Don’t worry, Buffalo. The waterfront you deserve is well on its way and will arrive in 2031. That is if everything goes according to plan.
ECHDC is set to hold a public hearing next Wednesday, December 5 to discuss and detail the revised master plan for Canalside. For those of you who have a vested interest in the development of this fair city and the waterfront, this will be a great event to take in. Unfortunately my work schedule will not allow me to attend.
However, the revised master plan is available for public digestion on the ECHDC website (www.eriecanalharbor.com) and is certainly worth a look. It details nearly everything one could think of regarding the current and future development of the parcels surrounding the Buffalo River. It also details the expected date of completion, 2031. That’s right, in just under 20 years Buffalo should have the waterfront it deserves. Twenty. Years.
Now, that is a big number that represents the big picture. Obviously there will be visible progress made over the next few years that will represent a tangible change in the area. However, for a project with a pricetag north of $400 million –over 50% of which is to come from private investment – it is safe to assume that many of the large projects set to come will not be seen for some time.
The biggest red flag here isn’t the expected date of build out it is that so much of the build out is to be anchored by private investment. What is concerning is that when private investment peeks around Canalside, some form of obstruction is used to deflect those projects away. Whether it be a clamoring for historic integrity and preservation (typically led by Tim Tielman) or from the wondrous duo for obstruction and small box thinking, Donn Esmonde and Mark Goldman, there have been numerous obstacles for private development in and around Canalside.
Bass Pro represents the best and worst example of this. While the idea of putting a fishing and outdoor sports store as the anchor of such a project was beyond foolhardy, it was the met with the most criticism and objection.
What needs to change is the thinking that these small time additions will lead this project down the path to success. At some point the next step needs to be taken. For example, the recent change to the South Block canal and parcel will see another grassy patch of property where there will be potential for private development.
There is the potential for a number of different development opportunities at various locations throughout Canalside. However, none of this is concrete. It is all contingent on luring a tenant to a property that only has an undersized but widely popular bar and the Naval Museum. Despite all the potential, there hasn’t been much success. That is quite the Buffalo way though, isn’t it?
Development at Canalside has been all about working off precedents. The number of visitors coming each summer is expected to spur more interest from the private sector while the grassy parcels are occupied by lawn chairs. The two largest projects in the area (One Canalside and HARBORcenter) are both born off private investments. However, it would be hard to connect the interest of the parties funding these projects to the precedent set from Canalside’s previous success. What ECHDC needs to do is set the precedent for more private investment.
As outlines in the revise master plan, ECHDC will be constructing the shell and core of the building that will house a museum. Explore-N-More has already been pegged as the operator of the museum and is in the process of procuring the funding to relocate and expand at the new location. In addition, ECHDC will serve as the primary operator of the public market that will also occupy a portion of the Aud Block. The next step for ECHDC is to show the fortitude to start these projects the instant work on the canals is complete.
There is no more time to waste on building out portions of Canalside. The wheels are in motion for Explore-N-More to head downtown, not provide the space they will be occupying. A public market is almost a can’t miss opportunity (see Granville Island and Quincy Market), why wait any longer on putting that plan to action?
With the canals set to open next fall, work on the pair of Aud Block buildings could be underway before Thanksgiving and well into progress by the summer of 2014. At that point HARBORcenter will be nearing completion, One Canalside will be in full swing along with the rewatered canals. What better evidence to build on than two more in-progress spec buildings that will be ready to occupy upon completion?
ECHDC needs more evidence than pretty pictures and the promise of a future beyond grassy lots. By building out the future home for Explore-N-More and providing the necessary space for the public market, ECHDC wouldn’t only be showing potential private investors the good faith that something more than grass can be put in at Canalsdie but that the time to strike is now.
It is time to stop creating potential and to start creating demand at Canalside. This district has gained far too much positive momentum – after years of stagnancy – to see it taken away by more of the small thinking that brought you that wonderful hot dog stand.
The foundation is there, it is just time for ECHDC to capitalize on the good work they have done.