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Council steps up pace on waterfront; Approves 'lighter, faster, cheaper' package to attract visitors, jump-start development

People who trek to Buffalo's inner harbor this summer can expect an expanded events area, a new food stand and temporary restrooms.

Visiting boaters even will find a trailer where they can take showers.

The Common Council voted, 8-1, Tuesday to approve early steps to advance a revised development model that focuses on "lighter, faster, cheaper" strategies for attracting people to the downtown waterfront.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., who cast the lone dissenting vote, complained that lawmakers had only one day to review the plans. Others echoed the complaint about being rushed into making decisions that will affect the waterfront. But Majority Leader Richard A. Fontana, who represents the Lovejoy District, said crews need to begin work soon if the improvements are to be completed by summer.

"We really want to get this work done before the July Fourth weekend," Fontana said.

Golombek later said he generally supports an about-face by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. to focus on smaller-scale projects while forging a longer-term development plan.

Mayor Byron W. Brown, who submitted the package to the Council on behalf of waterfront planners, said he enthusiastically supports it.

"We want world-class waterfront attractions, but we want to keep the momentum going," Brown said. "The lighter, faster, cheaper initiatives give us the ability to show continued momentum and growth, and do things that can be done while those larger attractions are being put together."

The Council authorized license agreements for a new food stand along the wharf and temporary restrooms and showers. The Council also supported plans to extend the Central Wharf several hundred feet southeast to Main Street. The expansion will include a temporary asphalt path and fence improvements along the water's edge from the boardwalk, passing behind HSBC Arena to the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Terminal and Ohio Street.

The modifications will accommodate a dramatic increase in the number of events at the inner harbor this season, according to project advocates. At least 300 events are planned, including such cultural happenings as the Buffalo Native Creek Festival, the Fish and Wildlife Experience Festival, Masten District Jazz Festival and family programming from Explore & More Children's Museum.

The "lighter, faster, cheaper" development model was inspired by the New York City-based Project for Public Spaces. It involves focusing on relatively easy steps to draw crowds and enhance visitors' overall waterfront experience.

Brown said waterfront officials presented documents last week, requesting that he fast-track approvals. Brown said city attorneys and public works officials have built in a series of protections to make sure that the city would not incur any start-up costs for the efforts. Even added utility costs will be absorbed by the Harbor Development Corp., officials said.

Some lawmakers emphasized that even though the projects are described as "cheaper" than many grandiose waterfront schemes, any facilities on the downtown shoreline must be "high quality."

"Whatever is done has to look good," said Fontana, who questioned the aesthetics of setting up a trailer with temporary showers.

Stephen F. Gawlik, senior counsel of the Empire State Development Corp., said visiting boaters have long requested showers.

The temporary facilities eventually will be replaced with permanent structures, officials said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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