Tag Archives: Inner Harbor

Canal Side’s Potential

5 Jul

Yay Shack

Last Friday, Tom Dolina, and I attended the ceremonial ribbon-cutting of the Erie Canal snack shack, ironically dubbed “Clinton’s Dish”. (We’ll have video up shortly.)

Friday’s weather was glorious, and there were hundreds of people outside enjoying the green space right along the boardwalk. The Pride of Baltimore II replica schooner was in town, the naval museum was open, there were some painted Adirondack chairs available for people to relax in – some shady trees helped keep people out of the hot sun – and there was, of course, the shack itself and a small sandy area before representing a “beach”.

It’s obviously a huge improvement over what used to be there, a parking lot, but I was struck by how many people were there given that the only real thing available to do was to just hang out. The shack itself? Perry’s Ice Cream, hamburgers and hot dogs, chips and sodas – usual shack fare, and on opening day it was quite slow and disorganized. It’s nice that it’s there, but it’s sort of a clone of the Hatch.

Reporters listened to the politicians’ pronouncements, and afterwards cornered Congressman Brian Higgins to press him on issues like the Peace Bridge and the federal deficit, and Mayor Byron Brown to press him on the delay with the Naval museum restaurant.

What I wanted to know was – what’s next? The ECHDC has done an awful job of explaining to people and reminding them that, despite all the jokes about the massive self-applause over a somewhat pitiful shack, there’s a lot more to come. Again – people were there with nothing to do; imagine if there was something to do. Imagine if there were shops and a public market, perhaps a few restaurants and bars, or a gallery or museum space. There is such huge potential there, and you kind of have to go down there on a nice day to be reminded of it.

One thing that stood out – when standing around on the boardwalk by the water, the Skyway is absolutely a non-issue. There was negligible traffic noise, and it was far enough overhead that I didn’t even think about it until I consciously sought it out to observe it. It’ll be nice to someday be rid of it, and it’ll be nice to have the at-grade crossing to the Outer Harbor, but its removal is not a prerequisite to developing and enjoying the Canal Side area.

I was also struck by the fact that a snack shack and some deck chairs were, so far, the net sum of the six-figures paid to Fred Kent and his traveling crowdsourcing circus. That right there is some taxpayer money that is owed back to the people.

So, we asked ECHDC President Tom Dee and Congressman Brian Higgins to remind us what’s coming next. When are the RFPs? Why don’t we just sell off the parcels to private developers and let them do what they want, within design and engineering regulations? What is the benefit of having one unified developer at Canal Side versus several different developers, or one for each parcel.

Coming Soon (?)

The snack shack doesn’t deserve the hype it got. We ought not pat ourselves on the back for things that should have already existed – for no-brainers. We should get excited about the stuff that’s coming and frustrated by the fact that the banners had until recently touted Canal Side opening in May 2011. Well, the newly-cobbled streets are open, but we’ve got a glut of cobbled streets with little to do around them down in that area.

The snack shack is definitely anticlimactic.

But, it may bring you down there and you may enjoy a nice stroll along the water, or take a seat in the “sunset chairs” and hang out. As you do so, imagine how great it’ll be in a few years when the city blocks between you and the HSBC tower have re-watered replica canals and loads of shops and restaurants.  Seriously, it will be great.

As for the process, the ECHDC is talking about building an underground parking garage underneath the Canal Side development. The area needs it, and the tenants will demand it. By placing it underground, you keep it out-of-sight and it doesn’t become a blight on the area. I predict that this will be the next major source of conflict and strife over the coming months, but a refusal to implement underground ramps will only result in the perpetuation and further propagation of private surface lots in the nearby areas.  That’s something we don’t need.

Placemaking: Canal Side Buffalo

30 Mar

Fred Kent of the PPS

On March 29, 2011, Fred Kent of the Partnership for Public Spaces donned LL Bean gear and presented to the assembled crowd of about 400 people the proposals developed by three distinct citizens’ committees set up by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation.  The PowerPoint itself is shown immediately below, and I took several photographs which are featured below, culminating in a view one gets at 6:30 pm while exiting the HSBC Arena.  If you’ve been following Andrew Kulyk’s posts comparing Canal Side with other arenas throughout the country, you’ll find that quite infuriating.

I’m not 100% sold on “lighter, quicker, cheaper”. It all sounds like a lot of hocus-pocus, none of it ever having been subjected to any objective studies, and it’s astonishing that the development of four or five city blocks (not including the Outer Harbor or Buffalo River areas) can cause such consternation and controversy. I get the sense from some of this that we’re throwing stuff at the wall to see if it will stick on the one hand, and selling our waterfront short on the other.  I like some of the ideas (marketplace, bistro, toilets) but detest others (“flexible lawn?” “multi-use square?” “central square?”). Frankly, open space and green space doesn’t seem like much of a draw or improvement to me.

Kent talked about “triangulation” (“Triangulation is the process by which some external stimulus provides a linkage between people and prompts strangers to talk to other strangers as if they knew each other”) and the “power of ten“; ten destinations with ten places with ten things to do will naturally bring people. That sounds great, but he admitted in the next breath that that theory has never been tested. So, WTF? How much is this guy getting paid for this?  And what’s such a great draw about a lawn under the Skyway? Are two lawns better?

Four takeaways for me:

1. Kent said, “people attract people, cars attract cars”.  That got a predictable round of applause from the assembled car-haters. Problem is, cars bring people. That’s just a fact.

2. That area has been open space for decades. I don’t believe that simply making the open space under the Skyway prettier is the highest and best use for that property.

3. The Mayor of the City of Buffalo was nowhere to be seen. There were almost 500 people in downtown Buffalo to talk about developing the waterfront, and Mayor Brown was a no-show. In mentioning this to someone, we remarked that we didn’t expect him to come.  That’s somewhat sad. Brown didn’t need to give a speech or grandstand or insert himself into the process.  But it would have been nice if he had been present for the event and to chat with attendees, to have shown an interest.

4. This process is almost a decade old, and even with the advent of ECHDC, the three waterfront districts still haven’t figured out who owns what, who controls what parcels, and what parcels need serious environmental remediation. Tick tock, folks.

There were some good ideas, and the PPS presentation didn’t quite make clear that the committees were charged with coming up with ideas that can be implemented very quickly – by this summer or next. These don’t appear to be permanent plans for redevelopment of Canal Side, an effort that continues until the canals – faux thought they may be – are re-watered, the Donovan Building is brought down, and the entire district is shovel-ready to be made awesome.




About 3/4 of the crowd


Fred Kent addresses the crowd


Flexible Lawn: Inner Harbor


Multi-Use Market: Inner Harbor




Inner Harbor - click to enlarge


Do Not Demolish! Click to enlarge


Grain elevators: click to enlarge


WHERE IS IT?! Click to enlarge


Woof? Click to enlarge


Just relocate them! All done problems! Click to enlarge.


Passive-aggressive notes dot com: click to enlarge


Shut down the Skyway: click to enlarge


Don't forget!: click to enlarge


Green dot: Click to enlarge


As it stands now. Click to enlarge.


As it stands now. Click to enlarge.

Buffalo’s Waterfront: The Pause that Refreshes

16 Nov

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation has agreed to Mark Goldman’s call for a pause, and set up some public hearing times and dates.  If you want to see the “modified plan” being tabled, click here.  The ECHDC’s press release follows:

ECHDC Tables Vote on Modified Plan, Announces a Series of Open Houses

General Public invited to attend sessions and provide input into waterfront development plans

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) announced today that it will delay its vote on the Canal Side Modified General Project Plan (MGPP.) The MGPP emphasizes the development of public infrastructure on the Aud Block, including a series of public canals, walkways and a parking garage. In order to solicit more input from members of the Western New York community, ECHDC will be sponsoring a series of open houses over the next two weeks.

The open houses will begin Wednesday, November 17, 2010 and continue through Wednesday, November 24, 2010. For two hours on each of those days, the public will be invited to participate in a public session that will be attended by representatives from ECHDC. These sessions, which will be simulcast on the web and transcribed, will allow the public an opportunity to convey their ideas and opinions regarding waterfront development.

“Our goal is to provide the community with a forum to express their views,” said ECHDC Chairman Jordan Levy. “These new sessions have grown out of the feedback we have received from the community and an opportunity for the citizens of Western New York to make their opinions known directly to ECHDC, without any filter. Coming on the heels of our successful public hearings, we wanted to extend the opportunity for both ourselves and for members of the community to continue this dialogue before any decisions are made. Board members will be provided with transcripts from these sessions in advance of the final vote on the MGPP, and it is my expectation that they will use them as a resource to aid in their decision. The members of the ECHDC board are stewards of public resources and public dollars and they seek to be fully informed as they weigh their vote.”

In addition to the open house sessions, ECHDC will conduct a series of meetings with elected officials and community leaders which will include invited representatives from several leading Western New York organizations and advocacy groups. Stanton Eckstut, the master architect for Canal Side, and a nationally recognized innovator in public design, will also attend these sessions in order to fully inform them of the development that ECHDC is proposing on the Inner Harbor.

The schedule for the open house sessions will be as follows:

·        Wednesday, November 17, 2010, 2:00-4:00 p.m.

·        Thursday, November 18, 2010, 5:00-7:00 p.m.

·        Friday, November 19, 2010, 2:00-4:00 p.m.

·        Monday, November 22, 2010, 10:00-12:00 p.m.

·        Tuesday, November 23, 2010, 5:00-7:00 p.m.

·        Wednesday, November 24, 2010, 10:00-12:00 p.m.

The sessions will be held at the offices of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, 95 Perry St., Suite 500, Buffalo, NY 14203. There is free, two-hour parking on Mississippi St. on the side of the building.

Anyone who is interested in presenting their ideas to ECHDC, but is unable to attend one of the public sessions is encouraged to contact:

Erich Weyant, Assistant Director, Communications

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.
95 Perry St., Suite 500, Buffalo, NY  14203
716.846.8262 fax

“It remains our intention to make certain that Canalside is a model for world class re-development projects across America.  It was our intention when we began this project almost nine years ago to build a place that Buffalonians and all people from throughout Western New York will be proud of and will take full advantage of for generations to come. Adding a few more weeks to the schedule can only serve to help us to achieve that objective” said Levy.

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation is a subsidiary agency of Empire State Development Corporation whose vision is to revitalize Western New York’s waterfront and restore economic growth to Buffalo based on the region’s legacy of pride, urban significance and natural beauty.

Waterfront – Everyone Relax

16 Nov

Norstar Rendering of the Outer Harbor: 2005

WestEnd (Jerde/Ciminelli) Plan for the Outer Harbor

Buffalo Lakefront Development

While Mark Goldman and the “Canal Side Community Alliance” call for a four month “pause” in the Canal Side development project, I thought it a perfect time to revisit Buffalo’s other waterfront – the outer harbor.

Back in 2005, when the concept of “New Buffalo” had caused otherwise perfectly normal, Buffalonians to temporarily replace cynicism with “hope”, the NFTA solicited bids from three development groups to answer the question, “what the hell do we do with the outer harbor?”

At the time, the NFTA was in its fifth decade of controlling (read: neglecting) the windswept ruins of Buffalo’s Lake Erie waterfront.  Shown above are the three forgotten, scrubbed-from-the-website proposals for the NFTA’s outer harbor.  This was a time when the last half-assed proposal had been Joel Giambra’s “E-Zone” tented amusement park nonsense.

The images above represent – from top to bottom – the three plans. Norstar’s emphasis was on green space;  the WestEnd proposal was a reasonable mixed use development; and then there was the Buffalo Lakefront Development plan, which I derisively termed the “everything but an elevator to the moon” plan.  It included a 3,500 room convention hotel, a 300,000 SF convention center,  (the current one has only 110,000 SF), a 500,000 SF “festival pavilion,” 200,000 SF of Class A office space, and a 215,000 SF sports center.  Just what a shrinking city with dysfunctional state authorities, a horribly ineffective city government, and fights to the death over the smallest development plan needs.

Seriously, you have to see the whole thing in detail to believe it. Click below.

Click to enlarge

What we’ve got on the waterfront now are mistakes that can’t be undone, and I think people want to be exquisitely careful to not make the next 100-year screw-up.  So, while we can’t do anything beyond cosmetic with the Marine Drive blight, we have some plots of shovel-ready (or soon-to-be-shovel-ready) land that were all set for a bait shop that isn’t coming.

On the one hand, we have an ECHDC that has a plan that is missing a huge puzzle piece. On the other hand, we have the “Community Alliance,” which is railing against “faux canals” and underground parking.

Well, maybe we don’t need faux canals anymore.  But I’ll tell you that no matter what ends up down at Canal Side, it’ll need some parking.  And if it’s going to need some parking, might as well do it underground.  And if you’re going to do underground parking, might as well do it now, before you figure out what will go above it.

Five years after the NFTA decided that it absolutely lurved the elevator-to-the-moon plan, and subsequently did nothing about it, the only thing that’s happened out there has been improvements to the waterfront, a walkway, and the much-improved Fuhrmann Boulevard, and access to it from Route 5.  There is no plan, no developer for the outer harbor.  There isn’t even so much as a street grid, zoning, or utility service there.  Because that’s what government ought to do – ready the area for future growth, not create artificial “growth” out of whole cloth.

Likewise, the inner harbor is in a state of flux now that the anchor tenant idea seems stalled.  Bass Pro is gone, and there’s no one lined up to replace it.  I don’t think there’s an anchor tenant worth pursuing for that spot.  Without the anchor tenant, the Benderson mixed-use plan is probably due for a re-think.  So, ECHDC should plan to re-create the street grid that existed before the Aud and the Donovan.  It should pave them, zone the resulting lots, add utility service, and let people put in whatever they want.  Let people buy the property and build on it.  Set up very stringent design criteria for any buildings so we don’t have a waterfront packed with beige Dollar Generals and TJ Maxxes.

I think everyone can get on board with that.

Finally, the issue is – without the anchor tenant, how do you draw people to the waterfront?  How do you get businesses to build? Why would tenants open there? Why would people from the city come down there on a snowy day?  How do you get suburbanites or Canadians to take a detour downtown as opposed to the Niagara Outlets or the Walden Galleria?

You turn the downtown area under the jurisdiction of the ECHDC into a sales-tax-free zone.  That 8.75% discount on almost everything would be a big draw.  ECHDC ought do an RFP for property maintenance and security services to ensure an appealing and safe day or night out.

This stuff isn’t all that complicated, and it doesn’t need to be ridiculously expensive for taxpayers.  The last thing the waterfronts need is more decades-long delays because everyone wants to turn what should be reasonable discussions into Albanian mountain blood feuds.

Mark Goldman & the Waterfront

15 Nov

In a taped video message, local developer and activist Mark Gold man says, “We need to let the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp know that we have deep reservations about their plan to spend in excess of $40 m. to build faux canals and a parking ramp on the Inner Harbor. And we need to let them know by Monday Nov 15th, their decision day.”