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Editorial: Bringing the past to life at Canalside

When Buffalo Memorial Auditorium was demolished in 2009, it left behind decades of memories and one vast hole in the ground. Filling that cavity presents a welcome opportunity to build upon the success of Canalside as a premier downtown attraction.

Two local civic groups have been promoting plans to use the vacant space to build a residential neighborhood. Now, Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. says it will begin advertising in the fall for engineering and design consultants to make some version of those visions a reality. That will be a big step in the right direction for helping Canalside reach its potential.

The group called Friends of the Buffalo Story, which includes Mark Goldman, Peter Dow and Scott Wood, has proposed an urban village, a mixed-use residential village comprising five buildings and using underground parking. Goldman says the plan is modeled after Boston’s North End, the West Village in New York and sites in Europe.

Another proposal, from the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture, headed by Tim Tielman, calls for more smaller buildings to form an active neighborhood.

Tielman, executive director of the campaign, commented last week that “it’s a big positive that ECHDC is presently looking beyond what for them has been a traditional big developer-big business-big project approach into something that is more accessible, has different players and advances step-by-step.”

Both groups also propose having period buildings side by side with residences and shops built along the side of the Commercial Slip.

The original Canal District was integral to Buffalo’s past, being the site of the western terminus of the Erie Canal, which connected our city to the Great Lakes. Restoring the Commercial Slip was a bow to the importance of the area’s historical importance.

We are glad to hear the planners paying heed to restoring the original street grid of the area, even if that presents infrastructure challenges.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, praised the two groups and ECHDC for their spirit of cooperation. “I think one of the things we’ve learned over the years is there are a lot of good ideas out there that make a lot of sense,” Higgins said.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Canal District was also known as the Infected District, infamous for its many saloons and “houses of ill-fame” that catered to sailors. It also housed the city’s worst tenements at the time. Now that Canalside stands as a symbol of Buffalo’s rebirth, it’s nice to see talk of cooperation among stakeholders who can bring the area to full fruition.

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