Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact

Build the Damn West River Bike Path Already!

Please Dont Bike

After attending a meeting of pro-Parkway partisans on Thursday night, taking a few drives, and finding out that there was a simultaneous pro-Bike Path meeting last Thursday, I decided to film a drive-by of the subject park lands. Councilman Mike Madigan tells me there is no way to build a bike path on the River, but instead wants one between two redundant two lane roadways.   Apparently, Supervisor McMurray favors converting the existing Parkway into a bike path, but the Parkway really isn’t on the river either.  

I am a biker, a scenic walker, and a cross country skier.   If I am going to transport to Grand Island for any such activity, I want to be on the Niagara River, not trapped between two roads, staring at some houses.   I can stare at houses in Amherst, North Buffalo or Clarence.   I don’t think anyone would build the West River Parkway today.   Neither the current pro environmental, anti-automobile attitude, or the traffic load would allow it.   But the Parkway is already there and a riverside bike path is not.   If the Parkway is a scenic route, slowing it down to 35 MPH from the present 55 would make it even more enjoyable.   But that won’t make it a safe pedestrian walkway.

My generation sent a man to the Moon and brought him back safely to Earth, using what now seems like Stone Age technology.   Therefore, in an effort to inspire the current local and state leadership, I have set my Parkway drive-by video to music and sound from the movie, The Right Stuff.  I begin with the clip of Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 which was built just across the river in Wheatfield.   Click the movie box to see what the current situation is like from Buckhorn Island Park to the houses north of Beaver Island.   I think there is no real reason why a bike path cannot be built between the Parkway and the river, but you decide for yourself.   (If you look closely, at about 1:50 of the drive-by, you can see that there already is a bike path along the river for some distance.)

The Right Stuff 

Conversations with West River Parkway Homeowner’s Association President, Frank Greco, reveal that Parkway land owners have state permits for temporary docks and vegetation management.    

Temporary Dock Permit-0001



West Parkway Homeowners President Frank Greco


Vegetation Management Permit-0001

Vegetation Management Permit-0002













Mr. Greco also demonstrated that the river bank was not conducive to public  access in many places and he produced documentation for the claim that permanent docks can be maintained by those owners “and their linear descendants” for 99 years from July 31, 1991.  

Permanent Dock Mangement Policy-0001 Permanent Dock Mangement Policy-0002













All of the above lead me to ask:  What is all the brouhaha about?   Isn’t the simple solution building a bike path/multipurpose walkway along the river?   Where are state bureaucratic and elected officials on this matter?   What about Chris Jacobs and Amber Small?   Where is Assemblyman John Ceretto?   What is short time Senator Mark Panepinto’s position?

Somehow I have the feeling that, if someone would just buy a keg of beer at the local fire hall and call a meeting, all this could be worked out pretty easily.   What am I missing? 




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.

Big Environmental Contamination Report Now Online

by Alan Oberst

A month ago, Artvoice’s media partner, the Investigative Post, rocked ECHDC’s world by revealing just the extent of environmental contamination on the Outer Harbor. Ironically, they did that by sourcing their story from an extensive environmental report that ECHDC had helped fund, but had never publicly released. This story was published in Artvoice, and also aired on WGRZ, Investigative Post’s broadcast media partner.

In response, ECHDC convened Empire State Development Corporation’s regional head Sam Hoyt has a testy verbal exchange with Investigative Post’s environmental reporter, Dan Telvock, who authored the report. (You can view the press conference here.) When Telvock challenges Hoyt’s claim that their contamination report, essentially, must be out there, somewhere, Hoyt says he’ll see about making the report available online.

Making good on Hoyt’s word, ECHDC posted the report, in its entirety (summary report, plus four thousand pages of supporting documentation) on their Outer Harbor website. In addition to tables and tables of measurements, the supporting documentation is noteworthy for including a compilation of every environmental report done on the Outer Harbor in recent decades.

Read the report here—after all, you paid for it (and it’s your waterfront).

Click image for a larger view

Click image for a larger view


About the “Riverkeeper Plan” for the Outer Harbor

—by Alan Oberst

Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the past year’s controversy over our Outer Harbor has been the “Riverkeeper Plan.” When Congressman Brian Higgins and Assemblyman Sean Ryan announced their opposition, last fall, to ECHDC’s preferred plan, they instead expressed their support for the “Riverkeeper Plan,” with graphics showing, essentially, the ECHDC plan with less development, and in fewer places. Many in the public, including this author, came to see those graphics as the “Riverkeeper Plan.” And we were wrong. How so?

At a recent panel discussion moderated by Dan Telvock, award-winning environmental reporter for Artvoice’s media partner the Investigative Post, Buffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper Jill Jedlicka was asked about the “Riverkeeper Plan,” and seemed relieved to have the chance to set the record straight. She emphasized that her organization’s plan is less about a graphic than a set of principles that should guide and inform any plan for the Outer Harbor—it’s more an alternate vision than a “plan.”

Click image for a larger view

Click image for a larger view

 Riverkeeper’s alternate vision was put together hurriedly, in the crisis atmosphere created in the wake of the September unveiling of Empire State Development’s preferred plan for the Outer Harbor. Riverkeeper was as caught off guard as anyone by that development-heavy plan (2,100 new residential units). Jedlicka told the panel that, because they had been working in what they thought was a collaborative manner with ECHDC, they thought they understood the preferred plan would de-emphasize development. (They weren’t alone in this: I was told by sources at City Hall, and even a member of ECHDC’s consulting team, that the question of housing went back and forth right up until the deadline, and some weren’t sure what they would see until the public unveiling.)

Click image for a larger view

Click image for a larger view

At the public unveiling, they learned that ECHDC planned to formally adopt the preferred alternative at their board meeting the following week. With just four days to respond, Riverkeeper’s planning team put together the set of principles and Photoshopped images taken from ECHDC’s plan, suggesting a possible compromise. Thinking they had only a few days to influence the process, they put out their alternative the quickest way they knew how: by posting it on their website.

While ECHDC’s Outer Harbor locomotive flattened all concerns like nothing more than a penny on the tracks, the brakes were thrown when Mayor Byron Brown and County Executive Mark Poloncarz, ex-officio though non-voting ECHDC board members, asked that the vote be postponed. That’s when the “Riverkeeper Plan” was taken up as a banner by Congressman Brian Higgins and Assemblyman Sean Ryan, whose October press conferences made clear that ECHDC needed to go back to the drawing board (where, as of press time, they remain). Jedlicka is now taking great pains to clarify that it was not the Photoshopped drawings, but the principles, that Higgins and Ryan are supporting.

Those principles are:
1. Lake Erie is a public trust resource [in other words, It’s Everybody’s Waterfront (notice a theme?)]
2. High standards of excellence are needed for our entire waterfront
3. A vision for the emerging blue economy
4. Utilize comprehensive and integrated planning

If you haven’t yet (or it’s been since last fall), it’s worth taking a look at what Buffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper has to say about the Outer Harbor. Click here to visit the link.

Buffalo’s Outer Harbor Update: It’s Everybody’s Waterfront

Peter Harnik Presents in Buffalo on May 6
by Alan Oberst

Peter Harnik

Peter Harnik

Peter Harnik literally wrote the book about urban parks. Several books, in fact. As director of the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, Harnik has become the nation’s leading expert on urban parks—accidentally, and on purpose. After co-founding the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and growing it to an organization of national stature, Harnik joined the Trust for Public Land (TPL) to consult on urban parks. But when Harnik couldn’t find the answer the simple question, “what is the largest urban park in the United States?” he realized his first task was collecting data. The published results of that two-year research project made Harnik and TPL the go-to source on parks in cities.

Peter Harnik will be speaking in Buffalo at six o’clock on May 6, at the Burchfield-Penney Arts Center. The presentation will be free, and the public is invited. Harnik was invited by the 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor, an organization pursuing a modern realization of Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision of a large park on Buffalo’s Lake Erie shoreline (that surprisingly forward-thinking vision, including wind-powered lighting, and access via electric water taxis, was put on hold by over a century of waterfront industrialization).

Harnik’s visit couldn’t come at a better time, for a city grappling with questions of what to do with, arguably, its most important public asset: its Great Lakes shoreline, located at a critical geographic and ecological crossroads. And in a city at a metaphorical crossroads, turning the page on decades of disinvestment that resulted in dilapidation and depredations in what was once a forward-thinking, world-leading parks system. Ominously, in Harnik’s latest book, Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities, Buffalo is literally the last word, in the last table, in the last appendix, of the book’s last page: Our Fair City is dead last among our nation’s large cities in per-capita parks spending—at half the spending of our nearest competitor for that dubious honor (based on 2007 data). Seeing that helped me understand what Patrick Whalen of the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus said to parks advocates: it can be a challenge to recruit top talent to Buffalo, in part because we don’t have the amenities of many large cities. Buffalo may be the only large city on the Great Lakes without a large park on its Great Lake.

Harnik should be well-positioned to give us insight on these matters, as his books are chock full of not only data, but examples and case studies of innovative park projects, and funding arrangements—some of which his organization has helped broker. He also speaks to the ever-broadening concept of “park,” from natural areas with little human presence other than hikers and birdwatchers, to “placemade” public spaces. All these are factors in what we do with Everybody’s Waterfront—our Outer Harbor. We can’t afford to get this wrong, and if Harnik has anything to do with it, we won’t.

More information click here.

The Ice at Canalside: Why did this take so long to complete?


If you were one of the lucky ones who attended yesterday’s opening of the new canals on the former Aud Block at Canalside, then you know what a fabulous and magnificent event this was here in the City of Buffalo. The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation and their event management partner, Global Spectrum, absolutely nailed it. Buffalonians gathered and celebrated and gawked at what has instantly become one of the unique and distinct urban placemaking sites in the country. We can look to the future with boundless optimism as we also look to the past and cherish our history as the terminus of the Erie Canal and the gateway to the west, and our place in sports as we commemorate the former Memorial Auditorium and the magical memories of that great place.

Mark the calendar – December 18, 2014, but in reality, this very event should have taken place two years ago, in December of 2012. So what happened?

In December of 2011, the board of the ECHDC signed a $21-million contract with Dipizio Construction to erect the replica canals which are what you see today. The money came from a pot of funds made available from a relicensing agreement with the New York Power Authority. Essentially, there are dollars in place to fund pretty much all the public infrastructure improvements to the Inner and Outer Harbors, which, in theory, will encourage private investment and economic development in those long ignored yet prime real estate pieces of our city.

So with a contractor in place, work should have immediately begun on what was an eight month project, right? Wrong. Enter Sheldon Silver. The iron fisted Speaker of the Assembly at that point held things up, saying HE wanted to review the agreement and bestow his blessings. So there sat the project, languishing on the Speaker’s desk. Meanwhile, we were in the midst of one of the mildest winters in a generation. The lake never froze that year. Valuable construction time was being lost.

What was needed then was a strong and powerful rebuke from our local Assembly and Senate delegation. Our senator and our assemblyman representing downtown should have been having meltdowns and throwing a few chairs over in Albany. But amidst all this was a special election for an open assembly seat in South Buffalo and West Seneca, and the Speaker was pouring huge dollars into that campaign on behalf of the Democratic candidate. Our local politicians certainly didn’t want to upset the Speaker or rock the boat, so everyone remained silent, until Silver finally relented and gave his green light to the project.

Work on the site finally began in May of 2012. With the calendar flipped on its head, the master contractor, Dipizio Construction, ran into the following fall’s cold weather. Concrete couldn’t be poured, timetables started slipping, and it grew into a major kerfuffle with the ECHDC, who started micromanaging everything from selection of the color of the sandstone walls to all sorts of change orders to the project. By June of 2013, with the project roughly halfway finished, the ECHDC ordered Dipizio off the job site. (Dipizio is suing the Empire State Development Corporation, parent of the ECHDC, for tens of millions. We taxpayers may be on the hook big time when all this shakes out through the courts).

canal0363Throughout the entire summer of 2013, the project site sat empty and barren, while the ECHDC sought a new master contractor to finish the job. Pike Contracting out of Rochester was awarded the job in September. The rest of 2013 was devoted to erecting blue tarp fencing and pretty logos of the state and NYPA and plastering the governors name all over those fences, but little actual work took place on the canals.

Of course, we all remember the winter of 2013-14… two blizzards, one of the coldest and most miserable winter cycles in recent memory, and real work on the canals finally resumed in the spring of 2014. And that got us to the finish line. Shazzam!… An eight month project gets done in three years, with two contractors, selfish politicians, and an over-bureaucratic ECHDC serving as the major foils.

So here we are, and Canalside is a major hit with the public. Throngs of visitors partake in events and the waterfront in the summer, and it looks now that this will be the new happening winter destination as well. Yet consider this – the ECHDC has yet to erect even one permanent structure anywhere in the Inner Harbor footprint. OK, OK, one structure… the snack shack on the Central Wharf, which, by the way, is a hugely successful summer enterprise. But otherwise, Canalside is a convergence of temporary amenities – they cart in portable toilets, food trucks, stages and sound systems, vending carts, card tables and canopies, and those famed adirondack chairs, for which Fred Kent and his Project for Public Spaces crowd extorted the taxpayers for a hefty six figure consulting fee. Then when the events season ends, everything is carted away.

That is hopefully about to change, as the ECHDC promises that work will soon begin on a set of buildings on the south side of the Aud block right alongside those new canals. Three new buildings are supposedly in the final design phase – the new Explore and More Museum, which will be on the northwest corner of Main and Scott Streets (sorry Tim Horton, but your statue might have to be moved), a new restaurant situated roughly on the spot where the canal corners and jogs southward, and not to be overlooked… a comfort station and information center on the north side of Scott St. The mere concept of permanent rest rooms, and obviating the need to constantly truck in and out port-a-potties, makes this a no brainer.

But will it happen? The ECHDC’s performance record is a sketchy one. Since taking charge of the buildout of Canalside, on more than one occasion they have rolled out announcements and unveilings, only to delay the timetable, scale down the original vision, cancel plans, or a combination of these. Here are the projects in the pipeline in the coming year. Will all of these come to fruition?

1) Designs are being finalized for three buildings on the Aud Block – the Explore and More museum, a restaurant with balconies and sweeping views of the canals, and an information center/comfort station. A late spring construction start has been targeted.

2) The ECHDC has indicated that its time to issue a request for proposals for the available land parcel on the East Canal block, which is the patch of grass across from the HarborCenter and fronting the new pocket park dubbed the East Canal. Hofbrauhaus USA has indicated their interest in locating in Buffalo and has indicated that their new themed restaurant will be near Canalside. Could this location be a more perfect match? This deal needs to get finalized, and work needs to begin.

3) A contract to light up the Connecting Terminal Elevator across the Buffalo River with a kinetic light show has been issued. ECHDC President Tom Dee has stated that a July 4, 2015 unveiling is planned. This is not a simple floodlighting of this iconic structure, but an elaborate sight and sound presentation. As of now we have yet to see any actual onsite work going on over at the elevator. When will construction begin?

This rendering shows what the East Canal will look like once the buildout of the adjacent parcel is completed. Imagine patio dining along that water feature and what a great place that could become.

This rendering shows what the East Canal will look like once the buildout of the adjacent parcel is completed. Imagine patio dining along that water feature and what a great place that could become.

There is, of course, a great deal more that needs to happen… In October Buffalo was delivered the crushing news that a new grant to continue the Cars Sharing Main Street project was rejected. Phase 4 is intended to reconstruct the 400 block of Main Street as well as the lower portion of Main Street at Canalside. Let’s face it – Main Street down there is a pockmarked mess. The Erie Canal Metrorail station, even with the downsizing and a fresh coat of paint, is an ugly eyesore. Senator Charles Schumer has promised to find the federal dollars needed to make this happen. This needs to get done.

Then there is the rest of Canalside – HarborCenter John Koelmel stated in a recent Artvoice interview that “every blade of grass down here is a development parcel.” Koelmel is right. Canalside was not intended to be another waterside park, but rather, a confluence of buildings recreating the era when the Erie Canal was in its heyday. Juxtapose the glacial pace of the ECHDC project hopper next to the private sector development of HarborCenter – an incredibly complex project went from approval to design to construction to opening in 20 months. Why not issue RFP’s for every development parcel in the Inner Harbor? And another thing.. with the Ice at Canalside becoming an instant hit with the public after just one day, are we really to accept that the muddy crater on the north side of the Aud Block is to remain that way for the foreseeable future???

The team running the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation is to be commended for the progress to date. But the pace of development activity has to be picked up, and right now. They have an enormous source of funds to bring projects to fruition; they have a willing private sector partner in the Buffalo Sabres and HarborCenter. Koelmel and Development Officer Cliff Benson bring a wealth of experience to the table in getting things done, and the ECHDC needs to tap into this. And we’re not even taking into account the other stakeholders in the district who have already contributed and could be doing much, much more. The Buffalo News, Savarino Construction, The Seneca Nation, the NFTA, Ellicott Development, Uniland. Anybody being left out?

We’re finally getting the Waterfront We Deserve. But let’s not get too giddy just yet because much remains to be done. 2015 looks to be a watershed year for Canalside. And we need the ECHDC to step up their game. Right now.

Connecting the dots between Hofbrauhaus and Canalside

Guest submission by Chris Ostrander

It’s been a long time since this much news has come out about Canalside in such a short period of time. Aside from one small announcement that ECHDC will be waiting to develop the north portion of the Aud Block it’s been all great news for the epicenter of Buffalo’s waterfront development.

Recent news included a report that Pizza Plant will be occupying the ground floor retail space in One Canalside and adding another food and entertainment option to the area around Canalside and the arena. The best part of that news is that there’s potential to see Pizza Plant open and operating right around the same time that HARBORCENTER and (716) open their doors.

The building on the right will be bringing a beer garden to Canalside within the next year and it might just be the home of the previously announced Hofbrauhaus.

The building on the right will be bringing a beer garden to Canalside within the next year and it might just be the home of the previously announced Hofbrauhaus.

Another report indicated that Pizza Plant and (716) will have company along Washington Street as Benderson has begun to work on developing a yet to be unnamed beer garden for the South Block. The Buffalo News report says the beer garden is at least a year away, which would probably slate it for a late-2015 opening.

What’s interesting is that Benderson and the ECHDC are being somewhat secretive other than indicating that the project will be built on the South Block parcel located along Scott Street immediately south of the East Canal Park. The parcel was previously slated to provide for up to 14,000 square feet of retail space with 65 residences on the upper floors of a three to four story building (the building on the right hand side of the entry image).

The lack of specific details on the building slated for the South Block has led me to connect the dots with another upcoming Buffalo beer garden project that received quite a bit of press in May. Kevin Townsell owns the franchise rights for the Hofbrauhaus franchise in the region and is planning on opening a Hofbrauhaus beer garden within the next year or so.

Townsell held back on a few details on his project, specifically the exact location. However, he did indicate it will be downtown and within walking distance to Canalside. The project will include seating for 600 inside and a patio that will seat 300 more.

There are more than a few indicators that connect these two projects together but none more telling than the plan for the restaurant is 14,000 square feet. Add in that Townsell said the site will be within walking distance of Canalside, he’s been working on the plans for over two years (roughly the time it took to finalize One Canalside and the East Canal) and the similar timelines that Townsell and ECHDC have mentioned. To recap the connections:

-The original plan for the South Block called for a building with 14,000 square feet of retail an previous reports on Hofbrauhaus indicate that the restaurant will occupy 14,000 square feet

-Townsell has indicated that the location will be “within walking distance of Canalside” but hasn’t tipped his hand further

-Benderson has been equally coy about the plans for the recently announced beer garden

-There have been no other rumors of a beer garden outside of Townsell’s Hofbrauhaus project

-Both Townsell and Benderson have indicated similar timelines for their respective projects

My lone worry about this project is the overall density it will bring. Previous renderings and plans have called for a building that is at least two stories in height, if not taller. It would be a shame if the building was downgraded to only one story (as many of the Hofbrauhaus beer gardens are) and wound up falling outside of the Canalside design standards. This building needs to stay within the design standards for Canalside and needs to provide some vertical density along with filling in a key parcel on what is going to be a very busy corner.

Seeing the progress made with the Aud Block bridges and the plans for Explore-N-More and the additional buildings on the South Aud Block coming together has been an awesome sign for this district. However, the willingness of two private entities to put their businesses in the heart of the district shows the potential for the development parcels to begin to fill in.

Hofbrauhaus (if it is slated for the South Block) and Pizza Plant joins the rapidly rising HARBORCENTER project as private investments in what has been a slow moving public project. Clearly the momentum has finally built to the point that Canalside is ready for private investment.

It’s been a long time coming but signs point to late 2015 or perhaps mid-summer of 2016 being a serious coming out party for Canalside and Buffalo’s waterfront.

Chris Ostrander opines on Buffalo Sabres hockey and Buffalo development via his blog, Two In The Box.
Follow Chris on Twitter @2ITB_Buffalo

ECHDC can maintain positive momentum with some smaller projects

Guest Submission by Chris Ostrander

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.Canalside-petition-rendering-12-19-111

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, ECHDC president Tom 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.

The issue here is that this type of statement is simply more of the same from ECHDC. Hopefully the opening of HARBORCENTER and the initiation of construction on the South Aud Block buildings will spur interest in the area. While I think ECHDC would be wise to at least take the steps to get the building for the Public Market constructed (once the canals are complete) there are other, smaller steps they can take to keep the positive momentum at Canalside going.

Improve the signage: So much of what works at Canalside is the welcoming atmosphere the area has. However, there is a temporary feel to so much of what is down there at this time. Even the signage that dots the area gives off that vibe. Particularly the main Canalside construction sign is an eyesore in almost every sense of the word.

Would it be so hard to get a three-dimensional, backlit version of the Canalside logo on that particular corner? Move the political backpatting construction sign to the corner of the Aud Block and install an attractive, dynamic version of the Canalside logo to serve as a proper front door to the neighborhood. Furthermore, there has to be a way to get the ugly DOT street signs converted to a more appealing design that falls in with the Canal-era atmosphere that ECHDC is fostering. These are two very easy steps that could be carried out in less than a calendar year if done properly.

Construct a second “comfort station”: Of the three buildings set to be constructed on the South Aud Block, one is being referred to as a comfort station that will likely house restrooms and perhaps refreshments. While the 5,000 square foot building would be ideal for a fast casual, grab-and-go restaurant, it will be a nice addition to that portion of the development. What doesn’t make sense is why there isn’t another one of those built at the other end of Prime Street?

Clinton’s Dish is a very nice little eatery and the new tables and seating area look awesome. Bravo to the folks who carried that out. However, the bathrooms down there are still just port-a-pottys and temporary trailer hitch lavatories. Why not incorporate a proper bathroom facility into the Clinton’s Dish building? Without getting too complicated, why not remove the wooden shed Clinton’s Dish currently occupies and replace it with a proper Canal-era spec building that would house the restaurant, the new beer garden and bathroom facilities?

Keep the stage in it’s new home: Some bad timing led to a torrential downpour during a Thursday Night Concert and the lawn near the stage was trashed. The stage was moved next to Clinton’s Dish and the sod has since been replaced. The new stage location is vastly improved over the previous, which is turning out to be the silver lining from that rainstorm. Buffalo Place and the ECHDC have to keep the stage where it is for the rest of the summer and beyond. The sight lines are better and the crowd appears to flow in and fill the space much better as well.

While a permanent venue is badly needed, this change makes too much sense not to continue on with until an actual concert venue is constructed.

Re-Skin the Marine Drive Apartments: Okay, so this isn’t exactly a quick fix but I can’t think of many other buildings in need of a facelift that happen to sit in a prime development area on the doorstep of the city’s greatest asset. Perhaps I cherry picked my descriptor, but you can’t deny that the hulking towers could use some sprucing up.

What works for these buildings is that there’s nothing else wrong with them. While they aren’t the most visually appealing buildings in the city, they aren’t falling apart, which plays in everyone’s favor. I don’t even know what the ballpark cost of such a project would be, but simply giving them a more appealing look to outsiders would immediately quell any sort of negative stigma cast upon them by visitors to the city or waterfront.

That final idea clearly doesn’t qualify as small. Nor would it be quick to carry out. All of these projects cost money, which is never easy to come by for a public project like this. However, as Canalside is set to enter a phase in development that should bring about a glut of new construction projects, ECHDC can keep the small touches on pace while also providing more benchmarks for those who are eagerly awaiting a finished product on the water.

Chris Ostrander opines on Buffalo Sabres hockey and Buffalo development via his blog, Two In The Box.
Follow Chris on Twitter @2ITB_Buffalo

Older Posts »