When I first met Mike Weekes, I realized that I had just met someone who was out to accomplish something in Buffalo, whether that was pure networking, helping to brand Buffalo or possibly pulling off a surprising undertaking of enormous magnitude. “You want to do what?” I asked him. “I want to build a museum dedicated to Buffalo sports,” he answered. That was about six months ago, and ever since that time, Mike has been on a mission to promote his dream. When Mike moved back to Buffalo in November, after being away for many years, he decided that he was going to dedicate his time to make the city better – he just wasn’t sure how to go about doing that. It was while attending an event at the Historical Society that the wheels were set into motion. Here’s how it happened:
“I had a conversation with Greg Tranter who was exhibiting his Buffalo Bills sports memorabilia collection a the Historical Society. I met him at the end of the Bills 50th Anniversary exhibit tour and asked him a simple question. “What’s next for the memorabilia collection?” It turns out that he had approached the Bills and the Wilson family, which generated no real interest (at the time) in a permanent space for the collection. Greg was going to ship tractor-trailer loads of Bills memorabilia back to New England and it was going to sit in his garage. He only had 5% of his stuff there at the exhibit and that alone occupied 2000 sq.’. The world’s largest collection of Bills memorabilia insured at a value of greater than a million dollars was heading back to New England. Way back in the ’80’s I had a dream of starting something called The Buffalo Experience… I wanted to buy a warehouse in the Cobblestone District in order to create a Buffalo sight and sound experience. This seemed like a great segue or a vehicle for this to happen. Greg and I shared a vision.
“Eventually, The Bills and The Wilson Family came around to seeing the concept as a good idea – thanks to a personal tour that Greg gave to Mary Wilson, Ralph’s wife. From there she granted us a meeting with their management team and we are now moving toward a potential partnership with the Bills. Since then we have applied with the State of NY Department of Education as an educational entity. We have joined with three other prominent WNY individuals. We have constructed our narrative for a 501C3 designation. We’ve met with the Mr. Levy and Mr. Dee of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation. Our big priority is finding initial corporate sponsors here in Buffalo. In addition to that, our main thrust is to create awareness in the community regarding who we are and the benefits of a permanent exhibition space. A museum dedicated to The Bills would contribute to quality of life and economic revitalization.
“Called Fandemoneum, the 30,000 sq.’ facility dedicated to the history of ALL sports in Buffalo, will be a combination of experiential spaces mixed with conventional show and tell exhibits, rotating periodically to make room for ever-changing content. We want to help locals and visitors reconnect with the moments and memories of our unique WNY sports heritage. The feel of our sports culture is one of struggle – there’s an incredible focus on the pursuit of the championship. We’re celebrating the character of the champion despite of the circumstances of the championship. The fans’ personal experience with the game is the pursuit thus far – it’s about the fans as much as it is about the athlete, if not more so. One thing that we noticed with the Bills 50th Anniversary exhibit was a proof of concept. The material triggered a genuine interaction among people who visited the history museum… that’s the hope of any experiential environment – to move the visitor to react and share. Strangers found friendship in their common love of the moment or the memory.
“The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation has been given money to earmark waterfront tourism – we feel that we would be a tenant that would represent effective utilization of those dollars… resulting in real activity and economic revenues that come with that. Although the waterfront location is obviously attractive to us, we’re interested in a partnership with any individuals or organizations that have a passion and a vision for a better Buffalo. We feel that collaboration and integration with other entities will be the key to success. We have spoken with the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and both parties have expressed a value in a cooperative strategy. Along with Greg Tranter, collection enthusiasts like John Boutet and Joe Gambacorta have been included in the ideation process.
“We actually look at ourselves as a leader in the cultural venue space in WNY, offering programs, seminars, workshops and other events complimenting a growing offering to the community – giving locals more to be proud about and additional reasons to make WNY their community. We’re sure that Fandemoneum will be a self-sustaining cultural entity considering the passion of Buffalo’s sports fans. Our goal is to reach self-sustainability within five years of inception.”
Of course there is going to be a lot of competition when it comes to Commercial Slip attractions. An assortment of museum proposals have been batted around including a rail museum, a bike museum and a children’s museum. Some have even proposed offshoots of the Historical Society and the Albright Knox. Combined with the Aerospace Museum, the Pierce Arrow Museum and the exhibits at the Naval Park, the Inner Harbor could be a powerhouse when it comes to regional attractions. The question is, “How many of these projects will ever see the light of day, and if we can’t have them, which are the most important?”