Canalside is Finally Nearing its Potential

If you get the chance, take a drive down to Canalside this weekend. Every square inch of concrete has been poured on the historically aligned canals and yet another major milestone has been reached by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation. Now it’s time to wait.IMG_3563

Aside from the literal waiting that will accompany the concrete’s 28-day curing process (per The Buffalo News) it also appears that we will be waiting for the next significant move from the ECHDC. Tom Dee is always careful with his words but he never hesitates to reveal significant items when the opportunity presents itself. Yesterday’s development was no different as Dee said that Canalside is well past it’s tipping point.

I have to disagree with his sentiment. This is the tipping point.

Buffalo has been waiting far too long for these canals to open. They should have been compelted over two years ago but various funding hold ups and other delays will see them open this fall. They represent a large portion of the previously cavernous Aud Site with picturesque Canal-era bridges spanning the water below. Canalside, as it stands prior to this portion opening, was little more than a park dotted with lawn chairs and board games. The Aud Block will finally push Canalside into the multi-faceted, mixed use district is was envisioned as in 2008 when the first plans were laid out.

I was presented with the opportunity to tour the Canal site a few weeks ago as a guest of ECHDC and the site is awe inspiring. The Lloyd Street bridge is massive and will be dubbed the “Buffalo Beer Bridge” and will host a beer garden next summer once the weather breaks. The vantage point from Lloyd Street is perhaps the most impressive in the entire park as you can look out towards the Commerical Street bridge and the Immigrant Steps or out onto Canalside’s current operations and to the Buffalo River. The Lloyd Street bridge also sits at a terrific angle to check out HARBORCENTER, One Canalside and the East Canal Park.

This is also the center of the three parcels that will eventually house the Explore and More Children’s Museum, a restaurant and a small comfort station. While the dates have been hazy, it appears that ECHDC will begin construction on those three buildings in the very near future. If anything, it’s the construction and eventual opening of those three buildings along with that of the proposed 14,600 square foot building along the South Block between One Canalside and HARBORCENTER that will represent Canalside’s true awakening.

HARBORCENTER is going to bring a full service sports bar, Tim Horton’s and year-round patronage thanks to various youth tournaments and other hockey-related business. The retail space in the building is taking shape as Pizza Plant prepares to move into a portion of One Canalside’s ground floor. All of this is complimented by Liberty Hound and even Clinton’s Dish.

Those businesses don’t just represent private investment in Canalside but they also represent actual things to do, something Canalside was sorely lacking no more than 18 months ago. Now, with the coming development on the South Aud Block and South Block (confusing, I know) the density will finally come. Additionally, the added space and attractions will help disperse crowds from an ever more popular central wharf.

Now comes the fun part. The added density and activity the South Aud Block buildings will bring will officially usher in Canalside as a true downtown district. It was already a phenomenal attraction, but the open canals and occupied buildings will bring it to yet another level.

Unfortunately, Dee has been quoted saying the north portion of the Aud Block will remain undeveloped for the time being, a setback from what would have been a large, attractive piece of the overall puzzle. Perhaps ECHDC is delaying their public market because of a pending announcement regarding the DL&W Terminal. I certainly hope that is the case as grandiose announcements followed by backtracking and scaled down projects have worked hand-in-hand with some of the most impressive work that has gone on at Canalside.

Look no further than the original plans to light all of Buffalo’s grain silos, the Skyway and even General Mills to the decision to simply light the Connecting Terminal while playing the waiting game on everything else.

Even with some of the recent omissions and alterations to development plans, Canalside has truly arrived. The canals will finally be opened for skating this winter and tangible development is finally falling within the borders of the district. It appears that the summer of 2016 will truly be the first summer when Canalside is really running at full tilt.

It seems far off and that day should certainly have come this year or even in 2013, but it’s exciting to see everything finally on track at Canalside. I’m looking forward to the finished product.

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2 thoughts on “Canalside is Finally Nearing its Potential

  1. Jack September 27, 2014 / 12:47 pm

    Good article trying to following development primarily from the news…fills in some missing gaps….why are they waiting to develop the north aud block?….they will have a great canal two nice buildings next to a hole in the ground ? open it to private developers rfp….get it going!…also…hope with the balance of the 40,000 sf children’s meusum they do some housing? Need people,living there to make it better..although the fact the havent programmed it yet..the extra space is odd… this is the first I heard they are not lighting the skyway….although they only let the contract for the central terminal …if we can’t even get this done why do they have grandiose plans for the outer harbor?…..

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    • Chris Ostrander September 29, 2014 / 8:47 pm

      Seems as if they’re taking the same approach as they did with the rest of the Canalside parcels. Rather that go with the “if you build it, they will come” they want to let the market define the usage. There’s pros and cons for sure, my main issue is that they continue to promote renderings and images of a dense, bustling district and then pull the rug out from under you when it comes to the actual project.

      The South Block (between One Canalside and HARBORCENTER) will have apartments and I think other areas (under the skyway) are expected to have residential on the upper floors. Live/play is key down there. There are some opportunities in Cobblestone if they’re done properly.

      As for the lighting, the original plan was for all of Silo City, the Skyway and the bridges in the area. Then, like the North Aud Block, they took a big step back. It’s pretty much their MO. And the Skyway still has those “test” lights up and they look silly now. Hopefully those come down soon. As for the Outer Harbor, they might as well just put everything in the hat all at once and get it going. I doubt the actual plans represent what Perkins + Will came up with. That was VERY ambitious. Thanks for reading.

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