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Change to Canalside parcel strips potential development, Because it’s Buffalo

October 11, 2012

More public green space and less room for commercial development; that’s exactly what Buffalo’s central waterfront development project needs.

Business First ran a storyabout a pair of changes that will be made to a parcel of Canalside property in the next 12 months that will significantly alter the density and urban feel to the area. The change will also make a significant alteration to something that so many preservationists fought so hard for.

The canal and parcel on the left side of this photo have been drastically altered by the ECHDC.

The portion of the Donovan Building property that fronts Scott St. between Washington and Main was originally supposed to be the home for a low-rise strip of development with a canal roped between One Canalside (Donovan Building) and the “south block” as it is called.

The ECHDC has now decided that property is better suited to serve as additional green space with shady areas to sit. What about the canal? That will now turn into a reflecting pool – which is pretty much what the re-routed canals are anyway thanks to the Hamburg Drain.

To review, the ECHDC has deemed that a parcel of potential retail and commercial development replete with a canal just outside of the building will be better off as a lawn with a pool of water that will likely be shallower than what the foot-and-a-half canals will already be.

Canalside was enjoying plenty of positive momentum thanks to a year of actual development announcements and the commencement of other projects. Between the construction on the canals, One Canalside being in full swing and the announcement of HARBORcenter, Canalside was not only becoming a central location for serious development but was gaining the critical mass that the region has been waiting for since the first master plan was unveiled for the area.

The most disappointing aspect of this decision is the reasoning that has been given for it. Tom Dee was quoted to say that public input drove the need to scale back the original purpose for the block. However, just months ago a public forum with numerous waterfront experts pointed to the need for things to do at Canalside.

Funny to think that just this summer experts on this type of development noted that there is little to do at Canalside besides sit around on lawn chairs and ECHDC has countered by adding another lawn. As if there weren’t enough already.

Dee says this is all about public access, but the space between the curb of Scott St. and One Canalside will be big enough as it is, tossing in a pocket park is not going to remedy that issue. In fact, this decision will likely perpetuate that. With HARBORcenter set to get underway and One Canalside just over 12 months from opening, an expansive swath of concrete and grass won’t do much for co-mingling than a multi-purpose building that could have housed restaurants, offices, retail or even apartments (the parcel was envisioned to house a 14,000 sq. ft. building with 65 residences).

Another thing that didn’t seem to be considered is the fact that this tiny little piece of green space will sit between Washington and Main and practically abut Scott St. Once HARBORcenter and One Canalside open, it will also be sandwiched by two mid-rise developments. Seems like a great little place to sit and enjoy the traffic, no?

When complete, Canalside should be a year-round, pedestrian friendly neighborhood. Adding more empty lawns will do nothing to make this a year-round destination. Removing a proposed canal that could have been used for skating will not make this a year-round destination. Consistently tabling and replacing the opportunity for private investments and development will not make this a year-round destination. Eliminating the potential for people to actually inhabit the area does not make this a year-round destination.

This is a rendering of what the “South Block” parcel could have housed. Now it will be a useless functional lawn.

One of the best qualities of the Paladino Webster Block proposal was the addition of apartments to the proposed building. There is currently no permanent residences around Canalside – save for Marine Drive Apartments – and the larger arena district suffers for it. Might a restaurant or two do better business in the Cobblestone District if more people lived in the immediate area? Might more developers show interest in Canalside if there were apartments to complement what will now be abundant parking for visitors from out of the area? These are conjectural questions but they’re sensible considering the typically barren wasteland of surface lots that surrounds Canalside and the arena.

Forget about the commercial side of the eliminated parcel for a moment (considering that many with an opinion on Canalside soil their pants at the thought of permanent retail or restaurants it may be best). Simply providing a low-rise apartment complex built in period architecture would introduce at least 65 residents into an area they could walk to in minutes on a year-round basis. That means any restaurant or future retail location would have a direct population to pull from in addition to anyone who would be driving from out of town or a suburb.

In addition, plugging in such a building would add impressive density to this particular block while adding a very interesting dynamic when compared to the two mid-rise developments that will flank it. Add in the abundant green space through the rest of Canalside and there is plenty to make this attractive to future residents and visitors. When you think about a thriving urban district in just about any city, this type of combination is often present.

Ultimately this is an incredibly short-sighted decision and it severely handicaps a portion of Canalside that could have complimented the two largest and impressive projects (One Canalside and HARBORcenter) that will populate the area. But why add additional commercial and residential space to an area that would obviously benefit from such an addition?

Just another part of the “Waterfront We Deserve” I suppose.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2012 8:09 am

    Right. What it really speaks to is the total lack of parameters provided in the RFP, which was the result of a total lack of vision for the development of this entire area.

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  1. ECHDC response on East Canal design… “Not so fast” | Artvoice Daily

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