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Sale of Port Terminal Complex finally gets NFTA out of the development business

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is happy to finally get out of the land development business, since it never was remotely good at it. Now the agency can focus on its core mission of, well, transportation.

The public should also be relieved, but disappointed it took nearly 60 years to end the authority’s role as developer of Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. But at last it is done.

The authority approved transfer of its last 50 acres of property, at the Port Terminal Complex, to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. It is the beginning of a new era, moving the land from an agency that couldn’t do the job to another that has proven that it can.

The ECHDC has proven itself to be a good steward of the burgeoning waterfront, as evidenced by the crowds heading to Canalside, especially in the summer. Agency officials have shown they know when to stay the course, and when to change. That flexibility was shown in the blueprint for the Outer Harbor, which was greatly modified to reflect criticism of the original plan. The Port Terminal Complex, which includes two enormous buildings known as Terminals A and B, will not be redeveloped easily. Those relics of Buffalo’s industrial and shipping past contain 400,000 square feet of space. It will require a rational course, one that adheres to access and functionality.

Sam Hoyt, regional president of Empire State Development, seems to be on board. He told The News that the goal is water-centric development and one that is “consistent with the goal of an active and improved Buffalo waterfront.”

In the next few weeks the harbor agency’s parent, Empire State Development, is expected to approve a $3.5 million payment in periodic installments to the NFTA as payment for the land.

The NFTA tried to find uses for the property, but after several failed attempts at reuse, it could attract only a few boat storage firms. It is small wonder Executive Director Kimberly A. Minkel said the vote by the board of commissioners on the deal marks a “historic day.”

As Minkel said, the authority is not a developer. Better to allow an agency that can handle the challenge of moving the property forward for the benefit of the community to take over that endeavor.

The transfer means the NFTA is now finally rid of its Outer Harbor land. In 2014, it sold 384 acres of its Small Boat Harbor and Gallagher Beach properties to the state parks system for $2.

While previous plans for the reuse of the properties have fallen through, NFTA officials have good reason to believe that a developer might already be interested in Terminals A and B.

If that interest does turn into actual development – and many see those buildings as the appropriate location for residential use – then the once unimaginable transformation of the Outer Harbor will get another major boost.