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Levy resigns as chairman of Canalside organization; Is widely praised for work on waterfront

Jordan Levy whose leadership of a state waterfront agency extended from a failed attempt to lure Bass Pro Shops to turning Canalside into a summer destination -- resigned Wednesday.

Levy left as chairman of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. He said SoftBank Capital NY, an venture capital fund in which he is a general partner, wants to pursue a state grant to build an incubator for young entrepreneurs seeking to build Internet-based companies.

"There has been so much accomplished, and I'm pretty proud of what this whole group of people has been able to do over the last few years, in a tough place to do it," Levy said. "I think we had a great pivot as a result of what Bass Pro decided to do. I think we have gotten a lot of people engaged and involved and supportive of this whole project now."

Sam Hoyt, Empire State Development's upstate development chief, said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has not yet chosen a replacement.

"Jordan has been an exceptional leader. He's been passionate, he's been tireless, and I don't think Western New York has seen a stronger advocate for Buffalo's waterfront," Hoyt said.

"Under Jordy's leadership, we've passed the tipping point in terms of laying the groundwork for private-sector investment. The inner harbor is now a destination, and it had never been one before. He is certainly leaving on a high note."

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, praised Levy for his commitment and accomplishment.

"Jordy was highly engaged and conducted himself with great integrity. The last 4 1/2 years will result in a lifetime of positive impact on this community," he said.

Levy inherited and backed a heavily subsidized deal with Bass Pro in July 2007 when he was appointed chairman of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. The deal became increasingly unpopular with the public.

When the fishing and hunting store backed out in June 2010, Levy and his staff retooled their plans, hiring an adviser critics recommended and involving the public in decision-making.

Last summer, Erie Canal Harbor attracted visitors with an extended Central Wharf, sandy beach, concession stand, bathrooms and more than 300 events and activities, which included visits by a tall ship and the relocated Thursday at the Square concerts.

Reversing an earlier decision, Levy announced in December 2010 that a historically accurate portion of the Erie Canal would be built on the former Memorial Auditorium site. It is expected to be completed in December.

In addition, the former Donovan State Office Building is to be redeveloped with a hotel and law firm as tenants, and a request for proposals was issued in February for the Webster Block as a result of increased activity in the area.

"Jordan gave that project 120 percent. It was personal," said developer and philanthropist Howard Zemsky. "To his considerable credit, he embraced a new direction and ran with it. Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. made great progress under his leadership."

Mark Goldman, a local businessman who advocated community-based reforms after Bass Pro pulled out, also had words of praise for Levy.

"I think he had vision and showed he was willing to learn from the community. It's reallly remarkable what has happened down there in the last couple of years. I think Jordan's laid the groundwork for a good future," Goldman said.

David Colligan, who joined the waterfront board at the same time as Levy, said "Hopefully, when people look back on his tenure, it will be the golden age of harbor redevelopment. "

email: msommer@buffnews.com