Proposed children’s museum moving Canalside the wrong way

This is to be the year that Canalside reaches critical mass. The excavation and construction of the canals should be underway soon and some visible progress at the Donovan Building should come by the summer.

The first step of the Canalside development (Commercial Slip, Naval Museum etc.) was a great step forward. It was a sign that waterfront development was being taken seriously and that the district was to be a year-round attraction for those around the region.

Will this type of atmosphere ever be accomplished based on the current trajectory of Canalside?

However, recent years has seen the project hijacked by obstructionists and those who wish to revert Buffalo to 1901. Larry Quinn was forced out of involvement by those who wished to avoid the big box, commercialization of the district. Even re-tooled ideas for a retail-based development were squashed by a vocal minority. Now, we have been stuck waiting to see “the waterfront we deserve” materialize. It would seem that waterfront isn’t in the cards.

I should point out that I was never in love with the idea of plopping Bass Pro on a prime downtown parcel. Part of it never translated for me. My biggest turn off was the fact that Bass Pro didn’t attract a broad audience. However, using Bass Pro as a catalyst made total sense to me. So, with that in mind, I was always ok with utilizing a major centerpiece to carry the Canalside development.

It would seem as if ECHDC is prepared to take one major step forward with regard to their plans for the massive hole that once was home to The Aud. A children’s museum is one of three projects that are proposed for the former Aud site. Passing such a plan off as part of “the waterfront we deserve” is rather embarrassing.

First of all, the goal of the Canalside was to attract people of all ages to Buffalo’s waterfront. A children’s museum doesn’t accomplish that feat. Not in the slightest. This plan eliminates a major portion of the public who is expected to frequent this district; young, unmarried men and women aged 18-30. Not to mention the fact that the Strong Museum is an established attraction just an hour up the Thruway.

Allow me to point out that the children’s museum isn’t all bad. There sounds to be a few pretty intriguing features to be part of the museum – the canal, locks and grain elevator to be exact. However, it doesn’t get past the fact that this plan is designed for a specific audience, not everyone. If Canalside is to turn into the incredible attraction everyone expects, this museum will not be the harbinger for such progress.

Comparing the other two proposals, I agree that the children’s museum is the best choice. What I disagree with is placing this project on the prime piece of real estate in Canalside.

Take a look at any city with waterfront development or an actual arena district and you will see bars, restaurants and retail – real retail, not t-shirt vendors in tents. Look at what is being proposed for Buffalo’s prime waterfront development and arena district and you see a family museum designed to keep young people elsewhere.

It would seem as if the weekly fellatio performed by Donn Esmonde on Mark Goldman has hit home with a few. While Goldman clamors to keep the bar scene on Chippewa, the opportunity to grow Canalside into a brilliant neighborhood is being wasted.

I’m not condemning the thought of providing Explore and More to a larger downtown or waterfront location, I’m condemning the thought of trading the space previously reserved for Bass Pro for a children’s museum. My problem with Bass Pro was that the store wouldn’t capture an entire audience nor cohesively bring the neighborhood together. Now the appraoch is to use the plan with the least amount of risk. Literally. This plan is being adopted because there is little, to no risk involved. Instead of taking a major step and hitting a home run, Buffalo will be forced to accept a sacrifice bunt, just to advance the runners.

Want to know what would draw in families from all over and young people? A large, modern aquarium. Or nearly any other family friendly museum that can be frequented by people of all ages, not just those who are between eight and thirteen.

I’d be perfectly content to see an aquarium take over the entire Aud block. Keep the canals and build the aquarium directly to them. Then place the proposed public market across the way on the Webster Block or elsewhere in Canalside.

This is obviously conjecture and I’m not entire opposed to having the Erie Canal Experience museum accompanied by a children’s museum – as was once mentioned in an ECHDC release. So long as there is more than a narrow focused museum – and silly solar carousel – acting as a prime attraction.

What I have seen develop over the past year is not “the waterfront we deserve” but a lighter, quicker, cheaper hijacking of a massively exciting project and turning it into a dumber, boring, cheaper version. I’ll continue hoping that the pieces I’ve bemoaned here spur development and bring in businesses (bars/restaurants) that will not only attract families but young people with disposable incomes.

What I fear is that those ideas will be shot down by those thinking that the lighter, quicker, cheaper motto will be flipped on its ear by the type of retail and restaurants seen at the Galleria or along Elmwood. What they may not realize is pinning their hopes to these singular projects as spurs for development is exactly what they tried to avoid by driving out Larry Quinn and those visionaries hoping to create a true destination.

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