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GRAIN ELEVATOR EATERY IS ON MENU OF IDEAS

Forget about those fancy restaurants that turn on top of needle-nose towers in some cities becoming an attraction for Buffalo's waterfront.

Instead, imagine sitting down to dinner at a restaurant perched atop one of the grain elevators along the city waterfront.

In Lynda Schneekloth's mind, that type of attraction would not only draw tourists to Buffalo, but help celebrate the region's rich history.

That idea was one of many tossed out for consideration Saturday at the second annual Buffalo Waterfront Conference at the Pier. It was attended by about 180 people who want to make sure development of the waterfront continues once projects now under way are completed.

"It's not just the Erie Canal Harbor project in the Inner Harbor. It's the grain elevators, the railroads, the Cobblestone District and the old First Ward that make up our Heritage District," said Schneekloth, president of the Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers.

But any success in waterfront development, she said, will depend on access.

"We need access not only from land but from the water. Boaters are always telling us to provide accommodations for them," Schneekloth said.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello -- who announced the appointment of David Stebbins as coordinator of waterfront development -- agreed that access will play a big part in waterfront revitalization. Stebbins is director of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp.

"We're going from a waterfront of industry and commerce to recreation, cultural tourism, housing and commercial development," Masiello said in stressing the city's need to reconnect with its waterfront to grow again.

Kay McDaniel, who represented the Buffalo Niagara League of Women Voters, said access also means placing services along the waterfront and in nearby neighborhoods that would draw people.

"In the cobblestone neighborhood, you could have reasonably priced housing, accessibility to good restaurants and financial incentives for other businesses to locate there," McDaniel said.

And the Erie Canal Harbor project, Masiello said, will need more than just restoration of the old canal walls.

"We want to see a heritage center there to celebrate our history," he said, comparing that to New York City's waterfront with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

A heritage center, he and others explained, would help create a critical mass of activities for tourists.

The waterfront's success will also depend on many smaller projects, including development of walkways and signs to direct people to green spaces and parks, according to Lucy A. Cook, who manages the mayor's Waterfront Corridor Initiative.

"For instance, we already have a new park at the northern end of Squaw Island, but people don't know how to access it," Cook said. "They see these fences and bridges and the Thruway, and they're formidable barriers. We need to educate people on where these spaces are and that they have permission to go there."

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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