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Canalside ferry, push for a supermarket testify to city’s continuing momentum

Like the tulips and lilacs that herald the return of the sun to the northern regions, exciting new developments in Buffalo announce that the city’s revival is on track and moving ahead.

In particular, two new projects – one expected, the other new – simultaneously offer evidence of the city’s renewal and provide fuel for its expansion. This is a great time for Buffalo.

Last week, a bicycle and pedestrian ferry service was launched to connect Canalside to the Outer Harbor. Suddenly, the practical distance between the two destinations can be measured in feet, not miles. It’s an attraction with real benefits, but also one that adds another coolness factor to the city’s enlivening waterfront.

And just as significant – if a little less sexy – are plans to put a supermarket in downtown Buffalo. Just the possibility shouts that downtown is alive and the store’s arrival – if it happens – will function as yet another people magnet.

In some ways, it is the more fundamental of the two developments. A ferry is a great idea and a nice touch for downtown, but easy access to a supermarket is essential for any thriving neighborhood. Part of the point of urban living is to be close enough to amenities that a car is less necessary. A supermarket is a necessary link in that chain.

The goal will be to attract developers and businesses to a city-owned block – now a surface parking lot – bound by Ellicott, Clinton, Eagle and Oak streets, just east of the restored Hotel @ the Lafayette, and across from the new Warehouse Lofts. The hope is to attract a supermarket, although other kinds of development are also possible.

The good news is that developers are interested, far more than they were just a few years ago when the city sought developers for the Webster Block, now the HarborCenter, which includes two regulation hockey rinks and a hotel that should be completed later this year.

Success feeds success. HarborCenter is helping to draw visitors to downtown Buffalo, and Canalside is attracting both visitors and residents. The expanding Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus north of downtown and the Solar City construction project at RiverBend south of downtown are fueling confidence in the city’s economic prospects.

People want to live in downtown Buffalo. While city figures show that at least 14,000 people now live within one mile of the proposed supermarket site, another 4,000 people could be living there within three years. That’s growth of nearly 30 percent.

Those people would like a supermarket. They could buy food for a picnic, walk to the ferry and have a nice afternoon at Buffalo Harbor State Park on the Outer Harbor.

Yes, it’s a good time to be in Buffalo.