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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Buffalo bets onits waterfront
Once a symbol of American urban blight, the Lake Erie city has ambitious plans for its waterfront, backed by heavy dollops of federal and state funding.
27 May 2007
The Toronto Star

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- If nothing else, Larry Quinn is an optimist. "You look out that window, what do you see?" he asks, pointing northward from his desk. "The natural geography - okay, maybe there's 10 places in the world more beautiful. So we're top 20. Period. That's an incredible asset."

To be clear: Quinn, the managing partner of the Buffalo Sabres, is in his office at the HSBC Center. On the waterfront. In Buffalo.

You'd be forgiven a double-take. In the annals of post-industrial urban disasters, Buffalo has long played the unwanted role of runner-up to Detroit, less a city now than a comprehensive metaphor for urban blight.

It wasn't an arbitrary distinction. Buffalo's mid-century heyday made it a thriving centre for industrial commerce, from steelmaking to grain milling to its role as a significant transport hub for goods coming and going along the Erie Canal, the historic waterway that linked New York City to the Great Lakes. It was also the way station for many of the country's pioneers, many of whom passed through Buffalo's waterways on their journey to points unknown to settle the West.

But that, as they say, is history. Buffalo's maritime importance began to wane not long after the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959 and by the 1970s, with Lake Erie reduced to a large-scale toxic cesspool, dozens of factories in the region closed, throwing unemployment rates to near Depression-era heights. The city hollowed out. Its population plummetted from an historic high of roughly 600,000 to 358,000 by 1982. It sits at about 280,000 today.

It has been a precipitous fall from the city's mid-century nickname, the City of Lights, to the unofficial and widely popular slogan perpetuated by Buffalo artist Michael Margolis: "Buffalo: City of No Illusions."

But for Quinn, the volunteer vice-chair of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, that downward spiral can be history now, too. Just outside his window lies the Canal's terminus, a weighty symbol of a grand Buffalo past - and, in Quinn's view, a lifeline to the future.

As Toronto continues to creep steadily forward on its waterfront redevelopment plan - the master scheme for the foot of the Don River and Portlands, released just a month ago, is still several years away from starting - Buffalo has already begun building what it hopes will be the anchor of a reinvigorated waterfront.

Called Canalside, it builds on the site of the old Erie Canal terminus, complete with heritage designations, a marine museum and residential and commercial development. The first phases will open in August. What's more, the development, set at $275 million (U.S.), has been pushed forward by a network of funding from federal, state and civic coffers totalling $136.5 million, with the rest for retail, condos, a hotel and offices being courted from the private sector and expected to come online this year.

The canal, left dry for decades, has been refilled with water, with a mind to running pleasure boats in the inner harbour. A bowstring bridge, a revived fragment of Buffalo's lost past, will connect Canalside to the outer harbour where a residential district will line the Buffalo River, giving way to vast expanses of parkland and beaches reclaimed from the brown fields.

It's not the first time this has been tried, of course. Quinn remembers a plan hatched by the Adelphia Communications Corp. in 1999, with spindly white high-rises spiked evenly along the inner harbour. "It looked like Key Biscayne, Florida," he says with a smirk. "And that's just not Buffalo."

What is more Buffalo, perhaps, is that the plan fell apart, largely because Adelphia's top officials were indicted on fraud charges in 2002. It wasn't the first time a waterfront plan had vaporized, either. The Preservation Coalition of Erie County, a citizens' group, stalled waterfront development on the canal site in 1999 with a lawsuit that said the canal's historic integrity was being violated. ("Development by lawsuit is kind of a Buffalo rite," shrugs Chuck Rosenow, executive director of the ECHDC, and Quinn's colleague.)

What is also very Buffalo - and very Toronto, for that matter - is a deeply-ingrained sense that a flourishing waterfront is intrinsic the city's morale. Mayor Byron Brown acknowledged as much when he chose to spend his first day in office in January, 2006, touring the inner harbour

"This city has been talking about waterfront redevelopment for 50 years or more," says Brown, in his office at Buffalo City Hall, a stately 1932 Art Deco skyscraper clad in limestone and terra cotta. "It's been frustrating. But we really do feel like we're on the rise again."

A mural in the city hall's grand entrance proclaims Buffalo to be the "Queen City" - ruler of the Great Lakes. It has been a long time since that was true. Abandoned warehouses and saloons throughout Buffalo's sprawling 1,497 hectares (3,700 acres) of portlands have long-since been razed, giving way to expanses of long lake grasses and rubble.

At the Swannie House, a century-old bar built for dockworkers - one of the few that survived - Chris Hirestetter, bear-like and garrulous, remembers the bad old days.

"I'd park my car down here and the paint would peel off," he recalls, sipping a pint of Rolling Rock beer. "Thirty years ago, you wouldn't believe the pollution. I'd pick my buddies up at the steel mill at midnight, and you can't even believe what they'd dump in the lake when no one was looking."

It's not like that now. Lake Erie's toxic past is but an ugly memory, its water now deemed fit for swimming and sport-fishing. Mid-afternoon on a warm spring day, a faint, sweet stench hangs in the air - baking Cheerios at the General Mills plant, one of the few active industrial sites left. Along the channel, the husks of old factories, their windows blown out, loom ghostlike in a gauzy shroud.

Hirestetter has heard all the grand plans. He sips his beer and shakes his head. "I've been coming down here for 30 years, and nothing's changed," he says. "And nothing is going to change, either, because they can't line enough pockets."

He can be forgiven his cynicism. Buffalonians, like Torontonians, have been waiting a long time for something, anything, to happen on their waterfront. The mayor, though, insists that this time it's different.

For one, there's the $200 million (U.S.) from a re-licensing settlement with the New York Power Authority that's now being funnelled into the waterfront. Coupled with federal and state support, large portions of waterfront are already being reclaimed for parks and recreation, while residential developments in the historic Cobblestone district are well underway.

In all, more than $1 billion has already been committed to the waterfront over the next five to 10 years in an array of projects large and small.

"There's no question, it languished for a long, long time," the mayor says. "The city was looking for mega-projects, the home run. It was looking for the silver bullet that, in one fell swoop, would completely transform the waterfront, and the fortunes of this community. And it just didn't happen.

"Now, finally, we have the resources to jump-start waterfront development, and it's moving forward aggressively."

A little too aggressively for some. Canalside may be well-financed, but it remains contentious to a raft of citizens' groups who complain that the development is a sell-out of the city's history for commercialization.

In the proprosed development, Bass Pro, a major retailer of sport-fishing and boating equipment, is slated to be the anchor tenant at Canalside's waterfront. ("If we've been criticized, I guess it's because we're not as public-input friendly as some people would like us to be," Quinn shrugs.)

At a symposium in Buffalo last week, Chris Glaisek, Toronto Waterfront's vice-president for planning and design, had a ringside seat to the ongoing battle.

"I didn't know much about it until I arrived and saw everybody yelling at each other," says Glaisek, who was invited as a keynote speaker to outline Toronto's waterfront projects.

"It just goes to show you that there's controversy about waterfront development everywhere," he sighs. "It's endemic in this era."

Toronto has had no shortage of controversy concerning its vast waterfront plans, the most recent of which being the announced construction of a series of condominium towers on the site of former Marine Terminal 27, at the foot of Yonge Street.

But where Toronto's problem tends to be too much capital and too many developers vying for too few sites, the issue in Buffalo is just the opposite.

Economic devastation left much of downtown desolate.

Buildings emptied out and were left to rot. Many - too many, hindsight suggests - were razed, like Frank Lloyd Wright's historic Larkin Building. As recently as two years ago, Main Street, once the city's thriving urban stroll, was a jumble of empty office buildings and rubble fields.

"It was bombed out," says Tim Wanamaker, the executive director of the city's strategic planning office. "Full of vacant buildings. It was very, very depressed."

But quickly, that's changed. As the city has lured a clutch of health-care giants, the makeover of downtown - a veritable museum of American architecture with a park system by Frederic Law Olmsted and buildings by Wright and Louis Sullivan, among others - is well underway. The massive Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus has helped anchor a rejuvenation that has seen dozens of heritage restorations underway all over downtown, whether as retrofit condominiums or office space. And a new office tower - Buffalo's first in 20 years - is now under construction as well.

One young developer from Manchester, U.K., bought the Statler Building, once a stately, 1,100-room downtown hotel that has become a mostly-vacant office building. He plans to put $80 million into restoring it to its former glory.

But all is not rosy. At least, not yet.

Robert Shibley is the director of the University of Buffalo's Urban Design Project. The city's wounds may have been cauterized, he says, but it's not done bleeding. "We're still losing population. We have a huge infrastructure of vacant land and weak neighbourhoods. And the demographics aren't great."

Shibley was courted from Oregon in 1982, when Buffalo was bottoming out. "The pitch to me was to come here because it has every problem in the world you'd ever want to study. It's small enough to get your arms around and you're only an hour and a half from Toronto," he laughs.

"Every day you'd pick up the paper and there'd be another insurance fire on the east side. We were losing housing stock, and population, very, very quickly. It was grim. It was very grim. But at the same time, it was challenging."

Shibley has been an important voice in the city's incremental revival. He was a key figure in creating the Queen City Hub Plan in 1999, which called for a $1 billion investment by 2010 in five strategic areas. The waterfront was one of them. The team reached that amount of pledged funding by late last year, split about 60/40 between public and private.

"But I really believe this city is pregnant, and ready to deliver," he says. "And to be part of a renaissance like this is just hugely satisfying."

He's surrounded by aerial images and maps of the Niagara region, of which he's made an earnest study for 25 years. And while he's yet to give his wholehearted support to Canalside, he's encouraged by the forward motion.

"I'm not quite ready to make it the silver bullet," he says, smiling. "But it's an important next priority. You look at the mix of activities on that waterfront, and you have to say 'of course.'"

Canalside is not out of the woods. Recent changes to the plan raised the ire of community groups, and talk of another lawsuit is in the air.

But Quinn, it can be fairly said, is an optimist. On an otherwise-brilliant morning - his Sabres having just lost to the Senators - Quinn plays tour guide along the waterfront's eastern edge, where a collection of abandoned concrete grain elevators looms out of the icy spring water, towering over a collection of clapboard homes adjacent to a small lagoon. Concrete Alley, Quinn calls it. "It's not the pyramids," he says. "But it's pretty impressive."

Built just after the turn of the century, the elevators stored grain until it was ready to be loaded onto ships for points east and overseas. They're monuments to the past, but also a harbinger of a brighter future. A local group, RiverWright Energy, recently won approval to convert at least one of the silos into an $80-million ethanol plant. More jobs, more activity, more hope. On a small landing facing the silos, two men cast lines into the water. A lake trout, still young, is hauled to land within moments.

"Clean enough to drink," chuckles another man, squat and balding, missing a few teeth. He's a former iron worker, he says, retired now, at 79. Buffalo, past and future, are different places, he says. Like any Buffalonian, he's equals parts optimist and cynic. "Once they start that waterfront ..., " he begins, and folds his arms, shaking his head. "But you probably won't hear anything about that for another 20 years."

"Nah," says Quinn smiling, eyeing the elevators, sunlight bouncing off the sparkling waters to dance on their concrete girth. "It'll happen. You watch."Once a symbol of American urban blight, the Lake Erie city has ambitious plans for its waterfront, backed by heavy dollops of federal and state funding.

Premium Member
79,182 Posts
The Toronto Star was killing itself the other day because of this exact situation. Buffalo's revitalized its waterfront before Toronto has even broken the ground.
Toronto's waterfront revitalization is well underway, even if people here prefer to pretend nothing has happened yet. Buffalo has a very long way to go for both waterfront and downtown revitalization, so I think the Star needs a dash of reality.

Proud Torontonian
1,421 Posts
Toronto's waterfront revitalization is well underway, even if people here prefer to pretend nothing has happened yet. Buffalo has a very long way to go for both waterfront and downtown revitalization, so I think the Star needs a dash of reality.
I wouldn't disagree with you. But I think we can all agree that Toronto should have taken advantage of its waterfront placement a long, long time ago. It's just too geographically blessed in terms of being right on Lake Ontario to have waited this long.

5,767 Posts
Buffalo's revitalized its waterfront before Toronto has even broken the ground.

Uh...there's nothing revitalized about Buffalo (waterfront or otherwise). Have you ever been there?

I think it's great that Buffalo "plans" on doing something, but it is after all...Buffalo...good luck. The little it has built, pales in comparison with what Toronto has already done, and is dwarfed by what Toronto will be doing.

Toronto's "waterfront" being talked about here, is just the eastern part of the Inner Harbour...known as the East Bayfront/Portlands. The rest of Toronto's "waterfront" is quite nice. As for the East Bayfront/Portlands, it is a conservatively estimated $17 billion project compared to Buffalo's.

I don't mean to rag on Buffalo, but to use the city for some kind of journalistic blackmail to prod Toronto by pretending Buffalo is "putting it to shame" in some way is just silly. But I do find it is a common tactic in the papers here (Hume being the gold medal winner in this catagory).


142,811 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Developers submit plans for waterfront
By Sharon Linstedt, The Buffalo News
McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
11 December 2007

Dec. 11--Three local development groups are vying for the opportunity to fill in the last residential space in Buffalo's Waterfront Village, along the Erie Basin Marina.

The City of Buffalo's Office of Strategic Planning fielded proposals from Benderson Development Co., Savarino Cos. and Waterfront Medical Professionals, a group of doctors that is partnering with the McGuire Development Co.

Strategic Planning chief Timothy Wanamaker confirmed the receipt of the three plans for development of the L-shaped, 2.4-acre site off Lakefront Boulevard, adjacent to the Portside condominium development.

"We extended the original deadline to ensure that each developer had enough time to put together a quality proposal for the prime waterfront parcels," Wanamaker said. "We look forward to reviewing each of the diverse proposals and making a decision that is the best fit for the area."

The city had set an early November deadline for submissions, but the process was pushed back to Monday.

Benderson Development, a company best known for its national retail development, proposes to build a 60-to-70-unit condominium complex. Benderson representatives did not return phone calls for comment regarding its high-rise, tower-based project.

The Buffalo-founded company, which is now headquartered in Florida, is proposing residential space as part of the Canal Side/ Bass Pro Shops project on the city's Inner Harbor, and at the Buffalo Shooting Club redevelopment in Amherst.

The proposal from Waterfront Medical Professionals LLC/McGuire Group calls for construction of two residential buildings.

An 18-unit, five-story luxury condominium building would be built slightly back from the water, with units priced in the $600,000 to $785,000 range. An eight-unit, townhouse-style structure would go up closer to Lakefront Boulevard, with price tags of between $250,000 and $350,000 per dwelling.

McGuire Group President James Dentinger said the group of local doctors is behind what he described as an "end userdriven" project.

"They believe people whose jobs are tied to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus want to live in the city, especially on the waterfront. That's the target market for this project," said Dentinger.

Buffalo-based Savarino Cos. submitted a plan for 18 two-story units that includes greenspace along the edge of the Erie Basin Marina.

"We tried to be mindful of what the existing residents have said they'd prefer," said principal Sam Savarino. "We've paid attention to sight-lines, greenspace and density, while coming up with a viable product."

The units, which would be priced in the $400,000 to $600,000 price range, would all have first-floor master bedrooms and two-car garages. Savarino's resume includes development of the luxury residences at 50 Waterfront Circle, as well serving as contractor for Gull Landing and Marina Park in Waterfront Village.

Richard DaVita, who was rebuffed in 2005 when he approached the city with a 12-unit condo plan, is a partner in the Savarino project. Earlier this month, the city received plans for commercial projects for a 1.5-acre site next to Shanghai Red's restaurant. Designated developers for both projects are expected to be selected in early 2008, with a construction target of late next year, or early 2009.

1,276 Posts
Waterfront Place up to 10 floors yet?

How is the inner harbor doing? Last I saw, the canal was being finished and some buildings are being finished.

Is the Aud coming down in 2008? I know they have the funding.

How about the planes for a weather museum on the outer harbor? Are those still real?

142,811 Posts
Discussion Starter · #12 ·
New $13.5 million nature trail opens along reclaimed Lake Erie shoreline in Buffalo
14 August 2008

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - A stretch of Buffalo's Lake Erie waterfront used as a dumping ground for a century has been turned into a more than 1-mile-long nature trail.

The former brownfield at the city's outer harbor opened Thursday after $13.5 million in mostly state funds was spent to transform it into the Greenway Nature Trail.

The 6,400-foot-long paved path is 13 feet wide and connects with an existing bike path near the shoreline.

The property, owned by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, was used as a dump from the 1870s to 1986. Workers removed contaminated soil, laid down new earth, cleared debris and fortified the shoreline to prevent erosion.

The project is part of ongoing efforts to revitalize Buffalo's waterfront with new housing, retail shops and parks.

142,811 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Group wants Buffalo waterfront plan changed
8 August 2008

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - An environmentalist group says Buffalo is going about redeveloping part of its waterfront wrong and went to federal court Friday as part of its push for a new design.

The Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper group wants the state Department of Transportation to alter the design of an $80 million construction project already under way on the Outer Harbor on Lake Erie, saying it wastes lakefront land and doesn't do enough to improve access to the water.

"We've waited so long for a positive, attractive and forward-thinking waterfront project," Julie Barrett O'Neill, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, said at the construction site Friday. "Let's not have our children and grandchildren look back in 50 years and say `What were they thinking?'"

Papers filed in a U.S. District Court Friday as part of an existing lawsuit ask a judge to order a supplemental environmental review.

Buffalo's historically underutilized waterfront consists of an inner harbor and outer harbor, both of which are in line for major new development, including housing, shopping and parkland.

The current Outer Harbor plans call for a four-lane tree-lined parkway to replace a confusing configuration of one-way streets, while lowering but leaving in place an existing parallel roadway to handle trucks and other traffic.

The Riverkeeper group is instead proposing a single four-lane boulevard, saying it will free up 77 more acres of prime waterfront land.

"According to traffic estimates, we need four lanes to carry the traffic that goes through this corridor. Right now were looking at having eight lanes," said Barrett O'Neill, who said the sale of the land would offset any cost increases to the project.

While she said the revised plans would not require additional state or federal funding or delay construction, a DOT spokesman said the change would be costly and time-consuming, and ignore 10 years of planning.

"We would have to go back and redesign the road, do all the changes that would be required from what we are actually building right now, which was the result of more than 10 years of public hearings and a process that we think results in a road that meets the vision the community had for what they wanted to see develop along the Outer Harbor," DOT spokesman Charles Carrier said.

U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, a proponent of the original plan, said the Riverkeeper alternative would result in "permanent, irreversible damage" by creating a congested boulevard on which commercial truck traffic vies for space with low-speed automobile drivers out for a scenic drive.

"The parkway plan, which is under construction now, is the best plan to balance recreational access and private development," Higgins said.

The Riverkeepers, along with the Preservation Coalition of Erie County, two Common Council members and two other groups, filed their lawsuit in U.S. District Court in January against the DOT and the Federal Highway Administration seeking to force the change. The defendants have until Sept. 12 to respond to the papers filed Friday.

"If we make a mistake here, we won't get a second chance," South District Council member Michael Kearns, a plaintiff in the Riverkeeper suit, said in a statement. "Good infrastructure leads to good development. Our Outer Harbor has the potential for good infrastructure that will lead to great, historic development if we make the right choices."

3,837 Posts
buffalo is size of a casablanca suburb it is so small

142,811 Posts
Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Buffalo seeks $90M in federal stimulus funds for harbor bridge project
21 September 2009

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Officials in Buffalo are seeking tens of millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds to pay for a new bridge connecting the city's downtown to its Lake Erie waterfront.

Supporters of the plan say the city is applying for $90 million in federal grants to pay for the project.

Congressman Brian Higgins and Mayor Byron Brown plan to outline the plan Monday.

The plan calls for building a lift bridge over the Buffalo River near where it empties into the city's harbor.

Higgins says the bridge project is the next step in the ongoing revitalization of Buffalo's waterfront district.

Work continues on converting a 3-mile stretch of a boulevard into a parkway offering easy access to the waterfront.


Information from: The Buffalo News

142,811 Posts
Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Development agency OK's scaled-down plan for Buffalo, NY's Lake Erie waterfront project
30 November 2010

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - The developers of Buffalo's Lake Erie waterfront project are scaling down their plans now that a major retailer is no longer the focus of revitalization efforts.

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. has approved a modified plan for the $30 million project that will feature new sidewalks and bridges along the original path of the Erie Canal.

Last summer, Springfield, Mo.-based Bass Pro Outdoor Shops that it was scrapping plans to build an anchor store at the former site of Memorial Auditorium. The city had demolished the aging downtown arena to make way for development along the city's waterfront.

The project's new design approved Monday includes eliminating plans for a parking garage and expanding the reconstructed Erie Canal and Commercial Slip to the former Aud site.
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