroad or abolitionists.
Onesi said that while the commission’s board meetings were not always well-attended the group has been able to continue progressing key projects while waiting on its casino revenues.