By Samantha McDonnell
WESTFIELD - If the smell of grapes around the local area is giving you a craving, the Grape Discovery Center is the perfect spot for you. The GDC, located on Route 20 just outside the village of Westfield, held its official grand opening Friday.
Photo by Samantha McDonnel
Stanley and Elizabeth Star (center) cut the ribbon on the Star Family Exhibit Room with members of the grounds and exhibit committee at the Grape Discovery Center in Westfield.
Members from the Concord Grape Belt Heritage Association, Inc. and elected officials joined together to open the doors to the $2.3 million project that is not fully completed, but is functional. Work on the west side of the building still needs to be finished. The GDC started as a vision in 2003 and began with a Cornell Cooperative Extension contest.
"The object was to form a committee ... to outline how we could promote tourism and how we could promote the Lake Erie Grape Belt," Concord Grape Belt Heritage Association President Helen Baran said.
The grape belt spanning from Silver Creek to Harborcreek, Pa., is the largest and oldest in the country. A grant from the late State Sen. Pat McGee allowed for traveling exhibits. It would not be until, as Baran called it, a fate occurrence when David Momberger, building and operations chair for the GDC, stumbled upon a cranberry discovery center in Wisconsin.
Following Momberger's return, State Sen. Catharine Young agreed to work on the project and secured grant funding. With grant and private funding, the GDC came to fruition. Three separate ribbon cuttings were held to officially open the GDC to the public. The first was held outside to open the entire building. Jacqueline Chiarot, of Congressman Tom Reed's office, reminisced about eating fresh Concord grapes with her sister being meaningful to her childhood. Chiarot presented Baran with a special recognition certificate on behalf of Reed.
"Grapes are such a big part of Chautauqua County and we have the best grapes here in Chautauqua County," Chiarot said.
Harold Smith, chair of New York Wine and Grape Foundation, spoke of the "special occasion" Friday was. He compared the building to a growing seed where the idea of the building was allowed to germinate and develop. The grand opening was to celebrate that growth into fruition.
Assemblyman Andrew Goodell thanked all those who have had a part in the project. He said the commitment of those involved is far more important than funding.
"Funding, as you know, is a tool. That tool only produces results when people use it. Obviously the community has supported us and we have some incredible people who made this a reality," he said.
The GDC has a gift shop with various grape-themed items from wine glasses to apparel and grape flavored foods, an outdoor patio and an exhibit room. The exhibit room is in honor of the Star Family, a donor, and the patio is in honor of Baran's late husband.
"This is a time to thank all the donors that have helped us get this far. I tell people anybody can have an idea ... it's the implementation of the idea. It takes the work," Momberger said.
Young said the GDC celebrates Chautauqua County's strengths, one of which is agriculture. The building, she said, would not have been possible without dedication.
"It was because of the vision, commitment and the dedication of all the people who worked together. I especially want to thank everyone who put their hearts and souls into this project. I want to thank all the donors, especially the Star Family," Young said.
The Star Family Exhibit Room has various educational exhibits on growing and harvesting grapes, including several interactive exhibits. The space also has exhibits on the history of grape products and gives visitors a chance to leave their favorite memory involving grapes or leave a question to be answered. To cut the ribbon, Stanley Star and his wife Elizabeth were surrounded by members of the GDC grounds and exhibit committee.
"We really appreciate the opportunity of being invited here today. I wish all of you my family's very best wishes and continued success," Star said.
The patio ribbon cutting saw a check presentation of $354 by John Hamels, a past president of the Rotary Club. In addition to Baran, daughter Julie Travis, and current Rotary President Crystal Schrantz cut the ribbon.
"Like all of you I'm overwhelmed by emotion right now as we pay tribute to the late Steve Baran. Steve was a dedicated member of the Westfield-Mayville Rotary Club for 47 years," Hamels said.