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RESIDENTS SEEK HARBOR TRUE TO HISTORY

Area residents want Buffalo's Inner Harbor project to be as historically authentic as possible, Common Council members were told Monday evening.

During one of the last public hearings before the $27 million project moves forward, the Council's development committee was told by many of the 25 residents in attendance that the new Inner Harbor won't be an attraction if it is perceived as a copy of another city's plan.

Many Council members agreed.

But it went deeper than that. Many speakers said they want to restore -- not replicate -- the old Commercial Slip, which was once the terminus of the Erie Canal but was buried in 1926 when a storm sewer was built there.

"Open up the Commercial Slip to its original configuration as far inland as practical," urged engineer David F. Baker of the Canal Society of New York State. "This would be the gemstone of the Inner Harbor Park, attracting tourists from around the country and around the world. It is a symbol of what brought the village of Buffalo to become a world-renowned center of commerce."

Peter Flynn, the project architect, reiterated the planners' position that reconstructing the storm drain would be prohibitive.

But Baker insisted that the Empire State Development Corp. plan is unacceptable.

"They plan to construct a facsimile of the slip and wipe out a good portion of the original," he said. "Why? Because they don't want to disturb a storm drain that would take some additional money to redesign."

The real issue, Baker said, is the spot itself.

"The Canal Society and other preservationist groups want the slip itself either opened up and rebuilt, if practical," he said, "or at least (to have) the spot memorialized in some fashion to allow people to visit and be in awe of its historical significance."

On Oct. 26, 1825, Gov. DeWitt Clinton set out from there on his boat, the Seneca Chief, with two kegs of Lake Erie water to dump into New York Harbor and open the 365-mile canal. Three weeks later, a pair of kegs from the Atlantic Ocean were dumped here to complete the circuit.

Instead of unearthing and restoring the old Commercial Slip, planners have proposed digging inlets nearby to berth vessels in the Buffalo River. Preservationists are concerned with losing not only the old slip but several old streets that lie about two feet underground.

"These inlets are a cause of warping the entire plan," said Tim Tielman, executive director of the Erie County Preservation Coalition. "We're going to lose this historic riverfront and gain a tiny little wart on an alligator's back."

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