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'Ugly' display's dismantling delayed until after summer Renovations planned to interpretive signs

A three-story "ghost facade" of long-gone, Erie Canal-era buildings will probably remain standing on the Buffalo riverfront through the summer despite being branded as "ugly" and "billboard-like."

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., which constructed the interpretive element, expressed disdain for it even as it was being built and had planned to take it down last year. But issues tied to a $110,000 contract for its removal left it standing through the winter, and now the harbor agency expects to make it part of a broader package of changes to the interpretive signs.

Jordan A. Levy, chairman of the harbor agency, expressed frustration over the slow pace of the effort to tweak the historic canal site's storytelling elements.

"I'd like a greater sense of urgency. It's beautiful down there except for the flyswatter," said Levy, referring to the facade's shape.

The ghosted facade is the largest piece in a $500,000 group of interpretive signs installed at the waterfront site. Meant to represent a generic, canal-era building, it features nine faux windows filled with images depicting canal district occupations.

Its 10-by-20-foot base panel features a giant map of the Erie Canal and additional images of how goods were moved between the East and Midwest. Dismantling the element is expected to be put out to bid this spring as one of several modifications to the site's interpretive elements. Those changes will also include the addition of information regarding the stones lining the rewatered Commercial Slip, as well as signs commemorating the "Wedding of the Waters" ceremony, which saw a mixing of Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean water to note the significance of the Erie Canal

Under the current timetable, final decisions on changes and additions to the existing array of interpretive elements will be made in March. Alterations will be done next fall to minimize the disruption to harbor visitors.

The harbor board also learned Tuesday that a section of wooden wharf next to the Commercial Slip was severely damaged during a storm in late January. A swath of the walkway was dislodged when high winds caused Lake Erie water levels to rise more than 8 feet in three hours.

No cost estimates to repair or replace the slip-side wharf have been made to date.

Also Tuesday, the harbor board authorized the study of potential bridge connections linking Buffalo's inner and outer harbors. The $2 million access study will consider options for a bridge at the foot of Main Street, Michigan Avenue or two sites along Erie Street.

The bridge, which is aimed at spurring outer harbor development, will likely be a two-lane span, with pedestrian/bicycle lanes, designed to handle local traffic. Both fixed and movable bridges will be considered. The city has been without a direct bridge link to its outer harbor since 1959, when the 110-foot-long South Michigan Avenue Bridge, which spanned the City Ship Canal adjacent, was destroyed by a runaway freighter.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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