Time for the next step after the debut of Ice at Canalside

It was almost five years in the making, but the historically aligned canals at Canalside were finally opened last night marking another milestone in Buffalo’s waterfront development.

As was to be expected, the crowd at Canalside was massive and the numbers patronizing the new skating venue will likely continue to swell over the next few weeks. All told, this was a huge victory for Canalside, the Erie Canal Harbor Corporation and Buffalo as a whole. While one night doesn’t make for guaranteed long-term success, I hope that the ECHDC are spurred to get the next piece of development done well ahead of schedule.Canalside

The three parcels that sit on the South Aud Block are shovel ready with plans for Explore & More to take up the largest of the three parcels with a restaurant and information center to occupy the other two, respectively. An RFP was issued for designs last year and now ECHDC is seeking a developer for the site. They even have pretty pictures which may or may not have no bearing on what the chosen developer builds.

Proposals from developers are due by January 9 and the ECHDC RFP notes that first round interviews will be held on or around January 22. So as of now, we’re well over a month away from identifying the developer for this site. The good news is that Explore & More has always been operating on a 2016 transition to the Canalside site, something noted in the ECHDC RFP documents. Putting two and two together tells me that once a developer is chosen, it shouldn’t be long before we see concrete being poured and structural steel rising; so long as ECHDC learned their lesson with the canals. Continue reading

Pipe Dream: Taking the opportunity to upgrade First Niagara Center’s exterior

The fanfare surrounding HARBORCENTER isn’t going to die down soon. Nor should it. This is a phenomenal project that will inject all sorts of money and life into downtown Buffalo. It has the added flair of pissing off Tim Tielman and leaving him pouting in his open air bus, clutching to his construction paper and crayon “alternative”.

Just take a minute to look at that thing and tell me it’s not the most ludicrous thing you’ve ever seen. I can’t tell what’s more hysterical, the fishing huts along Main or the rink on a portion of the DL&W Terminal that isn’t currently a platform suitable for a rink.

Make this a statement, not an afterthought.

Anyway, HARBORCENTER is going to be a boon for downtown, the waterfront, Canalside and the arena district as a whole. It has raised some concern over the First Niagara signage on the arena being obstructed and it has also obstructed a vast majority of First Niagara Center’s atrium. The former point probably isn’t all that important. Nor will it be all that difficult to address. The latter, however, should be addressed in some form or function.

I’ve mentioned before that it would be beneficial to re-skin the atrium as a way to improve the visual connection between HARBORCENTER and the arena. The drop off in height and the drastic difference in architecture makes the adjoining buildings look odd, especially from Main Street. So the idea of a visual upgrade makes sense to me.

However, in between portions of our most recent podcast, Eric (of 3rd Man In) and I got to talking about a few aspects of the arena and how the Sabres may be able to improve on the exterior of the building. Continue reading

Buffalo can take a page from Cleveland’s book on a waterfront project

You may have heard that Cleveland has been on a bit of a run lately. Similar to Buffalo, Cleveland has been working to reinvigorate their downtown core and much of their work is paying off as the 2016 Republican National Convention will descend upon the burning river. lakefrontpedestriandrawbridge_01

Much of what’s happening in Cleveland, however, is working to shake the opinion that it’s a rust laden burg with little to offer. In fact, the city planning in Cleveland over the past 30 or 40 years wasn’t nearly as bad as Buffalo’s which has given our Ohio cousins a bit of a headstart when it comes to revitalization. Cleveland is on the brink of adding countless new projects to their books that probably would labor in public hearings and subcommittees in Western New York for months (if not years) before dying on the vine or being drastically scaled back before construction.

For example, Cleveland will soon be home to a gleaming 28-story Hilton hotel tower that will connect with their convention center as an anchor for major national and international conventions. Buffalo’s bunker of a convention center is so far obsolete that any such hotel project would be a non-starter, but I can hear the cries from Donn Esmonde and his cronies about the lack of architectural integrity and historical consideration based on the sleek tower’s design.

Buffalo does have plenty to brag about. HARBORCENTER will be hosting games and serving up food at (716) before the month is over, the Embassy Suites anchor one of my favorite buildings in Buffalo and the Delaware North Tower is rising at an incredible clip. So don’t mistake consternation over Cleveland’s success for ignorance of everything great happening in Buffalo. In fact, Buffalo’s civic leaders ought to lift a page right out of Cleveland’s book.

One of the many projects that are working towards completion in Cleveland is a 143-foot pedestrian drawbridge that will connect portions of Cleveland’s lakefront. As the picture above shows, this is a visually pleasing bridge that will provide direct pedestrian access to an otherwise difficult to reach location. Sound familiar?

Buffalo will have a neat and convenient ferry that will shuttle people and bicycles from Canalside to the Outer Harbor in quick trips that will reduce or eliminate the need to even trek down a newly renovated Ohio St.  With the long-term plan of putting an at-grade bridge across the Buffalo River, why not look into a pedestrian bridge like the one above as a compliment to everything else that is being worked on?

The project cost of the Cleveland project is $5.5 million. That’s not small potatoes. Considering that any span across the Buffalo River would be nearly three or four times the length and the bridge would need to draw high enough to allow the lake freighters through as well. The easiest location would be to connect across near the end or Erie street or even at the mouth of the river across to the lighthouse walkway.

Unfortunately the shortest span would be at the mouth of the river and even that length would likely far surpass the $5.5 million price tag of the Cleveland bridge. I could see that making this a cost-prohibitive project. But maybe a bridge, combined with the new ferry and a renovated Ohio St., would buy more time for a vehicle bridge at the inner harbor. Maybe it’s simply time to strike out and add another signature item to our bustling waterfront.

 

 

Reserving green space and public access to the Outer Harbor is key

Things have shaped up over the last few months around Buffalo’s waterfront. Approximately a year removed from a relative low point in construction and planning – punctuated by the removal of Pike Construction from the Aud site – things have hit a definitive upswing.

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation has recently taken control of Outer Harbor land and are currently working to identify the proper direction for the property. The public hearings on the land appear to reflect the desire for park space to occupy most, if not all of the ECHDC-held land. As someone who has longed to see true progress along the waterfront in the form of a mixed-use, entertainment district I feel that this seems like a terrific way to go for the Outer Harbor.

If the Outer Harbor was kept as green space that maximized public access thanks to the acres and acres of land, the Inner Harbor and Canalside could be left to grow as the entertainment district it’s been slated to become since the first drafts of the master plan were laid out. A relationship of public access and green space along the Outer Harbor and mixed-use development on the Inner Harbor would not only appease nearly every sector of the public, but would also allow the ECHDC to keep their focus on each topic without being spread thin.

Of course, that means that the Outer Harbor is indeed pegged to become a sterling waterfront park. It seems doubtful that the Outer Harbor is used for a football stadium, residential development or any other sort of large development. This is a space that is already dominated by a number of linked green spaces that could be further enhanced if the space was enhanced further. Continue reading

Connecting the dots between Hofbrauhaus and Canalside

It’s been a long time since this much news has come out about Canalside in such a short period of time. Aside from one small announcement that ECHDC will be waiting to develop the north portion of the Aud Block it’s been all great news for the epicenter of Buffalo’s waterfront development.

The building on the right will be bringing a beer garden to Canalside within the next year and it might just be the home of the previously announced Hofbrauhaus.

Today’s news included a report that Pizza Plant will be occupying the ground floor retail space in One Canalside and adding another food and entertainment option to the area around Canalside and the arena. The best part of that news is that there’s potential to see Pizza Plant open and operating right around the same time that HARBORCENTER and (716) open their doors.

Another report indicated that Pizza Plant and (716) will have company along Washington Street as Benderson has begun to work on developing a yet to be unnamed beer garden for the South Block. The Buffalo News report says the beer garden is at least a year away, which would probably slate it for a late-2015 opening. Continue reading

ECHDC can maintain positive momentum with some smaller projects

Since the first announcement and rendering of Canalside was released in what seems like 2004, it’s been something I’ve been passionate about following. I’ve experienced the waterfront in Baltimore, Vancouver, Pittsburgh and many other cities and I’m eagerly awaiting the day that Buffalo’s impressive project is finally complete for the world to enjoy.

Getting to that complete point has taken a bit longer than expected. Much longer than expected, actually. A myriad of issues and hurdles that include, but aren’t limited to obstructionists, contractor issues, hold ups in Albany, obstructionists again and even poor leadership at times. It would appear that the ECDHC has finally gotten things on the right track although we’re still waiting to see the train pick up some speed.

With the first Whipple Truss bridge in on the Aud Block site and the accompanying Swartz bridges should be in late in the fall. Additionally, reports indicate that the bids for the trio of buildings on the southern portion of the Aud Block will be out this summer and those buildings will be ready to open in mid-2016.

All of that is tremendous news. While the timeline on the first three buildings on the Aud Block – and really in all of proper Canalside parcels – is lamentable, real progress will be seen in the coming months. When you consider how stagnant any real development has been at Canalside, this is a terrific sign.

However, Dee also managed to slip in a statement that development on the North Aud Block will be taking a downshift for the time being. From The Buffalo News:

“Two buildings and a parking ramp planned for the north block are now on hold, Dee said, while they wait to see how the various developments emerge.

Restaurateurs and retailers have expressed interest, Dee said, but they’re waiting for the buildings to go up before making a commitment. He said he has directed them to HarborCenter and to Benderson Development, whose timetables are ahead of the canal site, because it will only add to the synergy of the whole area, he said.”

To his credit, it’s good to hear that a parking garage isn’t part of the immediate plans for any Canalside parcel. There are far too many options in the immediate area for there to be any excuse for including a ramp in future developments. What’s unfortunate is to hear that future development on more physical buildings at Canalside are on hold yet again. All of the parcels around the Central Wharf were sold to the public with dense, bustling streets. They’re still grassy lots at this time. Now the majority of the Aud Block will join those parcels and that of the parcel just south of the East Canal in development limbo. Continue reading

Flying Bison’s move would have been a steal for Canalside

For as much good is done at Canalside, it always feels like they’re missing out on the big score. Yet another piece of development news broke today regarding a project that should have been tailor made for Canalside.

As Jim Fink reports in Business First, Flying Bison is exploring a move to a new property in Larkinville in an effort to expand their burgeoning business. According to the report, Flying Bison is eyeing a 12,500 square foot building on Seneca Street for their new home. Here’s more from Fink:

Flying Bison plans on moving by March 2014 from its original home on Ontario Street to the new site. Since its 2000 inception, Flying Bison has leased its Ontario Street site and the building’s owner, DiVal Safety Equipment now needs the building for its own expansion needs.

Herzog said Flying Bison had pinpointed a pair of Michigan Avenue buildings, but those deals could not be completed.

The new building will allow Flying Bison to increase its output and also develop an indoor beer garden/tasting room as part of the tours that regularly take place at the brewery.

Sure 12,500 square feet is big. But would a brewery have not been a killer attraction for Canalside? Think of having Flying Bison’s new brewery (and restaurant?) situated on the Northwest corner of the Aud Block overlooking the recreated canals and facing towards the river, Arena and the rest of Canalside. Instead we continue to wait on the faux historically aligned canals to be completed let alone see any sort of significant construction towards attracting additional tenants to the district. Note: One Canalside and HARBORcenter are both tremendous projects that show how vitally important private interest and investment in the area will be. Continuing to miss out on these types of opportunities is the issue at hand. Continue reading