New park will accelerate the process of reclaiming Buffalo’s waterfront - The Buffalo News

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New park will accelerate the process of reclaiming Buffalo’s waterfront

Those who rightfully despaired until a few short years ago that Buffalo’s outer harbor was destined to remain a desolate, isolated place few people knew how to reach now have reason to celebrate.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo the other day officially designated 190 acres of the outer harbor land as Buffalo Harbor State Park, the first state park in the City of Buffalo and the 180th in all of New York. The land includes the Small Boat Harbor and Gallagher Beach.

The outer harbor used to be a place that could be seen but not easily reached, with winding roads and a lack of signage requiring a high level of determination from would-be visitors.

That is changing in part thanks to Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who has led waterfront development over the years. In an interview last fall with The News’ Brian Meyer, Higgins listed key factors that are changing the outer harbor. One is the conversion of Ohio Street from a worn industrial roadway into a tree-lined parkway that will accommodate hiking, biking and pedestrian-friendly access. That work is under way.

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. is overseeing waterfront development, an endeavor greatly assisted by the 2006 New York Power Authority settlement that Higgins secured. That agreement made available millions of dollars to be used specifically for waterfront development projects.

Higgins said, “The outer harbor serves as Buffalo’s front lawn and, like the landscape in front of a home, helps define the property.”

The outer harbor has taken a back seat while attention focused on the inner harbor and Canalside. With that work well under way, attention is shifting to the outer harbor. A $15 million project in the new state park will create a new “destination” playground, picnic pavilion and other park facilities, using funds from Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion and New York Works initiative.

Construction will start this fall to create the permanent park. It will also feature a redesigned breakwater at the marina, a pedestrian walkway overlook, fishing and seating. And the park is not the only progress taking place at the outer harbor.

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. hired consulting firm Perkins+Will to help the agency develop a master plan to guide the reuse and redevelopment of 171 additional acres of the outer harbor.

That effort, which will cost up to $738,072 for 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.

All of this follows the formal transfer of 340 acres of land from its longtime owner, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, to ECHDC, the subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corp. that oversees waterfront efforts in Buffalo. Another 50 acres will be sold for industrial development, while 20 acres will remain private.

The new park is more recognition of the importance of the waterfront to the region’s future.

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