Time to end the Canalside mega events

Canalside-logo1-300x225Last night could have been a disaster.

Tens of thousands of people descended on Canalside, many with children and families in tow, to watch the resplendent July 4th fireworks display on the waterfront. Of course, in accordance with ECHDC tradition, things were delayed, beginning 40 minutes late, due to some “electrical malfunction”.

This morning, we awoke to reports of a panic which caused a stampede of people, rumors of a possible shooting, which has remained unconfirmed, as well as breakout of several fights. Social media was full of stories of panicked parents and traumatized children, overwhelmed security and police giving attendees conflicting directions, and a general picture of a situation which could have resulted in major injuries, or even death.

It’s time to put an end to the showcase events, and the big concerts, at Canalside.

Canalside31Canalside was never intended to be a concert venue, or a staging area for public fireworks events. In the 2004 Master Plan, and again codified in the 2009 Modified General Project Plan (MGPP), Canalside was envisioned as a replication of period style buildings from the district’s heyday, replete with retail, restaurants, residential, entertainment spaces, a possible transportation hub, and ancillary development for the arena nearby, combining commerce with history into a dynamic, one of a kind, historic district which would serve as a live-work-play environment 365 days a year.

So what happened?

In 2010 the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation board enlisted the aid of an out of town consultant with a pedigree of friends from the local preservationist movement, and for a boxcar six figure fee gave us buzzwords such as “flexible lawns”, “triangulation”, and “the power of 10”. And the mantra that emerged from that exercise was one of the biggest frauds ever perpetrated on the citizens of Buffalo – “lighter, quicker, cheaper”.

So instead of setting goals for a world class waterfront, we settled for adirondack chairs, an embarrassing abundance of portable toilets, and now to add even more mess to the district, fiberglass huts, shipping containers that double as concession stands and skate rental offices, and shanties to offer brik-brak and souvenirs. Canalside is a disgrace with its collection of shacks and toilets, but since most of us remember the district as nothing more than emptiness and tumbleweeds, and the marquee infrastructure buildouts have been so nice, namely the central wharf, the cobblestone street grid and the faux canals, we are all calling this a win. It is not a win. It is a disgrace and it doesn’t have to be a disgrace.

The relocation of the popular summer concert series from Lafayette Square to the waterfront has put enormous strain on the infrastructure at Canalside. Simply put, the space is not large enough, or secure enough, to safely accommodate more than 4000-5000 people at one time. Many remember last year’s soaking rains in July, which turned Canalside’s flexible lawns into a river of mud after one Thursday concert. Things are getting torn apart down there, and it’s getting worse.

What needs to happen next is that the ECHDC needs to put an end to the big events at Canalside. Safety and security is a paramount concern for the public, and the development corporation is able to deliver neither. The single perimeter fence is so easy to breach with contraband beverages (and possibly weapons) that it is laughable. The infrastructure, even with hundreds of port-a-potties, is unable to accommodate massive influx and movement of people. Yesterday’s foot stampede, the echoing booms of fireworks off buildings which were mistaken for gunshots, and the late or no reaction by public safety personnel were unacceptable and should never have happened.


The development corporation needs to refocus on its mission statement, and that is to take New York Power Authority relicensing moneys and build out public infrastructure and amenities on the waterfront, which in turn will stimulate private development into the district. That means completing buildout of public access points, completing the lighting project of the grain elevators and bridges, public access to the outer harbor via bridge or bridges, parking and public market structures on the north Aud Block as envisioned in the MGPP. And releasing via request for proposals all the development parcels within the footprint of the Canalside master plan to investors and developers.

Allow me to add one more public project to the list…

A first class waterfront amphitheater, combined with a mid range stadium (5000-8000 seats) to accommodate football and a soccer pitch, seems like a no brainer. These facilities could accommodate the throngs of citizens who have rediscovered our waterfront, and the adjoining amenities with such a project could provide for washrooms, concession stands, security perimeters, parking and public shuttle service. I am not an urban planner, but the woefully underutilized Lasalle Park seems almost too good to be true for such a plan, and offers space eight times larger than all the Canalside parcels combined. The Outer Harbor with its endless open spaces also offer tantalizing possibilities.

People are going to die at a future event if something is not done. We deserve so much more than “lighter, quicker, cheaper”. We deserve a world class waterfront, stretching from Lackawanna northward to Niawanda, that offers something for everybody. It’s time for the ECHDC to end their focus on event presentation and concert management, and concentrate on what they were put in place to do – “develop”. 


Andrew Kulyk covers Buffalo Sabres hockey and Buffalo Bisons baseball for Artvoice, and sometimes opines on politics, items of local interest and development issues. The opinions and commentary contained here are his own. Follow Andrew on Twitter @akulykUSRT.


About the author

Andrew Kulyk

Andrew Kulyk and fellow sports columnist Peter Farrell have been covering Buffalo Sabres hockey and Buffalo Bisons baseball for Artvoice since 2004. Together they comprise a travel project called The Ultimate Sports Road Trip, and have visited over 520 sports arenas, stadiums, and ballparks worldwide through the past two decades. Kulyk is a small business owner based in Tonawanda and Farrell is a letter carrier for the US Postal Service.


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  • Without the ‘lighter, quicker, cheaper’ approach, there would be no incentive to develop the harbor. Changing the reputation and value – social and economic – of an entire part of a city takes community, tax dollars, private investment, and the buy-in of many stakeholders. It simply cannot happen overnight. In my opinion, it took the creative thinking and expertise of Mark Goldman and the group he brought to town in 2010 to make all this possible for Canalside.

    Today, instead of neglected parking lots or big box retail, the people of Western New York (and further afield like my wife and I living in DC) flock to Canalside to stroll, SUP, watch fireworks, learn yoga, ice-skating or attend concerts… and spend time and money. Because of this slow building approach with increasing popular temporary events and leisure activities, it is now a ‘place’ and an increasingly sound investment. It is more desirable and more valuable to developers and investors – and the public. This is just a step in the process – not the final phase.

    You are right the area is ripe for more infrastructure and more permanent development. You are also right that the concerts and events might be better managed or relocated to other, potentially new venues. I even like your idea for LaSalle Park. But you are mistaken if you think Adirondack chairs and porta-johns are all there is. They’re actually the gateway to the buildings to come – making them a real possibility. Updates to the MGPP from 2010, 2012, and 2013 are posted right on the EHDC website. In recent months they’ve issued and awarded RFPs for the Explore & More museum.

    Canalside is a huge win for Buffalo. It’s shortsighted and dismissive to call it otherwise.

  • Did you actually read the article or did you just brush by the headline and decide to post a rant? No one here is suggesting an end to the concert series that has become an important entertainment staple. Because the event has become that popular and is trampling on a district that can no longer accommodate it, I am calling for the planning and construction of a permanent waterfront concert facility and it should be bold and grand – think Boston’s Esplanade or Chicago’s Millennium Park.

    Canalside’s master plan intended the neighborhood to be a mixed use neighborhood, not empty lawn space. This took years to hammer out and involved stakeholders from all walks of life. Why should that be tossed aside now for the sake of 12 Thursday concerts each summer?

    Of course, if you are satisfied with the current arrangement of a temporary stage, temporary speakers and oceans and oceans of portable toilets, well…. that’s great for you. But not for me.

  • How dare you say this is what people want and need when it is literally the only current option available to us for that specific area? It’s not about wanting or needing, it’s making do with what currently exists, and what currently exists could be much better.

  • How dare you say this is what people want and need when it is literally the only current option available to us for that specific area? It’s not about wanting or needing, it’s making do with what currently exists, and what currently exists could be much better.

  • It quite evident by the amount of people who show up to these events that this is precisely what the people want and need. How dare you say that because of a few bad people or a few false reports that the people should quit enjoying life. The city of Buffalo has long awaited having a breath of life from all walks back into the city. I say learn from this and expand it and a plan to evacuate mass numbers of people if the need arises. But don’t live in fear.