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Next up for Outer Harbor: more trails, new festival spot, a lot of butterflies

The next projects planned for the Outer Harbor could appeal to a wide spectrum of visitors.

For nature lovers, a 15-acre zone around the Bell Slip would soon be rid of invasive species and become more welcoming for butterflies.

Trails would provide more recreational opportunities for cyclists, pedestrians and mountain bike riders.

The soil at a 4-acre area on the southern end would be remediated to pave the way for festivals and possibly large concerts.

The plans will be presented at a public hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Common Council chambers, where the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. will seek a special use permit to proceed. The state agency hopes to begin construction by Memorial Day, with the new trails and habitat improvements expected to be completed in a year.

Steve Ranalli, vice president of waterfront development, said the projects make up a good mix.

"Each one of the components is important for different groups of users, but all of these things fit together," he said.

Ranalli said the Outer Harbor has a lot of constituencies with ideas on what they want to see occur. He said the projects were ultimately informed and improved upon by those groups' contributions at numerous meetings with environmental organizations and others.

"We’ve had great buy-in from all of these groups, and expect strong support from all of them on this project," Ranalli said.

The projects are being funded with $5 million from the first Buffalo Billion economic initiative. An announcement is expected by spring on additional Outer Harbor projects to be funded with $15 million set aside from Buffalo Billion II funds.

"This is all part of the governor’s mission to make the Outer Harbor more accessible to the public," said Pamm Lent, spokeswoman for Empire State Development.

Restoring nature

A losing battle has been fought around the Bell Slip against invasive species, primarily phragmites and Japanese knotweed.

Plans call for adding more than 300 trees and more than 200 shrubs to provide good habitat and food for wildlife and the migratory bird species that come up the Niagara River, Ranalli said. Habitat enhancements are part of a long-term strategy to increase the diversity of plantings, shelter and food for wildlife.

There are also plans to create a large pollinator meadow with plants that attract butterflies.

Recreational trails

The paved Greenway Nature Trail along Lake Erie, which includes bike racks, benches and trash cans, would be extended to Fuhrmann Boulevard, near Buffalo Harbor State Park.

A mountain-bike course, moved away from the Bell Slip at the suggestion of environmentalists, would feature 1 mile of dirt trails from entry to intermediate levels and be integrated with the new plantings.

The Western New York Mountain Bike Association helped design three trails.

Smaller courses — a skills loop, tot track and pump track — would be usable with nearly any kind of bike. A pump track is an off-road terrain with a circuit of banked turns and other features.

Potential changes to marina across from Canalside explored

'The Great Lawn'

The 4-acre site at the southern end of the Outer Harbor, which Ranalli said would be called "the Great Lawn," needs to be covered by 1 foot of clean fill to address past soil contamination before it can be used by the public.

Site preparation includes removing 28 trees. The branches and trunks would be reused as brush and other habitat enhancements for animals to nest and live in.

"It will be a great space for the Irish festival and the Italian festival as they grow out there, as well as 5K races and other running events," Ranalli said. "If our Outer Harbor management group wants to do the larger concerts, it would be a great space for them as well."

A viewing overlook would be built north of the grassy field. Ranalli said the 4 acres would be a beautiful area to attend events.

"At the west edge, you'll be able to look over the lake," Ranalli said. "On the eastern side, you'll have fantastic views onto the city or the grain elevators."

Moving festivals, events and potentially large concerts to the southern end of the Outer Harbor makes sense first and foremost logistically, Ranalli said. A site farther north that's been used in the past cannot handle traffic well, he said.

"Traffic is really a problem in trying to move that many people north on Fuhrmann Boulevard," Ranalli said.

The southern end has around 1,500 parking spaces by the nearby terminal buildings, and is close to the Route 5 off-ramp. There are also plans to stripe the parking lot.

Terminal B

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. is separately planning to rehabilitate Terminal B, an unused building with about 100,000 square feet. It's the smaller of the two former port buildings that back onto the lake. Tying Terminal B into the plans for festivals, larger concerts and other events is being considered.

Officials at the state agency hope to name an architectural firm to plan how to integrate the building with the site. That would be followed by a design phase, and then construction.

Building a permanent amphitheater in the vicinity of Terminal B also could be a future option, but Ranalli called that decision premature. A temporary stage and generators would most likely be used for the near future, he said.

Renderings for the site also show a tall, slender metal backlit building that would double as an information booth and ticket kiosk.

Outer Harbor beckons with a seat for every taste

Some projects abandoned, delayed

Some previously announced plans for the Outer Harbor have since been rejected or are being pushed off into the future.

A proposed Bell Slip visitor center and an osprey viewing station were dropped after environmental groups indicated they were unnecessary.

"We decided the money would be better spent to address the Great Lawn," Ranalli said.

Plans to strengthen the structural integrity of Michigan Pier and create an environment that builds on the success of Wilkeson Pointe have also been put off for now. They may be part of the next phase funded by Buffalo Billion II, Ranalli said.

Last week, Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. issued a request for the redesign of the marina at the northern end of Fuhrmann Boulevard, across from Canalside. The agency is seeking to make it more accessible and public-friendly, while retaining a boat marina, launch locations and outdoor storage.

Changes are expected to include a new entrance, new dock for the Queen City Bike Ferry that's closer to Wilkeson Pinte, and accommodations for concessions, boat rentals and parking.

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