The Canalside life cycle is an interesting animal. Once a windswept parking lot, it has grown to one of the most impressive attractions in Western New York as it inches towards completion. Yet, despite all of the positive momentum, the overall project remains beset by hiccups and delays.
Among the most glaring is the utter lack of permanent development outside of One Canalside (which was already there) and HarborCenter (handled by the city and the Pegulas). The historically aligned, replica canals are a visual marvel but the rest of the area is lagging behind. Make no mistake, the progress that has been made at Canalside is nothing short of impressive as there are signs of truly great things on the horizon. The warts are still quite visible, however.
Just today, The Buffalo News indicated that if an expected 2017 groundbreaking for Hofbrauhaus on the East Canal Parcel isn’t met that the German beer haus would move to the Cobblestone District. That’s certainly a win for the Parking Cobblestone District; it’s also a blow for Canalside. Filling the parcel between HarborCenter and One Canalside would add even more density to the already bustling corner while providing a new brick-and-mortar attraction for Canalside visitors to frequent with mixed use space on the second and third floors. By failing to move the underground utility lines, the city and ECHDC have let a key development parcel sit fallow while leaving Hofbrauhaus in a three-year holding pattern.
You don’t need to look far to find other sore spots around Canalside. After all, a to-scale replica of the Pawnee Pit sits just feet behind the bustling canals. There are still no permanent bathroom facilities and vinyl tents still dominate the functional lawns on a weekly basis each summer. But fear not! Soon there will be a solar-powered carousel (very authentic to the Canal Era) located on a Canalside parcel.
Too often it feels like the various plans for a bustling, live-play district have been tossed away in favor of what’s little more than a public park. Some of the delays in developing the parcels around Canalside can be attributed to simple bad luck. The Skyway bisects the southern parcels and it’s hard to imagine any business owner wanting to build under the roadway. Other delays have come thanks, in part, to the tireless work of Buffalo’s obstruction preservation community.
The push to prevent Bass Pro from building at Canalside claimed a second victim in the form of the rest of the neighborhood that was to be developed on the parcels. Community activists like Tim Tielman cried about the need for historic fabric and other nonsense while holding back the ability for the district to kick-start development. Now, 13 years removed from the original master plan and nearly 10 years removed from the revised plan, we still are waiting to see shovels in the ground.
Conveniently, Buffalo’s resident preservationist-cum-city planner has created his own “vision” for Canalside. Ah yes, preserving and honoring the historic nature of the district with a rotunda straight out of a suburban shopping center.
I’m not sure what’s better. The fact that Tielman drew up a plan that pulls many of the hallmarks of previous Canalside plans he lobbied against or that the article here makes it seem as if Tielman is the first person to ever think of putting buildings at Canalside. This is hardly the first time Tielman has swept in on his MS Paint magic carpet, Tielman lauded for the design of Larkinville, when his involvement was more likely as part of the local preservation racket than any substantive contribution. Pay no mind to the fact that further development of buildings in Larkinville has slowed in the wake of the original momentum the area had. Surely that was all part of Tim’s plan too.
As for Canalside, why his “Nexus” proposal is receiving any sort of fanfare is disappointing as Tielman is, more or less, repurposing the original master plans and flying them under his own, ridiculous banner. Why this plan deserves any more attention than this actually historic version is beyond me.
It is worth noting that the parcels along the wharf are expected to be kept as green space while the remainder of Canalside is developed along the historic streets and across the street near the canals. That being said, the bustling wharf makes up some of the most iconic pictures of the Canal District developing it properly would offer a similar return for the city today. Following the Heritage Coalition’s plans would replicate the original wharf while creating an area not unlike Nashville’s Riverwalk.
Instead, we get to hear about what a visionary Tim Tielman is despite most evidence pointing to him as an attention starved vulture who attacks and tears down any proposed development that won’t earn him acclaim or a few inches in a Donn Esmonde column.
The good news is that at least the conversation is finally returning to the fact that Canalside is for development, not lawn carnivals. While the leadership of ECHDC has left the district stuck in the mud, I do have confidence that they’d move away from many of Tielman’s proposed ideas here. They’ve shown the ability to identify design features that blend the historic fabric of the district with the necessary modern touches needed in contemporary developments.
My hope is that Tielman’s proposal found its rightful home in the circular file of Tom Dee’s office while the development corporation puts forth an effort for tangible progress to be made at Canalside. The historic carousel may be a ridiculous thing to add (and it will get way too much hype when it opens) but once the rest of the parcels are developed, I think it will serve as a pleasant compliment to the overall development.
I’ve written this a few times before, but I feel like we’re getting close to critical mass at Canalside. Perhaps I’ll have to eat my words but it seems as if ECHDC is finally ready to accept that some buildings need to be constructed. I’m certainly ready to see the process start.