Canal Side architect asks Common Council to reimagine the waterfront

By Brian Meyer

The architect for Canal Side met with Common Council members today and encouraged them to reimagine the waterfront as a people-packed destination that offers a variety of activities.

Today’s presentation in City Hall was the first time most lawmakers reviewed preliminary designs. In their meeting with architect Stanton Eckstut, Council members were briefed on both short-term and long-term plans for Buffalo’s inner harbor.

The Council plays a key role in waterfront planning. Lawmakers still must approve some land transfers that are tied to the development plan.

The meeting followed a recent decision by planners to advance a revised development model that focuses on “lighter, faster, cheaper” strategies for attracting people to the waterfront.

Jordan Levy, chairman of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., said there will be more than 300 events staged along the waterfront this season. He said tens of thousands of people are expected to attend a Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor concert series. Performers will include the Tragically Hip, Elvis Costello and Alice Cooper.

Water will be the main focus on Canal Side in both warm and cold weather, Eckstut told lawmakers. For example, he said ice skating will be a major feature in an attraction that will be four times the size of the world-famous Rockefeller Center in New York City.

“This is a real skaters’ paradise that we’re talking about providing here,” the architect said.

Other plans include building bridges, barges and stairwells that aim to capture the feel of Buffalo’s historic Canal District. A water taxi would carry pedestrians and bicyclists to various destinations.

There would be a number of restaurants and small shops on the site. Eckstut said planners also are reviewing the feasibility of cultivating other retail operations.

“Another consideration is to bring a public market — maybe the Broadway Market, potentially. This could be the Broadway Market on the canal,” Eckstut said.

But he was quick to add that he realizes such a plan could create problems, adding that no one wants to see other entities go out of business. He stressed that planners are merely exploring different options for some type of market — either an indoor or outdoor facility.

Planners also are meeting with various cultural groups that are interested in having a waterfront presence, Levy said. One such group is promoting a weather museum.

In the long term, planners hope to see a hotel developed at the inner harbor.

In earlier discussions, some Council members underscored the importance of having extensive public input in the Canal Side planning process. Levy said nearly 100 volunteers currently are serving on numerous review panels.

“We’re excited, enthusiastic about all the volunteers. The input has been terrific,” Levy said.

Council members gave favorable reviews to the Canal Side presentation. Waterfront Committee Chairman Michael P. Kearns of South said he’s pleased that some “achievable” development steps are being taken.

“You have to start somewhere, and this is a good beginning,” Kearns said.

Masten representative Demone A. Smith called it a “very impressive presentation.”

Meanwhile, waterfront planners continue to meet with local activists in hopes of finalizing a community development agreement that would include provisions involving labor and environmental issues.

The Canal Side Community Alliance has been negotiating the agreement with the agency. Alliance representative Michaela Shapiro-Shellaby said despite some “frustrating bumps,” the group is heartened by the progress that is being made. She told lawmakers she is hopeful a pact will be finalized in a couple months.

The Buffalo News, April 29, 2011