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Canalside Summer Concerts… Time To Think Big

This past week the Buffalo Common Council passed a non binding resolution recommending that the highly popular concert series at Canalside be relocated from the Central Wharf to another venue. Cited points surrounding the resolution include increased traffic, noise and complaints from the nearby Marine Drive apartment tenants.

The public backlash to posted news stories from major media outlets, and threads on social media posts, has been shrill, and in some cases very nasty. Common Council members have been derided, name calling towards the tenants at Marine Drive, as if their lower social and economic status somehow diminishes their rights. Most commenters think that the location, configuration and substance of the current concert series is just fine and should remain as is.

It is convoluted thinking.

First of all, Canalside is not a park. Let me repeat this… Canalside IS NOT A PARK. Every blade of grass down there is a development parcel. As is that massive crater in the north Aud block immediately adjacent to the faux historically-aligned canals. This is all codified in the Canalside Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) which was hammered together by many diverse stakeholders and the public and took years to achieve. The MGPP envisions a dense, vibrant setting of mixed use structures reminiscent of the old canal era. There are some projects in the pipeline, including the Explore and More Children’s Museum and Hofbrauhaus USA, although, following the typical ECHDC playbook, these structures’ development timelines are being stretched further into the future again and again.

But the sad consequence of this “lighter, quicker, cheaper” way of thinking, the snake oil which was sold to the public for a hefty six figure consulting fee, has been the evolution of Canalside into a space of flexible lawns, colorful chairs, kanjam and ping pong, and sandy play spaces. The actual “development” of permanent structures by the ECH Development C has consisted of a snack shack and nothing more.

The concerts have become so popular that they are now straining the space. Think about it – the stage brought in is a temporary one; the sound system is temporary. The port a potties are temporary. The food trucks roll in, and then they leave. And when summer turns to fall, everything is put away for the cold weather. This past summer the lawns have been wrecked repeatedly, the infrastructure is suffering damage from the strain of too many people converging on too small a space which was not initially configured as a pure concert venue. The Canalside concert series has become a victim of its own success.

So what do do?

Time to think big.

Rather than gnashing our collective teeth about the mere thought of moving those concerts away from its current stop gap venue, we need to be rethinking about Canalside and laying out its overdue development future. As for the concerts, it’s time to build a permanent concert facility and amphitheater elsewhere on the waterfront. It should be a facility with some fixed seating and standing areas, resplendent views of our water, permanent concession facilities, lighting and sound systems, and permanent washroom facilities.RiverloopAmphitheater_WaterlooCVB

Where to locate it? I am not a planner, so it’s not my call. LaSalle Park seems woefully underutilized and could be reconstituted for just such a concert configuration if laid out right. The Outer Harbor offers a myriad of opportunities, although access is still an issue, and we have yet move as a community to plan, fund and build even one bridge to move people and cars out there. The Broderick Park alternative mentioned in the Common Council resolution seems ill conceived. Simply returning it to Lafayette Square? Hmm.tuscaloosa-amphitheater

Nonetheless, with the success of the Canalside concert series, and more and more people discovering the entertainment and recreation opportunities that access to our waterfront offers, this is exactly the right time to start discussions for a top of the line and permanent outdoor stage and concert facility that will house and present summer concert programming for the long term.

Canalside and the Central Wharf is not the answer for summer concerts. Time to get plans laid out, developers lined up, and shovels in the ground for all the Canalside parcels. That is Buffalo’s future, not to settle for “lighter, quicker, cheaper” along with the voodoo of flexible lawns, triangulation and the Power of 10.

  • James Rozanski

    Good well thought out article Andrew. Hope to see you again at Broadway Market.

  • JayBurney

    Love the LaSalle Park option, concerns about the outer harbor for sure, but am interested in finding ways to think about the new state park. this might be an interesting and somewhat more accessible Artpark like venue. Not endorsing it, but thinking about it. thanks for this piece Andrew.

  • buffalo cyclists

    The insistence that Canalside must be “developed” has enabled people to lose sight that it’s fine just the way it is as a park and concert venue. Buffalo is not suffering from a shortage of stores, office space and residences. Quite the contrary, the number of vacancies on Main Street and even part of Elmwood Ave indicates the opposite. Moreover, given Canalside’s success as a venue for concerts and festivals, perhaps the MGPP should be revisited.

    Canalside’s proximity to the rail line and downtown parking garages make it a venue uniquely able to handle large crowds on a regular basis. The other venues being discussed would not be able to replicate that. Moreover, the Outer Harbor includes environmentally sensitive areas that would be disrupted by placing the concerts there.