Tag Archives: Buffalo Niagara International Airport

Canalside: Statler or BNIA?

21 Oct

How many times can a design be “unveiled?” I count four for Canalside, at least, counting last night.

I’m sure it was a fascinating public discussion last night. But the question on everyone’s minds, that Levy and Dee and Quinn can’t answer, is whether Canalside will be the Statler, or the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Don't you just want to slap that smile off his face?

Don't you just want to slap that smile off his face?

When it comes to positive development in our fair city, collective memories are goldfish short. The list of high price successful development projects may not be as long as some places, but it does exist. Case in point is the wildly successful and completely unappreciated Buffalo Niagara International Airport. If Canalside works as well as the BNIA, we will be doing well.

Constructed in 1997 at an original cost of $187M (total cost has been over $450M over the last 12 years, with a $90M add-on in 1999, and over $50M in upgrades in the last year), the BNIA took too long to build (6 years from plans to construction) and made plenty of people angry. But it has also been wildly successful and fulfilled or exceeded nearly every promise made before its construction. Many new airlines have been attracted to Buffalo, dropping average airfares from one of the highest in the nation to one of the lowest. It took nine years (2006) for passenger counts to hit 5 million, a milestone officials didn’t think they’d reach until 2020. People wondered where the passengers would come from, but with a third now from Canada, and drawing from Rochester and beyond, BNIA has become the hub it was supposed to be (how often do you drive to Rochester to fly out there for cheaper rates?). Even in this economy, passenger counts have stayed high, compared to the rest of the country. And personally, coming from someone who seems to live in airports, compared to the rest of the country we have a sleek, modern, comfortable terminal, with above average food and relatively quick baggage claim (now that the new conveyor system is in place).

The other end of the spectrum, of course, is the Statler Towers (or Peace Bridge, or Buffalo Creek Casino, or other options – take your pick). Over-promised and under-delivered, the centerpiece of the downtown core continues to rot. I don’t need to recount the litany of FAIL here, including bounced checks from the weekend.

So, which model will Canalside be? No matter how hard it tries, it will not be all things to all people. The history will not be historical enough. The architecture will not be hip enough. The restaurants will not be trendy enough. The stores will not be trendy enough. The bars will not be rowdy enough. The walkability will not be easy enough. The parking will not be close enough.

But, if two or three years from now, I have somewhere to buy a new kayak by testing it on the Buffalo River, a new restaurant (sorry Pearl Street Brewery) to go to before Sabres games, and outdoor skating on canals a la Ottawa, it will be a success in my book.

But who is the real big winner? Canadian shoppers. One regular critique I hear is that we are adding hundreds of thousands of square footage of new retail, with no new shoppers willing to venture downtown (a la the airport passengers). I contend that if Canadian shoppers are willing to stream into WNY for the dumpy Walden Galleria and the dumpier Niagara Outlets (the second most visited tourist attraction in Niagara County, behind the Falls), then they will be willing to drive a shorter distance to underground parking at a primo shopping center. Cha-ching, as the ever-complaining Donn Esmonde would say.