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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Canalside public hearing coming soon; but what about more construction?

Don’t worry, Buffalo. The waterfront you deserve is well on its way and will arrive in 2031. That is if everything goes according to plan.

ECHDC is set to hold a public hearing next Wednesday, December 5 to discuss and detail the revised master plan for Canalside. For those of you who have a vested interest in the development of this fair city and the waterfront, this will be a great event to take in. Unfortunately my work schedule will not allow me to attend.

However, the revised master plan is available for public digestion on the ECHDC website (www.eriecanalharbor.com) and is certainly worth a look. It details nearly everything one could think of regarding the current and future development of the parcels surrounding the Buffalo River. It also details the expected date of completion, 2031. That’s right, in just under 20 years Buffalo should have the waterfront it deserves. Twenty. Years. Continue reading

Disappointing changes made to Pond Hockey

The Labatt Blue Pond Hockey Tournament has been a welcome event in the middle of the last few Buffalo winters. Taking notes from it’s older cousin in Eagle River, Wisconsin, the Buffalo tournament has truly become a must-play for any beer leaguer in Western New York.

As is the case with sport in Buffalo, things have rarely gone according to plan. The tournament has been plagued by bad ice, warm weather and many hiccups. 2012 was the climax of various hurdles over the first five iterations as the Inner Harbor didn’t freeze and the tournament needed to change over to a street hockey format.

The tournament organizers are obviously trying to combat that by building in additional fail-safe methods for the upcoming tournament. However the changes being made have a very disappointing tone to them. The tournament will change from a weekend long event to a one-day marathon of hockey and the registration process has also changed from first-come first-serve to a lottery process. Continue reading

With projects underway, time to clean up small features of Canalside

Since the grain elevators are now expecting a slight makeover, what comes next for the waterfront? Considering the projects that are already in progress there is a somewhat vacant hole as to what the next project may be.

With the faux historic canal construction in full swing, along with the Webster Block and One Canalside building projects, the inner harbor is nearly at full capacity regarding the projects that are underway. For Canalside, the only area that remains untouched, to this point, are the “functional” lawns that can be sold as parcels to interested developers. Continue reading

Lighting the grain elevators, great step forward

Things are happening on the water, it’s true. Slowly but surely the critical mass along the Inner and Outer Harbor is growing and it would seem as if there is indeed a rhyme and reason to what is happening.

Despite claims that the “slower, dumber, cheaper” approach has been a silver bullet unto itself, attention around Canalside and various properties on the Outer Harbor has grown to a height that has yet to be seen. The most recent example being the test lighting of a grain elevator last night. Continue reading

Don’t just provide access, provide attractions

A recent setback with the pending sale of Outer Harbor land has brought additional debates to the surface of how the valuable waterfront property should be used.

Ensuring that public access is maintained by whomever ends up buying the property has suddenly become a key concern with any future sale. For the outer harbor, a vast expanse of underutilized property has begun making rounds in the news cycle as the NFTA attempts to unburden themselves of what seems to be an operational and budgetary albatross for the Authority.

Recent press would indicate that the impending sale has not just been moved to the back burner, they have been taken off the stove altogether. Again, as citizens hoping for a truly wonder waterfront, we need to wait.

Hurry up and wait could probably substitute quite well for other phrases that have been tossed around the discussion regarding the development of Buffalo’s waterfront. After all, what’s the big deal with a few more months or years of delays after decades of waiting?

Perhaps the plan that had been put forward by Bear Development wasn’t going to be the very best for the outer harbor, but we won’t know either way. Obviously with the NFTA shifting gears with the development plans there won’t be a singular direction as to what citizens can expect. However, with all the talk for public access, I wonder what exactly will there be for the public if no developers are ever pegged? Continue reading

Further additions coming to Buffalo’s waterfront

After a decade of announcements, renderings and eventual letdowns with regard to most development around Canalside, the ECHDC went out and just did something. I don’t hate it either.

There has been some discussion over the past year about putting more public art in and around the waterfront, specifically regarding putting murals on the Connecting Terminal elevator and lighting up a number of the grain elevators along the Buffalo River. Now it appears that the ECHDC also plan on lighting up the Skyway, too.

The story (link above) came out with little fanfare as the lighting process seems to be in the preliminary testing phase. However, I’m glad the ECHDC decided to take this step without giving those against the move time to whine, complain and sue. According to a first hand account, the setup is very basic at this point. More from friend and 2ITB reader Andrew Kulyk:

Light sources are on portable stands and reflect onto the supports. I assume the permanent lighting will be somehow affixed to the concrete itself. Three supports are lit up in the testing phase and change colors. Looks totally awesome.

Only a few support legs are lit at this point. That is ok, obviously those in charge have decided that if the Skyway won’t be leaving anytime soon, let it become part of the neighborhood. The Peace Bridge looks fantastic bathed in changing LED lights, I don’t expect the Skyway to turn into the Golden Gate, but the LEDs will at least help turn a hulking barrier into something less obstructive than before. Continue reading

Some random thoughts for the outer harbor

This post has been a long time coming. While I don’t consider myself as an expert on city planning, I’ve been around to enough cities to see what does and doesn’t work. This summer got my mind working as to what is still missing from Buffalo

I was able to find my way around the city and took in quite a few of the best activities WNY has to offer. Still, I feel like there is so much potential waiting to be unlocked. For the first time I don’t think Canalside is the center of this. I actually think the Outer Harbor is where the greatest opportunity lies.

The well documented white flag waved by the NFTA has made the enormous expanse that comprises the Outer Harbor available for purchase. With all 60 acres are up for sale, seems like a great chance for someone to do something dramatic, sort of like this.

Allow me to dream big for a moment. Outside of a savior stepping in and saying they will build a brand-spanking new stadium for the Bills on this space (because that would be totally badass), I would love to see the Buffalo Zoo relocated and expanded on a large portion of this land. I understand the capital involved in such a project is rather inconceivable, but I’m simply thinking out loud. Continue reading

An interesting development on the water

Not long ago there was a terrible plan unveiled saying that the only thing you need to put on the Buffalo waterfront is a hot dog cart and a couple of lawns.

The rendering for the Canalside public market

Today there was a much more exciting plan that will probably never see much farther past today in terms of planning. Still, it is fun to dream. Today, the Erie County Harbor Development Corporation (ECHCHCHDCHD for short) pounded this baby on the people of Buffalo. My does that have the potential for greatness. Continue reading