Buffalo's outer harbor, a longtime focus of community criticism for its lack of development, will come alive at least temporarily this summer as groups sponsor three different festivals that could draw thousands to the normally placid waterfront.
Beginning Friday when the organizers of Buffalo Citybration sponsor tethered hot-air balloon rides from near the site of the former Pier Restaurant (the Seaway Piers area), the festivals will use a Lake Erie waterfront that has essentially remained unvisited for years.
And while the waterfront landowner, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, now is seeking to sell much of its outer harbor holdings, the idea behind the festivals is to better use the shoreline in the short term.
"We're looking to let interested parties utilize it for public good and public access," said NFTA spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer. "We're very glad to support these programs and very glad for the opportunity for people to come and enjoy the proximity to the waterfront and all it has to offer."
While the Pier Restaurant and its predecessors, Breakers and Shooters, attracted huge crowds at various points, and businessman Kevin Townsell used the area for festivals until the restaurant closed in 2005, little activity has occurred at the site since then. Now, in addition to the Friday event, the NFTA has authorized an Outer Harbor Festival July 29-31, and a Summer's Last Bash musical production Sept. 10.
Hartmayer said the Friday event is presented by Buffalo by Choice, which sponsors Citybration in conjunction with other events scheduled throughout the city to showcase Buffalo's assets and attract business and people to the community. Two professional hot-air balloon companies will offer rides from 6:30 to 9 p.m., with food, beverages and entertainment also provided.
Tethered balloon rides will cost $15 for adults and $10 for children 12 and younger. Hartmayer said the authority has waived any fee for Citybration since all proceeds will be donated to the Western New York Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
During July 29-31, On the Water Productions will use the approximately seven-acre parcel for an Outer Harbor Festival featuring rides, games, concessions, live music and fireworks. Hartmayer said the promoters expect to draw about 15,000 people each day.
On the Water told the NFTA it will charge $5 per day for attendees older than 12, with 20 percent of the net proceeds to be donated to the Boys & Girls Club of Western New York. The NFTA will receive a fee that is yet to be negotiated.
The last event, Sept. 10, also is sponsored by On the Water Productions and will feature five bands from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with fireworks. The promoters will charge $40 and $5 for parking, while the NFTA will receive $25,000 for use of its property.
"We want people to come out there and enjoy it," Hartmayer said. "That's why we're cooperating with these groups."