Change to Canalside parcel isn’t all bad

A few weeks ago ECHDC made an announcement that appeared to be a significant scale back of a portion of the Canalside development. They have since clarified their stance on the portion of land that makes up the space immediately south of One Canalside and the development parcel known as the “South Block”.

The original reportspointed to a plan that would not only minimize the water element of the parcel, but eliminate the potential for development of the South Block. However, ECHDC stepped up and clarified their stance, pointing to a re-worked plan for the area more so than an overhaul.

The circle indicates the next portion of Canalside that will be constructed.

On Friday, Buffalo Rising came forward with more details on the project and how it will come together. The canal will indeed be scaled back to more of a shallow reflecting pool on a canal path. However, there will be elements added to the canal path that will alter the way it will look.Rather than to simply toss in another historically aligned, but ultimately faux canal, the majority of the canal will be covered with a paved tree grove with only a portion of the canal pool being exposed. As BRO details, channels will run through the grove so that the water will still be visible.

When ECHDC clarified some of their planning for this, Tom Dee explained that he saw this as becoming a very cool place that people will want to hang out in. I have to say that I agree. While I originally bemoaned the thought of another piece of the master plan being significantly scaled back, I now feel that this will be addition by addition. I’d say addition by subtraction, but this is actually adding quite a bit more to the space.

The addition of the tree grove and paved portion of the canal should actually serve as a far more effective link between Washington St. and the rest of Canalside. In addition, it will also confine the potential pitfalls of not building One Canalside out to the curb. Rather than the space between One Canalside, the South Block, Washington and Main being relatively sparse; this will actually add a bit more density and should also give more of a reason for people to mingle.

A good comparison to the former plan would be the plaza outside the HSBC Tower. That is basically an expanse of concrete that gets pounded with wind, particularly in the winter months. The former plan for this area likely would have been quite similar.

I am less than enthused with the decision to sod over the south block until a developer is ready to come forward. Plenty can change in the 12 months until construction on this section is complete, but the South Block seems like a great place to start bringing more buildings to the area.

Based on the overhead rendering on the BRO site, the master plan shows space for at least seven potential structures with even more on the space around the Commercial Slip. In addition to the South Block – pegged for 14,000 square feet of retail and 65 residential units – the plan shows the “Market Hall” as a significant placeholder as well. Perhaps it’s time to prove to potential tenants that these buildings are more than pretty pictures.

At some point there will actually be buildings in and around Canalside. By the spring of 2014 One Canalside will be in full use and there will be significant progress on the HARBORcenter. Hopefully at that point there will be significant interest from a number of potential tenants in space in Canalside. For all we know there already is interest in the space down there.

What I would like to see is to include the South Block building rather than just sodding over the space for the time being. They can utilize the period architecture with modern wrinkles thrown in for the building, provide flexible space on the ground level while building out typical apartments on the upper floors.

This would be different than the suburban strip mall plan that was floated along with the Bass Pro plan. I don’t mean for every parcel to get an empty building and then to sell, sell, sell the space. This is a small parcel that could not only create additional interest in the area, but would provide physical evidence that these parcels can, and will be built out. Not to mention, those units would be a pretty easy sell and would start adding a much needed permanent population to the district.

Considering the apartment units would be a far easier sell than finding enough retail/restaurant tenants for the ground floor, they could serve as the anchor for the property. Build this out and rent the apartment space. At that point your leasing agent can begin fielding calls on the ground floor as opposed to trying to obtain enough retail tenants to justify building the structure.

Naturally, ECHDC will progress on the track they have been utilizing for the past few years: Providing public access and green space with the potential (and hope) to build out permanent development on those parcels. It hasn’t necessarily been a bad strategy as the momentum and popularity of Canalside continues to grow. However, it seems like it might be necessary to take the next step, especially with anchor projects like One Canalside and HARBORcenter on the way.


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