Less than a year after the transfer of outer harbor land to a state waterfront development agency, the effort to convert the prized acreage into a regional attraction is being pushed into high gear by the state.
Western New Yorkers will get their first chance to weigh in with their ideas for Buffalo’s outer harbor next month, as an international consulting firm that was hired to engage the community launches a months-long effort to come up with a “road map” for redeveloping nearly 200 acres of waterfront land.
State and city officials, together with consultants from Perkins+Will, will conduct a series of open forums in early July to inform the public about the plan and to solicit ideas in crafting it.
Plans call for a final “blueprint” for outer harbor redevelopment by the end of September – just six months after the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., at the direction of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, took possession of the land from the transportation agency that held it for more than 60 years.
“We’re on a very short, very aggressive timetable,” Robert D. Gioia, chairman of the harbor agency, a subsidiary of Empire State Development Corp., said during a meeting with The Buffalo News Editorial Board. “Normally, it can take quite a while to do this, but I work for a guy who doesn’t like to do things slowly in Albany, and he says we’re going to move quickly.”
The forums will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. July 9 and 10 at the WNED studios and the Makowski Early Childhood Center in Buffalo, respectively, and from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. July 12 at the Old First Ward Community Center. They are open to anyone, and officials are printing 2,500 postcards to distribute widely at street fairs, farmers’ markets, Canalside and events such as Taste of Buffalo in order to attract people.
The aim of the meetings is to “reach the broadest possible section of the community,” said project manager Dennis Dornan, a senior associate and architect at Perkins+Will in San Francisco.
“It’s about accessibility, it’s about diversity, it’s about planning and design, and it’s about financial payback,” Gioia said.
Participants will have opportunities to offer their own ideas for the space, and will participate in exercises in which small groups will create their own models for the outer harbor using maps and game pieces that represent various ideas.
“It’s a way to really get people involved and get people engaged in our process, and not just in a way where it’s a back-and-forth dialogue,” said Perkins+Will urban designer Noah Friedman. “We like to turn it into fun games and events that people can do, to really get into the work. We want everybody to come.”
The consulting team will compile suggestions that come out of those meetings into a set of alternatives and possibilities, which in turn they will bring back to the community for comments and more feedback in early August. That will be followed by another month of work to develop a “preferred plan” by early September, with a final opportunity for input before that is turned into a final blueprint later that month.
The plan, which must fit within the city’s new Green Code, will then be publicly released by harbor agency for final comment for one more month. However, it will be flexible and adjustable for changing conditions or needs in the future.
The goal, officials say, is to turn the long-neglected industrial property into “world-class” public, entertainment and commercial space that builds on the success of Canalside downtown.
“This community has been craving a better watefront and more waterfront access forever,” said Sam Hoyt, Western New York regional president for Empire State Development. “People have been very patient. People have waited an awful long time for progress, an awful long time to see results. The governor has charged us with delivering results, and in an inclusive way. … We want to replicate the process that got us to the point that we are at with Canalside and created a world-class waterfront.”