Don’t just provide access, provide attractions

A recent setback with the pending sale of Outer Harbor land has brought additional debates to the surface of how the valuable waterfront property should be used.

Ensuring that public access is maintained by whomever ends up buying the property has suddenly become a key concern with any future sale. For the outer harbor, a vast expanse of underutilized property has begun making rounds in the news cycle as the NFTA attempts to unburden themselves of what seems to be an operational and budgetary albatross for the Authority.

Recent press would indicate that the impending sale has not just been moved to the back burner, they have been taken off the stove altogether. Again, as citizens hoping for a truly wonder waterfront, we need to wait.

Hurry up and wait could probably substitute quite well for other phrases that have been tossed around the discussion regarding the development of Buffalo’s waterfront. After all, what’s the big deal with a few more months or years of delays after decades of waiting?

Perhaps the plan that had been put forward by Bear Development wasn’t going to be the very best for the outer harbor, but we won’t know either way. Obviously with the NFTA shifting gears with the development plans there won’t be a singular direction as to what citizens can expect. However, with all the talk for public access, I wonder what exactly will there be for the public if no developers are ever pegged?

You can look at nearly every piece of development along Buffalo’s water and come up with the same opinion; there are a bunch of fields and paths for people to walk around. Look at Canalside, the recently released “master” plan for the area near Times Beach and other areas along the river and lake. Some of these pieces of development are necessary, and are great victories for the collective waterfront. Some, however, are becoming nothing more than a massive waste of potential.

It looks as if a number of companies have begun to populate the industrial park that surrounds the Union Ship Canal. The bike path and public park that runs up to the water is an incredible addition to the land along Route 5. The natural beauty of that area and the small aesthetic additions is an excellent utilization of space that was previously barren. Considering this to be anything other than a fantastic step forward would be foolhardy.

The same can be said of the new Mutual Riverfront Park and Buffalo Riverfest Park. They are both a great utilization of space that was previously a waste along the Buffalo River. These areas are perfect places for the lighter, quicker, cheaper approach for adding complimentary pieces that will eventually add up to a wonderful waterfront. However, some bigger steps need to be taken as well.

While I don’t think there needs to be a big box retailer inserted to any particular portion of Canalside or any other place on the water, private development that will attract people is going to be a major piece – if not the key piece – of developing the waterfront. Realizing and taking that step seems to be evading most of the decision makers. Rather than establishing things to do, they seem to be more concerned with keeping the access.

While the Skyway still stands, the re-routed Furhmann Boulevard provides at-grade access to the outer harbor lands while connecting to an expressway with a direct link downtown. The small-boat harbor, Gallagher Beach and Dug’s Dive are all terrific spots to hit during the spring and summer months. Aside from that, what else is there to do on the outer harbor? For that matter, what is there to do at the inner harbor and Canalside?

At some point more things to do need to become part of the equation. Obviously there were going to be some flaws with the Bear Development plan if they were balking at the agreement they had made with the NFTA. Regardless of who was right and who was wrong, it certainly seemed as if Bear had some solid ideas in place. I see the News mention an amphitheater and I think of the recent agreement of getting concerts to the outer harbor. How a 5,000 seat, outdoor concert venue isn’t already a key attraction to Buffalo’s waterfront absolutely befuddles me. How there wouldn’t be restaurants in the area to be supported by that venue is equally confusing.

The point is that private development often leads to use by the public. So long as those in charge ensure the development going into these parcels will be for public use, there should be no problems with getting people down and around the water. Obviously ensuring the development is open to the public is important. Putting condo towers wouldn’t be an appropriate move, but retail, restaurant and entertainment space certainly would be. Look at Chicago and Baltimore. They have thriving waterfront districts that have plenty of public access because there are things that people of all ages want to do there.

You can’t tell me that Dinosaur BBQ, a couple other restaurants and stores like Tony Walker wouldn’t kill down at Canalside. The same goes for a permanent concert venue that is a hop and a skip (pending the Harbor Bridge) from the bars and restaurants in Canalside.

Keeping public access to the waterfront should be and important factor in any and all development plans. However, actually having things to access should be paramount.

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