Different people may have different ideas about plans taking shape for the continued development of Canalside, but if the announcement of those plans in The Buffalo News was meant to counter suggestions that the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. isn’t meeting its obligations, then case closed. There’s a lot that is about to happen.
The overall thrust is that the character of Canalside will change over the next two to three years. What is today largely open space, offering a welcome spot for recreation on the city’s newly recovered waterfront, will soon be home to residences, shops, a museum and more. That is to say, Canalside will become the neighborhood that has been its vision since a master plan was drawn in 2004.
The big concerts will move, possibly to the Outer Harbor, though smaller ones will remain at a different location within Canalside. The Explore & More Children’s Museum is already under construction, with an opening planned for late 2018.
Construction should begin next year on a parcel across Washington Street from The Buffalo News. There, Benderson Development is slated to construct a four- or five-story building near the East Canal fountain. That plan calls for apartments on the top floors, with offices on the second level and restaurants on the ground floor, along with underground parking. That plan has morphed from an earlier proposal for a German-style beer garden.
Other plans for Buffalo’s premier gathering spot include:
• Mixed-use buildings in two other spots, with requests for proposals expected to go out for one in June and the other in late fall.
• Re-creation of the historic Union Block Building on the western side of the Commercial Slip. That building could house bathrooms, an information booth and – wisely – a police substation.
• Re-creation of the historic Union Steamboat Co. facade for the relocated concert stage.
• Erection of the historic 1924 carousel that was recently purchased for placement at Canalside. Opening is planned for next year.
• And, at some unspecified time, restoration and reuse of the old DL&W Terminal, which is just outside the footprint of Canalside, to the south of KeyBank Center. As spots fill in with people and attractions elsewhere around Canalside, the possibilities of bringing that remarkable building back to life will only increase.
Other possibilities include a public market and underground parking where Memorial Auditorium once stood and a boutique hotel where Clinton’s Dish is located. Neither is a certainty and, for the moment, at least, that’s appropriate.
Canalside largely remains a blank canvas. Little has been done to change its fundamental nature over the past few years. But unlike a canvas that can be repainted, once buildings are constructed at Canalside, they will be there for decades to come and they will, inevitably, alter its character.
Change has been good at Canalside so far, but it pays not to go so fast that decisions are made without adequate consideration of the impact on what is, and what should remain, a delightful place to visit.