Those of us who love Buffalo are sometimes frustrated by how the city is seen by the outside world. We know it's a great place but it suffers from bad press, most of which centers on a long-ago blizzard and the vagaries of our professional sports teams.
That's why this editorial blog from the Syracuse Post-Standard, focusing on waterfront redevelopment -- including a now-obligatory mention of those colorful Adirondack chairs that dot the harbor -- is so welcome.
It's a far cry from Bette Midler's famously sarcastic line about Buffalo's lack of waterfront development during her HSBC Arena concert here in 2004: "I haven't been here since 1978. I love what you've done with the waterfront."
Her quip drew boisterous applause at the time from a frustrated populace. But now, it seems, waterfront fans have something more substantial to cheer about.
Here's the piece:
By The Post-Standard Editorial Board
One hundred eighty-seven years after it opened — and decades after it was filled in — the Erie Canal once again is becoming an economic engine for Upstate New York.
It’s happening in Buffalo, where the once-derelict downtown waterfront is being transformed through strategic public investments that are attracting private developers to the party.
The first phase of the Canalside project, Erie Canal Harbor, opened in 2008. Back in 1825, water dipped from the harbor was poured into the Hudson River by Gov. DeWitt Clinton, a “wedding of the waters” meant to symbolize the connection of Lake Erie to the sea made possible by “Clinton’s big ditch.”
Today, Erie Canal Harbor has public amenities such as a boardwalk, a pedestrian bridge, a “re-watered” commercial slip, picnic tables, Adirondack chairs and the excavated foundations of several canal-era buildings. More important, it has people — brought there by more than 400 events and activities scheduled throughout the summer, from music and theater performances to archaeological digs and group Zumba classes.
The next phase of Canalside is under construction on the site of the torn-down Memorial Auditorium. With $23 million in state money, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. is “recreating” canals, towpaths and bridges from the heyday of the Erie Canal. To make sure there’s ice for skating in winter — though that’s usually not a problem in Buffalo — the canals will be refrigerated.
The Aud site sat fallow for years while Buffalo courted Bass Pro Shops to be the retail anchor of the Canalside development. After nine years of to-and-fro — echoes of our own dance with Destiny USA — Bass Pro withdrew in 2010 and a new plan was hatched.
The burst of public activity on Buffalo’s waterfront has ignited the interest of private developers. Two are vying to build on a large parking lot near First Niagara Center, the home of the Buffalo Sabres. Nearby, a former state office building has been stripped to its steel foundation in the process of being turned into a hotel and office complex. Buffalo’s miles of waterfront in the outer harbor and stretching south along Lake Erie — once home to grain elevators and steel mills — are being viewed with new eyes.
Good for Buffalo, a city struggling with population decline, poverty and vast swaths of abandoned property. A billion dollars in state aid sure helps. Even so, Buffalo has plenty of lessons for Syracuse and other Upstate cities fighting to survive and thrive:
• Don’t turn your back on the water, no matter how small (or polluted) it is.
• When the goal is to spur development, the best use of public money is to create public amenities. Once the people come to use those amenities, you’ll have to beat back the private developers with a stick.
• Preserving public access to the water — and public space near it — is critical. Once the water is walled off with private development, whether it be grain elevators or big retail establishments, it’s no longer a place that belongs to the people — a place where they want to hang out with friends, picnic with their families, take a Zumba class or go for a run.
• There’s no magic bullet for fixing our cities. Small, targeted investments can pay off in the long haul — if you have the foresight to make the right investments and the patience to let them flower.