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How Penn Yan lost the boating museum

PENN YAN–A perceived lack of enthusiasm, money and timely action cost Yates County its chance to land the planned Finger Lakes Boating Museum.
The museum, which has been searching for a site for nearly a decade, last month reached an agreement to locate in the city of Geneva.  Bill Oben, museum president, said the group was seriously interested in the former Penn Yan Boats site in Yates County.
“We started talking with Yates County back in the spring of 2002,” he said. “We went from 2002 to last fall holding out some hope a portion of that might be available for the museum.”
Oben said Yates County and the Department of Environmental Conservation were unable to act quickly enough on a plan to clean up the contaminated Penn Yan Boats site.
Geneva lured the museum by agreeing to incorporate it into a visitor center for which it is seeking a $5 million state grant.  Oben said enthusiasm for the project did not seem to be strong in Yates County.
“There was not a tremendous amount of visible support in Penn Yan in the media or in the community,” he said. “There were no groups out front championing this and saying we’ve got to have this.”
The development agency Geneva Growth, on the other hand, wooed the museum by funding a site development design, facilitating meetings and gaining support in the media.
“We didn’t see that kind of support down here,” Oben said.
Yates County leaders who were hoping to attract the boating museum to Penn Yan  conceded that their effort wasn’t competitive.
“Geneva came up with some funding we did not have,” said Robert Multer, chairman of the Yates County Legislature. “If we had come up with a large sum of money, that would have been more aggressive.”
Michael Linehan, president of the Yates County Chamber of Commerce, said the Penn Yan Boats site would have needed $2.5 million for water, sewer and other infrastructure improvements.
“Who pays for that infrastructure?” Linehan said.
Members of the recently formed Finger Lakes Visitors Association said they came too late to the effort to attract the boating museum.
“It was just a horrible scenario,” said David Wegman, the association’s president. “It was too little too late. Bill Oben got frustrated and started searching other places.”
Brian Zerges, a member of the visitors’ association, said the group made a last-ditch effort by obtaining a letter of intent to turn over the Penn Yan Boats site to the boating museum.
“It was a missed opportunity,” Zerges said. “There was no organization that got behind the boating museum and pushed them and supported them. If the Finger Lakes Visitors Association had been around six months earlier, I guarantee Yates County would have got the boating museum.”
Gene Pierce, president of Glenora Wine Cellars, said a lack of financial resources and the environmental problems at the Penn Yan Boats site dimmed Yates County’s prospects for landing the museum.  Pierce serves on the board of the Yates County Chamber of Commerce and the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance.
Not everyone thinks that the boating museum’s decision to locate in Geneva is final, because there’s been no confirmation from Albany of the $5 million grant.  Steve Griffin, chief executive officer of the Finger Lakes Development Center, is among them.
“I still haven’t given up hope on it,” Griffin said. “I think there’s an opportunity to get them back.”
Oben said the agreement with Geneva is contingent on the grant being approved.
“If it isn’t, the city of Geneva is willing to work with us to find other sources,” Oben said.
Meanwhile, Yates County is turning its attention to efforts to attract the proposed $40 million Finger Lakes Cultural and Natural History Museum. A 60-acre plot at Keuka Lake State Park in Branchport was selected recently as one of six sites that will be considered for the facility.
“There are a lot more people behind it,” Pierce said. “I think that has some viability.”
Zerges said the Finger Lakes Visitors Association will work hard to attract the Cultural and Natural History Museum.
“Some members of the FLVA are on the board of the museum,” he said. “The FLVA will work its butt off to lobby for that site (Keuka Lake State Park).”
Griffin said Yates County is taking a more aggressive approach to attracting the Cultural and Natural History Museum.
“The big difference here is that we are sort of out in front on this one from a timing standpoint,” he said. “There’s a methodical approach and hard time frames. With the boating museum, there was always a floating time scale out there.” 

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