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Higgins wants a marketplace instead of big hole at Canalside

A  big hole has sat in the ground for years at the northern end of the former Memorial Auditorium site.

Two politicians said they want a public marketplace long planned for that site.

"Let's get rid of the hole and the construction site junkyard, and move quickly to get the public market and Buffalo-themed restaurants open so we can realize the full potential of Canalside," Rep. Brian Higgins said. "Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. needs to activate the plan they adopted."

Higgins and Assemblyman Sean Ryan stressed the idea for the marketplace didn't originate with them. It's in the waterfront agency's own General Project Plan, last updated in 2013.

"This isn't a new proposal," Ryan said. "We are not proposing a marketplace and retail and residential. This is a proposal that has already been approved, and what we are asking for is the execution of that proposal."

Higgins' and Ryan's call for action at Canalside comes as both have pushed hard for a new train station to be located at the Central Terminal. A train station committee, headed by Mayor Byron W. Brown, is expected to announce Thursday that the station will be downtown, near Canalside. The same former Aud site was under consideration for the station, but is believed to have fallen out of favor.

Higgins: Central Terminal station would be cheaper than Canalside

Higgins accused the waterfront agency of being "distracted" with other issues, including where the new train station might be located, instead of focusing on waterfront development.

"There is absolutely zero truth that we have been distracted," said Sam Hoyt, a board member of the harbor corporation.

Higgins also pressed the need to "expedite" the marketplace in a letter dated April 18 to Robert Gioia, the waterfront agency's chairman. He said money from a re-licensing settlement with New York Power Authority was to be used to pay for the cost of the marketplace, estimated in an updated plan to cost $8 million.

Higgins said he has not spoken to waterfront officials about the need to get started on the marketplace. Ryan said the response to a letter he sent in March did not address when the overall plan might be implemented, although his letter was primarily to urge Canalside not be the site of the train station.

Hoyt said the waterfront agency was doing its job.

"We are in the process of advancing several elements of the master plan, and with regard to the other parcels on the Aud block, as we have reported publicly, the intention is to issue a request for proposals sometime this summer. That will give us an idea of what the private sector's appetite is for further investment at Canalside, including the public marketplace that is part of the master plan."

Gioia added that since the master plan was adopted, the DL&W Terminal has also been discussed as a potential home for a public market.

Gioia ticked off a number of projects the waterfront agency is currently involved with. "To imply we were distracted by the train station is absolutely ludicrous," he said. "I have not had one meeting or one discussion about the train station at Canalside."

Hoyt said the waterfront agency would have appreciated a phone call or offer to meet from Higgins or Ryan.

"We're disappointed that we did not hear from the congressman and the assemblyman about this issue directly from them, as opposed to the media," Hoyt said.

Higgins said three locally known food businesses have shown preliminary interest in opening at Canalside. He noted that the Travel Channel on Tuesday was presenting Buffalo food establishments on a segment called "Delicious Destinations."

"A Canalside market is the perfect fit to highlight our delicious destinations, and to continue the Canalside momentum," Higgins said.

Ryan also called for housing and retail at Canalside, envisioned in the Canalside plan.

Higgins said a traffic tie-up last summer – when visitors to a concert, Bisons ballgame and to see a big, plastic duck converged – showed street redesign and signaling changes needed to be implemented. He called on the agency to follow through on a $1.9 million street restoration project, in the site plan, to reconstruct Commercial and Pearl Street between Marine Drive and Lower Terrace.

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