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Emulate Chicago’s Navy Pier on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor

Queen City Landing, a 23-story apartment tower at 975 Fuhrmann Blvd., was approved by the Buffalo Common Council last week. The site is currently occupied by the former Freezer Queen food processing plant. This development is not the best use for the site; there is a far better use.

For those of you who have not traveled to the waterfront of Chicago, let us tell you about the No. 1 attraction in that city – Navy Pier. It is also the No. 1 attraction in the Midwest, drawing over 9 million visitors a year. It is a major economic engine providing jobs and income for the city.

Now celebrating its 100th anniversary, the complex was originally built for shipping purposes. It has helped transform the lakefront into attractive and useful public space for active recreation and social interaction. The site is an exciting mix of parks, gardens, shops, restaurants, museums, family attractions, amusement rides and exhibition facilities, operating year-round and from morning to night.

The Freezer Queen site could be coupled with the old Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Port Terminal Buildings A & B just to the north to create a similarly sized parcel with existing reusable structures.

The main difference between Queen City Landing and what we propose is how many people can enjoy it – that is to say, how much it will benefit the community.

In letters to The News, there has been support from people for the apartment complex. However, more than four out of five people in Erie County would not even qualify to live there, and only four one-hundredths of 1 percent of the county’s population – 300 to 400 people – would actually live there.

The apartment complex will have nearly 200 one- and two-bedroom apartments of about 1,400 square feet. In this region, such upscale apartments charge rents of $2,000 a month and upward. Using the old rent affordability rule of thumb – rent should be no more than 20 percent of your gross income – these apartments are affordable for households that have an annual gross income of $120,000 and up.

What we propose will be enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people – maybe millions – from all income brackets and not only from within Erie County but also visitors to our region. Our proposal benefits far more people within the community than an upscale apartment tower.

Some say that the apartment tower would draw more people to the waterfront. Let’s be clear about this – no one is going to drive down Route 5 just to look at an apartment building. Our proposal, on the other hand, could potentially draw some of the 14 million tourists in Niagara Falls, anchoring the Niagara River Greenway. Coming up from the south on Route 5, the public would see a signature gateway complex. An apartment tower would be no such attraction.

We already have housing on the waterfront. There’s Marine Drive Apartments in the Inner Harbor. Across Erie Street, between Interstate 190 and Erie Basin Marina, there is a waterfront village of condos and townhomes. At the foot of Hertel Avenue, several apartment towers face the Niagara River. Currently, three existing buildings on Niagara Street between the Peace Bridge and the Scajaquada Expressway are being converted from former industrial use into residential, as well as two new multistory towers on Ohio Street.

Gerald Buchheit, would you please build this instead?

Larry Brooks is an author and environmentalist; James Carr is a retired urban planner. Both reside in Buffalo.