With a swoosh of the governor’s pen, Buffalo Harbor State Park was born Monday, accelerating visible changes that many people never expected to see in Western New York.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo officially designated 190 acres of Buffalo’s outer harbor land as the first state park in the state’s second-largest city, and the 180th in all of New York. It includes the Small Boat Harbor and Gallagher Beach.
It’s also the latest step in the transformation of the city’s lakefront into recreational and public space to boost economic development and tourism.
“The outer harbor serves as Buffalo’s front lawn and like the landscape in front of a home helps define the property,” Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, a driving force behind the redevelopment of Buffalo’s waterfront, said in a news release announcing the new park. “Cultivating this property will provide great returns for our city.”
Work can now begin on a $15 million project to create a new “destination” playground, picnic pavilion and other park facilities, using funds from Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion and New York Works initiatives.
Construction will start this fall to create the permanent park, which will also feature a redesigned breakwater at the marina, a pedestrian walkway overlook, fishing and seating.
“By launching Buffalo’s first state park along the city’s waterfront, we are creating a world-class destination that will attract visitors from all over to experience some of the best that Buffalo has to offer,” Cuomo said in the release.
Meanwhile, also Monday, the state’s waterfront development agency breathed new life into another vast stretch of lakefront land. The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. hired consulting firm Perkins+Will – for up to $738,072 – to help the agency develop a master plan “blueprint” to guide the reuse and redevelopment of 171 additional acres of the outer harbor.
The Chicago-based global architectural and design firm will create three development alternatives for the land, solicit public participation and input in the process, and develop a complete land-use framework, including financial projections and an operations plan.
The goal is to encourage active use of the outer harbor while preserving public access and linking it to downtown and Canalside. Rather than specifying precise dimensions of construction, the plan would present general guidelines for the type of development that should be pursued. The core work is due Oct. 1, with remaining work taking no more than a year.
“This is an opportunity to further realize the full potential of Buffalo’s extensive waterfront by creating a cohesive plan,” said Robert Gioia, chairman of ECHDC and Buffalo Waterfront Development Advisory Committee, and president of the Oishei Foundation.
The dual moves follow the formal transfer of 340 acres of land from longtime owner Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to ECHDC, a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corp. that oversees waterfront efforts in Buffalo. That land had sat underutilized for decades, but officials now hope to replicate their success at Canalside with the outer harbor.
“A big part of what Canalside has been proud of is that we’ve been able to get things moving,” said ECHDC CEO Thomas Dee. “We want to take what we did with Canalside and put it to work at the outer harbor.”
Another 50 acres will be sold for industrial development, while 20 acres will remain private.
ECHDC will lease the future state park to the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which will operate it, including the Small Boat Harbor marina. The NFTA will operate the land and marina under the State Parks Office’s jurisdiction until November but will team up to introduce new activities and programs on the lawn this summer, including a free carousel that will operate daily, free family movie nights and new food concessions.
The park will be open for wind surfing, personal watercraft use, canoeing, other water recreation, and water events such as triathlons. However, while “creating a public bathing beach” is one option for the future, it will not be available this summer, based on environmental testing. Tests involving surface water, storm water, surface soil, subsurface soil, sediment and field-quality control will continue through the summer.
As for the rest of the outer harbor land, Perkins+Will was chosen from among four finalist teams that competed for the contract, which was put out for bid to 36 companies in early April. In particular, Dee noted the firm has experience with cold-weather waterfronts in Ottawa and Toronto. “That was important to us because you have to realize what we’re up against with the cold and the wind,” he said.
The firm will use a team of local and national experts in community engagement, economic analysis, transportation engineering, marine science and landscape architecture, from seven subcontractors. The process will be guided and managed by the waterfront agency, along with the nine-member Buffalo Waterfront Development Advisory Committee that was recently appointed by Cuomo and Mayor Byron W. Brown. The collective recommendations will then be reviewed by the agency’s board.