Big changes are coming to Canalside, possibly by the summer of 2018.
The changes begin with a restored 1924 carousel, which will be located where the summer concert stage has been, a short distance from The Dish.
That move will prompt the summer concerts to be relocated to a permanent performance stage on the Central Wharf.
On the backdrop of the stage will be a facade depicting the 19th century Union Steamboat Company. And facing it will be a pavilion that's a ghosted structure meant to recall another 1850s-era canal district building. The building will serve as a shelter for shade, activities and entertainment.
The Explore & More Children's Museum is expected to open in 2018. At the same time, permanent bathrooms will be installed near Marine Drive, sharing space with a small police substation and visitor information center.
The changes – which at this stage are a concept the waterfront agency plans to do – are likely to all occur together, according to Tom Dee, president of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. They will be triggered when the carousel is ready to be installed after an 18-month restoration is finished and the necessary funds for a carousel house are raised.
Meanwhile, on another part of the waterfront, nearly half of the new boat docks have been installed since Nov. 1 at Safe Harbor Marina, on the Outer Harbor. The permanent, free-floating docks, which are expected to be installed in time for the 2017 season at the former Small Boat Harbor, should extend the amount of time sailors can stay in the water.
Turning the corner with new stage:
What it means: The move will ensure the popular concerts remain at Canalside. It would also mark the return of concerts to the first of three locations it has had there. The permanent stage – would be large enough to hold the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
Big change: It wasn't long ago that development plans for Canalside meant the concerts would have to find another home. But if the city is successful at developing the grassy areas below Prime Street, it could limit the size of concert crowds in several years to around 6,000, Dee said, about half of last summer's average attendance. Larger concerts, he suggested, would move to the Outer Harbor.
Currently, waterfront officials are considering for 2017 limiting the size of crowds that have at times gotten out of hand. That could include charging a low admission price.
Elevating Canalside's history
Background: The idea for the historic facade and ghosted structure came out of a 2004 plan developed by both waterfront officials and the public. The process included several community meetings. The ideas were well received at the time, but had mostly sat on the shelf since.
Expectation: Plans for both can be expected to be met with excitement by people who have wanted to see the site's history emphasized more, as well as those who have wanted a place for shade in the summer months.
"It is a sensitive, thoughtful and creative response to a variety of significant changes," said Mark Goldman, a local historian and place maker. "Using the facade of an historically-accurate new building is a unique way to create a backdrop for all kinds of stage-based performances.
"By building a semi-enclosed and history-based shelter behind it, we will have the year-round capability of mounting a whole range of heritage-based programs and initiatives 12 months of the year," Goldman said. "Kudos to the designers of this!"
Dee said the ghosted structure would have a roof line consistent with buildings of that era, while the facade will replicate a building in terms of the name, location and size.
"The beauty is it frames the Commercial Slip. Right now, you walk over the bridge and you kind of lose the context, because you're into the zone of fun," Dee said. "This ties in a little more history, and it becomes functional because we're using the backside for the stage, which we have to relocate at some point in time."
Background: While temporary facilities have been used, waterfront officials say they have heard many requests for permanent restrooms to be installed, as well as comments on social media. Now they will be.
The police substation will allow a place for Buffalo Police officers to drop in, and a small visitor center will replace a tent where the public can go to learn more about the waterfront, along with other local attractions and places to go.
Dee also likes having the Buffalo Police Department on the site to augment private security.
"Working with the City of Buffalo, they expressed interest in a potential substation on the site, which we embraced," Dee said. "It doesn't have to be a big building – it could be just an office where an officer can go in, and use a desk and a computer – and it will promote what we want, safety and security."
The building will be located where trailers and mechanicals are located by Marine Drive, with access to the water side and ice skaters.
Status: The rare 1924 carousel, made in North Tonawanda when it was one of the great carousel-making cities in the world, will be coming to Canalside after an 18-month restoration is completed, and once fundraising goals are met. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in October $1.2 million toward a carousel house. When it opens, rides will be $1.
If the carousel isn't ready to begin operating in 2018, it's likely the timetable for the changes would be pushed back another year, Dee said.
The Explore & More Children's Museum is also expected to open in 2018, with construction targeted for early 2017.
Long-term plans: The Brown administration and waterfront officials hope to see future development on the grassy areas in the form of shops and other establishments. The city planned to issue a request for proposals seeking developers this year, but it didn't happen. It's now likely that will occur in 2017.
In addition, Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. expects to issue an RFP for the south Aud block in the first quarter of 2017, followed by a second for the north Aud block. The responses and what follows in both sections of Canalside could have a big impact on other changes that occur there in the coming years.
New docks, new day
What: About 500 of the 1,063 new boat docks have been installed on the southern end of Safe Harbor Marina, in Buffalo Harbor State Park. The work will be completed in time for the 2017 season.
These are permanent floating docks with galvanized steel framing that are anchored to the lake bed with chains. The previous docks – some solid steel, others half encased in wood – were put in place with spud poles, which due to the fluctuation of the water could cause the docks to become hung up.
New improvements: Boaters will no longer have to pull their boats out of the water by Oct. 15 to allow the temporary docks to be dismantled.
"Sailors won't want to stay in until December, but those who want to take advantage of the fall winds will be able to stay in the water for a longer period of time," said Matt Prime, Safe Harbor's general manager.
The docks will also have access to power and water, which not all had in the past. Slip holders will have private launch access that comes with gated parking.
In addition, there will be a more convenient fuel box, and a new pump-out facility for getting gas and getting rid of waste, and more spaces for boaters who want to go to the restaurant, Prime said.
"We will have expanded transient docking for day guests, or people pulling in to go to the restaurant. In the past maybe we had five or six courtesy docks. Now we'll have 15 to 20," he said.
Downside: Fees went up 7 percent for a third year in a row, as allowed in the company's contract with the State of New York.
What's Next: Safe Harbor will begin its third full year of operation. The slips were at capacity last year, and currently has 30 to 40 open slips for 2017. The next improvements are expected to be the expansion of the Charley's Boat Yard restaurant.