Redevelopment plan at Aud seeks people

By James Fink

The nearly two-acre hole in downtown Buffalo where Memorial Auditorium once stood could be replaced by more than 200,000-square-feet of mixed-use development space.

The design would play off the replica Erie Canal waterways that will be sitting along its doorstep.

The tentative development plan, unveiled Tuesday during a lengthy Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. meeting, replaces the massive Bass Pro store that had been eyed for the Aud site. Bass Pro dropped plans last summer for the downtown Buffalo store that would have anchored the Canal Side development.

Instead, planners from Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects redefined their vision of what could be built on the Aud site, working off public input and concepts from the ECHDC.

“We looked at what is achievable,” said Hilary Kinder Bertsch, an associate principal with the New York City-based firm.

While the canals, waterfront and public access are deemed critical to redeveloping the site, so is the presence of such magnets as destination retailers and restaurants, Kinder Bertsch said.

The revised vision calls the development of a 150-room hotel, 126,600-square-feet of restaurant and retail space, 46,500-square-feet of office, a 5,500-square-foot visitor center, a 6,500-square-foot transportation center and 140-car parking lot. The property encompasses about 10 percent of the 20-acre Canal Side complex, set for the lower Main Street portion of downtown Buffalo.

Other elements could include a public market along with an outdoor market and room for small food trucks and pop-up tent food and retailing operations.

“This is a market-driven plan,” Kinder Bertsch said. “It’s about getting people down there.”

Jordan Levy, ECHDC chairman, said Benderson Development Co., which is working on bringing tenants to Canal Side, has already started courting potential retailers and restaurants about the Aud property.

“They are talking to small and boutique retailers,” Levy said. “This is where the opportunities lay. We don’t another Subway. We want something unique. The focus is to bring something unique to Buffalo.”

Bids on the canal work will go out later this year. Construction should begin this fall and the canal work should be completed next year.

That work will make it easier for Benderson to land new tenants.

“Still, ultimately, this remains a works in progress,” Levy said.

Buffalo Business First, April 12, 2011