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NEW PEACE BRIDGE PLAZA SHOULD BE A WELCOMING FRONT DOOR TO BUFFALO AREA

During the recent "bridge wars," beautiful renderings and detailed drawings of bridges appeared in the newspapers and at community meetings. They all seemed to end in a vaguely drawn landing with no detail and little apparent thought about its impact on the surrounding neighborhoods, city and region.

The proponents of each bridge design would answer questions, if asked. But we never saw any detailed, public presentation of a plaza design. Almost everyone's attention was caught up in the design of the structure that would lead to it.

I believed then, and believe now, that we must see the plaza as much more than just a processing area for trucks and travelers. It is, in fact, a front door into our country, our state and our city.

Tourism is becoming more and more important to the economic survival of urban centers. With the surrounding LaSalle and Front parks, along with the beautiful homes on Busti Avenue, we have the opportunity to invite our visitors to sample all we have to offer, such as a fine park system and classic architecture that makes us the envy of other cities.

Nearby Niagara Street welcomes visitors to a diverse and international city, where the cultures, foods, traditions and festivals of nations from all over the world can be experienced. It also leads the visitor into a downtown that contains an exciting theater district and such architectural gems as City Hall, the Prudential Building and the Ellicott Square Building, not to mention the lovely Niagara and Lafayette squares.

We are becoming a "City of Festivals," ranging from our Thursday night concerts and Taste of Buffalo downtown to the more "neighborhood" celebrations, such as the Italian and Juneteenth festivals. I am reluctant to even try to list all of the other architectural, historical, cultural and recreational attractions this city contains, because I will inevitably be criticized for leaving too much off the list. Our front door at the Peace Bridge gives us a unique opportunity to inform and direct our visitors to all of these activities, as well as to our sports arenas, museums, riverfront parks and greenways and other attractions.

I was not born in Western New York, and I still remember my first visit, 23 years ago, to Niagara Falls. We spent very little time on the American side of the Falls, instead choosing to spend our time (and tourist dollars) on the Canadian side, walking along the beautified riverside greenway and enjoying the wonderful sculptured gardens. We have the opportunity now to create that type of entrance to our own city.

The plaza should help in the development and support of the trucking and transport industry, which can be served on former industrial properties throughout our city. However, the fact of the matter is that a truck passing through on the Thruway or rumbling through a neighborhood brings little or no benefit, and can adversely affect the quality of life and quality of environment in our neighborhoods.

We have opportunities in the development of telecommunication and computer technologies that take advantage of our international location, our fiber-optic network and our diverse and well-educated work force. Our universities and medical centers can research and grow biomedical industries providing high-wage jobs. Our central location and low cost of living can attract companies serving markets throughout the Northeast.

We need a plaza that ties into these strengths while welcoming and informing the touring visitor. We can do this by designing a "signature plaza" that is as green, welcoming and beautiful as our city itself.

Not only is such a plaza worth investing in, but we should be able to find the resources to invest. Certainly, community resources were marshaled to organize meetings, publications, flyers, editorials, focus groups and other planning efforts during the bridge debates. We should do no less in planning the plaza.

While visiting Buffalo, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan stated that ample money could be found for the bridge, referring to the availability of federal funding for intermodal transportation projects. If such funding would be available for a bridge, how even more appropriate it would be for a plaza that also features walkways and bike trails and leads visitors to accessible waterways and public transportation.

We have had an energetic community debate about the bridge. Now is the time to turn to the most important part of the Peace Bridge planning, with as vigorous a discussion about the plaza itself.

BARBRA A. KAVANAUGH is a Buffalo Common Council member at large.
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