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Warmer weather ushers in changes at Canalside

The clippity-clop of a Belgian draft horse drawing an old-fashioned carriage along the waterfront’s cobblestone streets has replaced the sound of ice skates scraping against a frozen surface.

It’s one of the ways Canalside is beginning to transition from winter to warmer weather, after a successful skating season that saw 60,700 tickets sold, far surpassing expectations.

Getting the site ready includes converting the ice surface, where skating concluded Tuesday, into a pool of water for the historically aligned and history-laden canals.

“It really is a place with a great feel to it, and I expect that emotional feel when you get down there will have a calming effect as you’re in a spot where the Erie Canal was,” said Thomas Dee, president of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.

The gradually warming weather is doing its part in helping melt the ice, while a Zamboni helps by shaving the surface. Getting rid of the ice is expected to take a week, during which workers also will remove the dasher boards, rubber mats and decorations, and retrieve the vinyl mesh that was used inside the ice to reflect the sun.

Afterward, the site is to be power-washed for a week.

Contractors then will start to prepare the site for water, including testing the pumps to make sure the water flows and recirculates properly. The canals eventually will be filled, for the first time, with 18 inches of water. The site should ready in early May, Dee said.

The lineup for Canalside’s popular concert series is expected to be announced in late April, with hundreds of other summertime programs to be announced in early May.

During the skating season, 55,000 skaters, 2,500 curlers and 3,200 ice bike riders bought tickets, Dee said, more than three times what had been expected. The numbers didn’t include free skates, such as the December grand opening, which saw a few thousand attendees.

“People would come down and say it feels so good, and I think that’s what I loved the most,” Dee said. “Now, coming off our first season of ice skating, there are heightened expectations of more great things to come.”

Autumn will bring another new attraction – the illumination of the grain elevator across from Canalside.

A light show, with layered patterns, is planned to be shown across the Connecting Terminal’s surface continuously when it’s dark, extending the site’s hours of use.

“When we set the clocks back and the days get shorter, it will be a very cool thing to look forward to. It will be on a massive screen, 50 feet long and 100 feet high,” Dee said.

It’s one more step in showing the waterfront can be a successful, year-round destination, he said, despite Buffalo’s winter weather.

The carriage rides will be offered at 6 and 9 p.m. Fridays; noon, 3, 6 and 9 p.m. Saturdays; and noon and 3 p.m. Sundays through April, weather permitting. Cost is $5 for the 15-minute rides. In case of uncertain weather, call 860-5396. After April, times and costs may change.

Brooke Stanley, owner of Eden Carriage, said he is planning to operate horse-and-carriage rides, as well as horse-and-sleigh rides in the winter, year-round at Canalside.

email: msommer@buffnews.com