Reserving green space and public access to the Outer Harbor is key

Things have shaped up over the last few months around Buffalo’s waterfront. Approximately a year removed from a relative low point in construction and planning – punctuated by the removal of Pike Construction from the Aud site – things have hit a definitive upswing.

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation has recently taken control of Outer Harbor land and are currently working to identify the proper direction for the property. The public hearings on the land appear to reflect the desire for park space to occupy most, if not all of the ECHDC-held land. As someone who has longed to see true progress along the waterfront in the form of a mixed-use, entertainment district I feel that this seems like a terrific way to go for the Outer Harbor.

If the Outer Harbor was kept as green space that maximized public access thanks to the acres and acres of land, the Inner Harbor and Canalside could be left to grow as the entertainment district it’s been slated to become since the first drafts of the master plan were laid out. A relationship of public access and green space along the Outer Harbor and mixed-use development on the Inner Harbor would not only appease nearly every sector of the public, but would also allow the ECHDC to keep their focus on each topic without being spread thin.

Of course, that means that the Outer Harbor is indeed pegged to become a sterling waterfront park. It seems doubtful that the Outer Harbor is used for a football stadium, residential development or any other sort of large development. This is a space that is already dominated by a number of linked green spaces that could be further enhanced if the space was enhanced further.

Should a park be the final result for the Outer Harbor, I would hope that the ECHDC, Buffalo Place and anyone else who has a say in this understands the return that a true concert venue could bring. It’s something I wrote about in this space recently, so I won’t go all the way down that rabbit hole. However, building an actual venue with seating, permanent concessions, support facilities, bathrooms and the like would be a genius addition and it wouldn’t dominate the project considering the amount of space the Outer Harbor occupies.

The other beneficiary of reserving the Outer Harbor for park space will be Canalside. As silly as it may sound, if the primary source of waterfront public access is developed on the Outer Harbor, the parcels surrounding the Wharf and Commercial Slip will be free to become something more than functional lawns.

Canalside’s success with families and young adults alike hasn’t been lost on me. They’ve found a way to capitalize on a largely temporary set up with most of the activities along the Wharf. Keeping the Wharf and the space between the water and Prime St. is vital. That’s a key feature of Canalside and it should certainly remain. However, if the Outer Harbor is a simple ferry ride away the need for acres of green space at Canalside won’t be nearly as important as additional things to do.

This summer has shown that the ECHDC is finally ready to start bringing more things to do at Canalside along with the willingness of private businesses to set up shop in the growing district. Finding a way to ensure that the focus on growing the mixed-use nature of the area maintains needs to be a priority for ECHDC and if their other project sticks with public access, there won’t be any reason that further development can’t occur at Canalside in short order.

The next year-and-a-half ought to be even more exciting when it comes to waterfront development in Buffalo. I hope that the ECHDC leadership can find a way to fast track some of their upcoming projects to ensure that both the Outer and Inner Harbor are bustling with progress by the end of 2015.

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