Work began Wednesday that will open the historic Buffalo Lighthouse and several acres of outer harbor park space on U.S. Coast Guard property to the public starting in the fall.
Rep. Brian Higgins, who in 2006 with then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton secured $6.1 million for the project, said 4.6 acres of green space would be ready for use in the first phase. That will expand to seven acres in the second phase, after some storage and maintenance sheds are removed.
Visitors will have unfettered access to the site, as they no longer will have to pass through a security gate. It will be the first time the lighthouse has been open to the public since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"It's very important, both symbolically and substantially, for the city that the waterfront include good quality access for the people of Buffalo and Western New York to that historic site," said Higgins, D-Buffalo.
"I think over the next several years, you will see a new waterfront that is exciting, vibrant, youthful and that will help redefine the entire region from its old, declining image to one of limitless possibilities," he added later.
Improvements including lighting, and park benches will be made for a brick walking path leading to the lighthouse.
Last month, the state development agency voted to provide $170,000 to complete masonry repair and stonework on the 1833 lighthouse, one of the oldest on the Great Lakes.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard, but the Buffalo Lighthouse Association has had temporary control of the landmark, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, since 1984, spending more than $300,000 on restoration and maintenance.
A three-year contract with a water taxi service also was approved by the development agency to move people between the outer and inner harbors.
"In other areas throughout the nation, lighthouses are great tourist attractions," Higgins said. "They contribute to the cultural tourism of their communities. For too [long], this site has been inaccessible to the people of this community."
By the end of this year, bike paths and landscaped areas along the Fuhrmann Boulevard parkway will extend from the Buffalo Lighthouse to the Union Ship Canal.
Higgins also said he is confident that an outer harbor bridge could be constructed in the next 36 to 48 months, despite the fact that Republicans hold the purse strings in the House.
Coast Guard Sector Buffalo will use less space on the 31-acre site as it consolidates operations while continuing to perform maritime law enforcement, search and rescue, safety and security, waterway management, ice operations services and recreational boat safety.
Sector Buffalo's area of responsibility includes Lake Erie from Lorain, Ohio, to Buffalo.
The work begun Wednesday is on a new building to be constructed on the Coast Guard side of the property, which is to be separated by a decorative security fence.