In recent years there has been a stepped up effort to highlight Hispanic heritage on the city’s lower West Side. Via street parades, festivals, placemaking initiatives, waymarking, and public art, these efforts have helped to shine a light on a culture that is thriving along Niagara Street, aka Avenida San Juan.
As a way to elevate these cultural successes, the community is rallying around a stoic effort to build the Hispanic Heritage Cultural Institute of WNY. The project, unveiled in 2019, is now on track for 2024 completion date, thanks to $3.8 million in legislative funding. The significant boost in funding was announced by Project Chairman Casimiro Rodriguez, along with Assemblymember Jon D. Rivera, NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Assemblywoman Maritza Davila (District 53), and several other elected officials.
New data from the 2020 United States Census shows that Hispanics accounted for about half of the country’s growth over the past decade, up by about 23 percent, and that about 98 percent of Americans live in a county with an increasing number of Hispanics.
Once constructed, the 33,000 square foot cultural center – located at the corner of Niagara and Hudson streets – will feature three floors will feature a museum, art gallery, café, gift shop, performing arts theater, activities space, broadcast media center, as well as learning labs and administrative spaces. The third floor will be dedicated for rental use by the community. As a united front, the building will serve as an inspirational center dedicated to a wide array of programming and education services.
As for the funding, over $1 million was raised before the pandemic struck. Since that time, there has been a lag in financial support, although the tide is now quickly turning. The news of this significant $3.8 million allotment signals that the Institute is now halfway towards reaching its $10 million goal.
Despite the pandemic putting a temporary damper on fundraising efforts, work on the project has been ongoing. By conducting environmental studies during the “down time” (among other planning initiatives), the team is now able to embark upon a net-zero energy efficiency analysis.
“When completed, the Hispanic Heritage Cultural Institute will be the first of its kind in Upstate New York,” said Casimiro D. Rodriguez, Project Chairman for the Hispanic Heritage Cultural Institute. “It will educate our children about our past, help us to remember our cultural diversity and develop mutual respect and renewed dialogue amongst different cultures. This institute will represent our history, our identity, and our bond to the past, present, and future. On behalf of the Hispanic community of Western New York, we would like to thank the leaders of the New York State Legislature and in particular the Speaker of the Assembly, Carl E. Heastie, the Puerto Rican & Hispanic Task Force under the leadership of its Chairwoman Maritza Davila, and our very own local State Assemblyman, Jon Rivera.”
“This project and all those involved in bringing it to fruition have represented many of the same qualities that embody Hispanic culture — resiliency, faith and determination,” concurred Assemblymember Jon D. Rivera. “The Hispanic heritage is rich with stories of those who came to the United States seeking a life filled with opportunity and promise, and Western New York quickly became the place they called home. When this project is complete, the region will for the first time have a dedicated space to collect and to share those stories, and to preserve Hispanic culture for future generations of Western New Yorkers.”
The center is set to break ground in 2023, and open in 2024.