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Agency can’t give up on its promise of a Canalside children’s museum

Let’s hope the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.’s rejection of the proposal for a Canalside children’s museum is just a bump in the continually evolving road to a captivating waterfront.

There was only one proposal to build the much anticipated Explore & More Children’s Museum, and its rejection is certainly a setback.

As reported in The News, it has been three years since ECHDC selected Explore & More as a major attraction at Canalside. A year later the museum’s master plan for eight exhibit spaces was released, along with impressive drawings of the facility.

The public has become accustomed to the steady progress around Canalside. This is new attitude for us, and it shows on the faces of eager families toting ice skates toward the Canalside rink during the winter and the music lovers headed to outdoor concerts during the summer.

With the momentum building in the past few years at Canalside, the Medical Campus, Larkinville and the Outer Harbor, it almost seemed as though success is guaranteed. So news that a major project isn’t working out as planned is a jolt back to reality.

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., a subsidiary of Empire State Development, originally called for developers “to submit concepts for a 100,000-square-foot mixed-use complex to be located on the parcel bounded by Main Street, Marine Drive and the historically aligned canals,” News business reporter Jonathan D. Epstein wrote.

The bar was set pretty high for the three-building project on the South Aud Block. It was to include Explore & More, relocated from East Aurora, a Canalside Information Center, the Erie Canalway Trail Plaza, a three-story restaurant and additional residential, office and retail space.

Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. was the only developer to respond by the Jan. 29 deadline. The company’s proposal called for office and retail space and the museum. Making money would have been a challenge, since the agency’s terms required that 40 percent of the building be occupied by the museum, which would pay only a $1 a year in rent.

Earlier this month ECHDC ended negotiations with Ciminelli involving construction of the facility because of the enormous public subsidy it would have required.

Time has been lost, but the agency has not given up on the museum concept. The agency now plans two separate development tracks, one calling a mixed-use building and another for the museum, at a different part of the South Aud Block.

Sam Hoyt, the Western New York regional president for the Empire State Development Corp. and a member of the ECHDC board, said, “we are absolutely committed to Explore & More being at Canalside.”

We hope that’s true, and that the agency will take another run at creating a year-round attraction for the crowds converging on Canalside. It’s already been a long wait for that day.