ECHDC can maintain positive momentum with some smaller projects

Since the first announcement and rendering of Canalside was released in what seems like 2004, it’s been something I’ve been passionate about following. I’ve experienced the waterfront in Baltimore, Vancouver, Pittsburgh and many other cities and I’m eagerly awaiting the day that Buffalo’s impressive project is finally complete for the world to enjoy.

Getting to that complete point has taken a bit longer than expected. Much longer than expected, actually. A myriad of issues and hurdles that include, but aren’t limited to obstructionists, contractor issues, hold ups in Albany, obstructionists again and even poor leadership at times. It would appear that the ECDHC has finally gotten things on the right track although we’re still waiting to see the train pick up some speed.

With the first Whipple Truss bridge in on the Aud Block site and the accompanying Swartz bridges should be in late in the fall. Additionally, reports indicate that the bids for the trio of buildings on the southern portion of the Aud Block will be out this summer and those buildings will be ready to open in mid-2016.

All of that is tremendous news. While the timeline on the first three buildings on the Aud Block – and really in all of proper Canalside parcels – is lamentable, real progress will be seen in the coming months. When you consider how stagnant any real development has been at Canalside, this is a terrific sign.

However, Dee also managed to slip in a statement that development on the North Aud Block will be taking a downshift for the time being. From The Buffalo News:

“Two buildings and a parking ramp planned for the north block are now on hold, Dee said, while they wait to see how the various developments emerge.

Restaurateurs and retailers have expressed interest, Dee said, but they’re waiting for the buildings to go up before making a commitment. He said he has directed them to HarborCenter and to Benderson Development, whose timetables are ahead of the canal site, because it will only add to the synergy of the whole area, he said.”

To his credit, it’s good to hear that a parking garage isn’t part of the immediate plans for any Canalside parcel. There are far too many options in the immediate area for there to be any excuse for including a ramp in future developments. What’s unfortunate is to hear that future development on more physical buildings at Canalside are on hold yet again. All of the parcels around the Central Wharf were sold to the public with dense, bustling streets. They’re still grassy lots at this time. Now the majority of the Aud Block will join those parcels and that of the parcel just south of the East Canal in development limbo.

The issue here is that this type of statement is simply more of the same from ECHDC. Hopefully the opening of HARBORCENTER and the initiation of construction on the South Aud Block buildings will spur interest in the area. While I think ECHDC would be wise to at least take the steps to get the building for the Public Market constructed (once the canals are complete) there are other, smaller steps they can take to keep the positive momentum at Canalside going.

  Improve the signage: So much of what works at Canalside is the welcoming atmosphere the area has. However, there is a temporary feel to so much of what is down there at this time. Even the signage that dots the area gives off that vibe. Particularly the main Canalside construction sign is an eyesore in almost every sense of the word.

Would it be so hard to get a three-dimensional, backlit version of the Canalside logo on that particular corner? Move the political backpatting construction sign to the corner of the Aud Block and install an attractive, dynamic version of the Canalside logo to serve as a proper front door to the neighborhood. Furthermore, there has to be a way to get the ugly DOT street signs converted to a more appealing design that falls in with the Canal-era atmosphere that ECHDC is fostering. These are two very easy steps that could be carried out in less than a calendar year if done properly.

Permanent signage for the Naval Museum and Liberty Hound: I’ve actually been told by Canalside/ECHDC that installing signage for each of these entities is entirely up to their owners. So we may not see anything better than the temporary banners they’re currently using. However, there’ s no reason that both the Naval Museum and Liberty Hound shouldn’t have permanent signs that fall in line with the Canalside design guidelines.

Canal-era signs for both businesses along the Commerical St. extension coupled with more eye-catching signs on the side of the building that faces the Aud Block would not only add permanence to the buildings but character to the area as it continues to grow towards a dense, urban district with multiple uses and attractions.

  Construct a second “comfort station”: Of the three buildings set to be constructed on the South Aud Block, one is being referred to as a comfort station that will likely house restrooms and perhaps refreshments. While the 5,000 square foot building would be ideal for a fast casual, grab-and-go restaurant, it will be a nice addition to that portion of the development. What doesn’t make sense is why there isn’t another one of those built at the other end of Prime Street?

Clinton’s Dish is a very nice little eatery and the new tables and seating area look awesome. Bravo to the folks who carried that out. However, the bathrooms down there are still just port-a-pottys and temporary trailer hitch lavatories. Why not incorporate a proper bathroom facility into the Clinton’s Dish building? Without getting too complicated, why not remove the wooden shed Clinton’s Dish currently occupies and replace it with a proper Canal-era spec building that would house the restaurant, the new beer garden and bathroom facilities?

Keep the stage in it’s new home: Some bad timing led to a torrential downpour during a Thursday Night Concert and the lawn near the stage was trashed. The stage was moved next to Clinton’s Dish and the sod has since been replaced. The new stage location is vastly improved over the previous, which is turning out to be the silver lining from that rainstorm. Buffalo Place and the ECHDC have to keep the stage where it is for the rest of the summer and beyond. The sight lines are better and the crowd appears to flow in and fill the space much better as well.

While a permanent venue is badly needed, this change makes too much sense not to continue on with until an actual concert venue is constructed.

Re-Skin the Marine Drive Apartments: Okay, so this isn’t exactly a quick fix but I can’t think of many other buildings in need of a facelift that happen to sit in a prime development area on the doorstep of the city’s greatest asset. Perhaps I cherry picked my descriptor, but you can’t deny that the hulking towers could use some sprucing up.

What works for these buildings is that there’s nothing else wrong with them. While they aren’t the most visually appealing buildings in the city, they aren’t falling apart, which plays in everyone’s favor. I don’t even know what the ballpark cost of such a project would be, but simply giving them a more appealing look to outsiders would immediately quell any sort of negative stigma cast upon them by visitors to the city or waterfront.

That final idea clearly doesn’t qualify as small. Nor would it be quick to carry out. All of these projects cost money, which is never easy to come by for a public project like this. However, as Canalside is set to enter a phase in development that should bring about a glut of new construction projects, ECHDC can keep the small touches on pace while also providing more benchmarks for those who are eagerly awaiting a finished product on the water.

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