About 350 people got a chance Tuesday to consider ideas for revitalizing the waterfront.
The event in HSBC Arena's Harbour Club was facilitated by Project for Public Spaces, known for its motto "Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper" and its work helping communities create vibrant waterfronts.
The group, which has been retained by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., has worked with seven public committees and held meetings to come up with destination-making ideas for implementation this summer and beyond for the inner harbor, outer harbor and Buffalo River.
"I have been to maybe 150 of the great waterfronts of the world, and this has more opportunity than any I have been to because you have so much waterfront land," said Fred Kent, founder and president. "You have more water frontage in a shorter distance than anywhere. Venice may be the closest you have to compete with, because you're never far from the water. Buffalo can create a new history on the waterfront like nothing you've ever seen."
Kent said Buffalo also has benefited from not having the waterfront fall into private hands. "It's still very public, and that's off-the-charts important. You can move beyond the mistakes other people have made, where they have privatized their waterfront," he said.
The nonprofit organization's "placemaking" process includes creating 10 destinations in an area, with each containing a minimum of 10 things to do.
The public was invited to reflect and make comments on some of the ideas advanced for the waterfront, putting notes and stickers on several preliminary plans.
On the poster titled "Buffalo River, RiverFest Park," ideas included "sprinkler park, grain elevators paint and/or light projections, interpretive signage, vending machines, banners and flags, concerts, neighborhood performances, fishing tournament, skate competition, floating docks, barbecue pit."
Later, posters were distributed to each table in the audience to facilitate discussion and suggestions.
At one table, Steven Fabian, a Buffalonian who teaches at Fredonia State College, suggested putting the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on a floating barge similar to what's done in his native Victoria, B.C.
Cindi Ingalls, executive director of Musicians United for Superior Education, called the process "extraordinary."
"You look around this room and there are kids and octogenarians. You see a thoughtful process. It could have been done behind closed doors, and it would have failed," she said.
Mark Goldman, one of the event's organizers, said, "You have a unique collaboration with a state agency that has no obligation to talk to anybody, and all of a sudden everybody's at the table and the results have been very, very fruitful."
David Hamlin was skeptical: "Citizen participation is where it's at, but I do question how a lot of these pie-in-the-sky projects are really going to get grounded and get done. Frankly, I'm a big believer in slower, more expensive and heavier."
Harbor agency board member David Colligan, who heads the outer harbor committee, said he anticipates an exciting outcome. "We should have a Buffalo citizens' vision of the waterfront when we're done," he said.
Committees created by the harbor agency will consolidate the ideas for this summer, with some possibly being taken up at the agency's April 12 meeting.
Mark Croce, who took ownership of the Statler Towers on March 16, had another idea for harnessing the public's energy. "Maybe when we're all done here, we can invite all these people over to the Statler to give me a bunch of ideas, because there seems to be a lot of energy in this room," he said.