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Canal Side Plans Unveiled

ECHDC holds first public hearing on Canal Side development

On Tuesday, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation held a required public hearing to reveal its waterfront development plans to an overflow audience at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Hundreds of people packed the gallery’s auditorium to make their voices heard, and the list of speakers ran more than 60 names. Politicians, neighbors and businesspeople alike voiced mostly support, mixed with some concern for the proposed development.

ECHDC, a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation, has been working for five years on a plan to develop 23 acres of land to expand on the already reconstructed Commercial Slip area. On Tuesday, planners described a vibrant, mixed-use development akin to Baltimore’s waterfront, Boston’s Faneuil Hall, and New York City’s South Street Seaport. Stan Eckstut, the New York City-based lead architect for the plan, says the project re-imagines the “hubbub” of Buffalo during the heyday of the Erie Canal. The proposed area would be pedestrian-friendly and include an indoor market for local food vendors. Mark Tytka, a planner with Parsons Brinckerhoff in Buffalo, says the goal is to “create a memorable, exciting urban location” with Buffalo’s canal heritage as the main draw.

If the preferred plan is accepted, over a million square feet would be available for development by May 2011. The project lines stretch from the already completed Commercial Slip, underneath the Skyway, and across Main Street to Washington Street, where developers will dig a replica of a long-buried section of the Erie Canal. Planners hope to drain the replica canal in the winter and transform it into an ice-skating rink. Some more fanciful elements of the plan include a floating barge for dance performances and an aquarium tube walkway.

Bass Pro, which committed to building a megastore in Buffalo in 2004, remains the project’s anchor business, with plans for a big-box “destination” store on the site of the old Memorial Auditorium. Bass Pro’s Web site has listed Buffalo on its future store list since 2004, but locals continue to wonder why Bass Pro has waited so long to move in and no formal agreement has been signed. Jim Hagale, Bass Pro’s owner, affirmed Tuesday to the Buffalo News that the store will be built, despite the company laying off key planners in recent months and curtailing expansion plans.

Many remain doubtful that Buffalo will ever see the Bass Pro store it has been promised. “Bass Pro, I was originally very skeptical. Today, I’m cautiously optimistic,” says New York State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, who was in attendance. “Their subsidy is very generous. They shouldn’t get any more subsidy.

One of the major points of contention raised Tuesday night is a proposed parking garage at the project’s north end, abutting the entrance to the Marine Drive Apartments, the area’s main residential neighborhood. The apartments house more than 1,000 people and the residents have to contend daily with parking, safety, noise, and air pollution concerns from existing construction projects. Elizabeth Harris, president of the Marine Drive residents council, presented a petition signed by 400 residents opposing the parking garage. “The development needs to be integrated into Marine Drive Apartments, not the other way around,” said Lori Mascia, a resident in the complex.

Tim Tielman, executive director of the non-profit Campaign for Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture, has been vocal about the restoration of this section of waterfront since long before ECHDC took over the redevelopment of the Inner Harbor area in 2004. Tielman supports development on the site, but stresses historical and architectural significance above all. He believes that the current incarnation of the plan is an improvement from 2004, but is still pushing the ECHDC to do more. Tielman believes the “generic environmental impact statement” presented at Tuesday’s hearing “will destroy the greatest resource we have in Western New York.”

Several boaters argued that if the Canal Side development wants to be boat-friendly, it must incorporate provisions for boaters like showers, bathrooms, and pump-out stations.

“Is this plan perfect? Certainly not yet,” said Jordan Levy, chairman of the ECHDC.

The public comment period for the project will be open until 5pm on November 2. Written comments can be submitted to Paul Tronolone at the Empire State Development Corporation, 95 Perry Street, Buffalo, NY, 14203 or by emailing him at

ellen przepasniak

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