NFTA can keep pace with Canalside development with a minor alteration

Progress at Canalside is expected to be in high gear this summer as HARBORcenter continues to rise at a breakneck pace and construction on the faux canals should recommence now that Pike has taken over. One Canalside is almost fully open for business and the entertainment district is truly taking shape.

While the grassy, empty parcels wait for private investors to dive in, another opportunity continues to be missed as the Metro Rail trains cruise through each day.

Use this as a guide, not a template for the idea I’m floating.

The hideous red arch that spanned the rail line was taken down last year and additional work on the former Aud Station has taken place lately as the NFTA took the necessary steps to bring the rail line and stations up to par around the burgeoning district. However, there’s so much more they could be doing.

As the project to return cars to Main Street continues to inch towards the waterfront, the NFTA is seeing major changes made to the antiquated décor that surrounds each of their stations in the free zone. However, slapping a fresh coat of paint on the current Erie Canal Harbor Station is simply lipstick on a pig.

In the coming years this stretch of Main Street will be converted to handle automobile traffic once again and at that point the current Harbor Station will need to be significantly altered. All the while, the underdeveloped Special Events station sits yards away; creating an odd set of stops anytime there’s a game or event at First Niagara Center.

I’ve written on this topic before as a piece to a larger call to action regarding the Metro Rail’s presence in and around Canalside and a recent podcast from The Goose’s Roost (I highly recommend you listen) brought my attention back to this missed opportunity.

The current state of Canalside and the surrounding arena/entertainment district is best described as in progress. One day it will all be done, and as Donn Esmonde put it so well in his high-browed welcome to NCAA fans, you should come back once we’re finished. Given the pace at which the canals are being built I’m willing to bet there’s a new Peace Bridge constructed before the parcels in Canalside are filled.

Anyway, HARBORcenter is going to be open for business in a matter of months and will be running at full capacity in roughly a calendar year. One Canalside is all but finished and the parcel directly across from it is expected to be built out soon enough. The canals are being built but their exact completion date is likely lies somewhere in the mid-2020s. There’s a clear critical mass happening down there and there’s no reason for the NFTA to sit idly by. If they take action now to make changes they will have the ability to not only preempt the future construction that will affect their current station but also take steps to service what is bound to be an exponentially larger group which will be frequenting the district on a regular basis.

While the removal of the red arch and the new paint on the station is a nice touch, it seems like a waste of resources given what is on the horizon for the rest of Main Street. Combined with such an underwhelming station just 50 yards down the line, I don’t understand why the NFTA doesn’t seize the opportunity to right a wrong.

By removing the station that currently serves as the Erie Canal Harbor Station and relocating that service to the current Special Events station the NFTA will not only be practicing some forward thinking when it comes to the Main Street re-traffic project, but also taking advantage of putting their own, unique stamp on the surrounding area.

Since so many in Buffalo thirst for things that are old timey and hearken back to Ye Olde Canal Era architecture, why not take a summer construction season to renovate the Special Events station in that very Ye Olde Canal architecture?

The new rail stations along the rebuilt portions of Main Street are going to have a modern, if not minimalistic vibe to them. They aren’t bad but they’re basic and somewhat drab. The current Special Event Station is little more than an elevated bus shelter but could be so much more.

Using the same design standards that are expected of the buildings that will fill Canalside, the NFTA could build a Freight House knockoff of sorts for their new Canalside Station. The squabble over the Erie Freight House along the Buffalo River has been well documented and has bordered on ridiculous at times. Putting a Canal era spin on a new rail stop (entry image) would not only give some character to the final stop on the line, but bring the station up to par with the district it is to serve in the future.

The timetable for such a project doesn’t seem like it would need to be drawn out considering it would be relatively small scale. Getting the proper approvals to make the renovations and changes to the current Special Events station would probably take more time than it would to move forward with reassigning service and then demolishing the current Erie Canal Harbor Station.

It seems to make sense to me and many others I’ve discussed this matter with and would certainly add even more character to a district that is expected to be dripping with it in the coming years. The NFTA has the opportunity to keep pace with everything that’s happening around their rails, they just need to take action.

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