The Cuomo administration announced three Buffalo waterfront initiatives Tuesday – and will provide $24 million to pay for them.
The initiatives will spur Canalside development and boost access to the Buffalo River, officials said.
Here's what's planned:
- The state will spend $10 million to jump-start residential development at Canalside. The money will pay for work on canal-era street patterns, underground parking and other infrastructure improvements. Work on the nearly 2-acre hole in the northern portion of Canalside is expected to pave the way for private development of residences, shops and offices. Ground is expected to be broken next year, with 18 months of construction to follow.
- The state will spend $4 million for a new building on the Commercial Wharf. Initially, it will house the construction of a replica of the historic 73-foot packet boat then-Gov. DeWitt Clinton boarded in Buffalo to travel to New York to mark the canal's opening in 1825. The boat, which will be built by Buffalo Maritime Center and volunteers, will eventually be moored at the Commercial Slip, used for tours and taken out on occasion to travel along the canal.
- At 13 sites, a total of $10 million will be spent providing access to the water for anglers, kayakers, boaters, bikers and pedestrians. Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper will spearhead the project. Access sites will be built in Red Jacket Park, at the former Buffalo Color site, Seneca Bluffs, Mungovan Park and LaSalle Park. Existing sites will be improved at Erie Basin Marina, Canalside, Wilkeson Pointe, RiverWorks, the Ohio Street Boat Launch, Union Ship Canal, Harlem Road Boat Launch and Mutual Riverfront Park.
"It's the new Buffalo, influenced by a new waterfront that defines the city as it did 100 years ago but in a very different way, one that is about life quality and economic development," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.
Higgins stood in for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who canceled his planned Buffalo trip earlier in the day to inspect severe flooding in Seneca County.
"To his credit, the governor remains committed to the successful build-out of Buffalo's waterfront to create access and also as a catalyst for private investment," Higgins told a packed Grand Ballroom inside Templeton Landing at Erie Basin Marina.
The event took on the appearance of a campaign rally, as Cuomo's supporters praised him for the attention he has paid to Western New York – and the state money he has brought – through the Buffalo Billion I and Buffalo Billion II economic incentive programs.
"No governor in the history of this state has spent more time and been more genuinely interested in Buffalo than the governor, and the results are all around us," Higgins said.
"These projects will create for the next generation what many of us were denied for most of ours – a waterfront easily accessible, and to be enjoyed and celebrated," he said.
The decision to begin building on the northern end of Canalside has been a goal of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. since a 2004 master plan that was drafted with considerable public participation. It has since been updated.
That plan anticipated dense residential and commercial development in the Canal District, now branded as Canalside.
"This is a commitment to restore as much of the original fabric of the neighborhood, and that's a word that's important to use here," said Howard Zemsky, chairman of Empire State Development. "It wasn't always a foregone conclusion that we would really look to small-scale development there.
"We are philosophically committed to preservation as a part of economic development. You can see it through the governor's support for historic tax credits, to the way we are applying it to the north Aud block and the way we are working with the Buffalo Maritime Center on the packet boat."
Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, called for action 16 months ago at the site of the former Memorial Auditorium, urging that work begin. On Tuesday, Ryan joined Higgins in praising the decision to move forward on the north Aud block, and for the other waterfront improvements.
The waterfront agency is expected to soon announce mixed-use developments at Canalside located between Marine Drive and the canal.
The Buffalo Blueway plan also calls for amenities such as wayfinding signs, storage for paddle craft, public art and benches.
"This all-inclusive effort to continue to enhance the regional community will leverage Buffalo's greatest natural resource – our waterways," Mayor Byron W. Brown said.
Canalside is also expected to see work begin in 2019 on a four- or five-story building erected by Benderson Development between Washington and Main streets. Apartments, restaurants and underground parking are planned.
The building of a packet boat is meant to recall their frequent use on the Erie Canal. The waterway's 1825 opening in Buffalo completed the 363-mile-long channel that connected Lake Erie to the Hudson River, and spurred the nation's westward expansion.
John Montague, emeritus director of the maritime center, has sought for years to build a packet boat at Canalside, and the announcement was a dream come true for him. Groundbreaking is expected in spring 2019, with construction lasting 10 to 12 months. The building of the boat is tentatively slated to begin Memorial Day 2020.
"I'm very gratified that the powers that be have seen to join with us in this vision of building the identity of Buffalo around this waterfront," Montague said. "For years, we've been working against one another with different visions. I think there has been a coalescence around what the waterfront can be."
Montague said he expects the packet boat to become a popular attraction to Canalside, as the public watches and participates in its building. He also thinks its presence will become popular for photographs after it's completed.
"Most Buffalonians don't realize that the point where the Commercial Slip enters the harbor is a sacred spot in American history," Montague said.
"It is where the Colonial states of the East Coast came into the Midwest and opened up the interior. And it's right here, in Buffalo, in an identifiable spot – you could put a circle around it. We are going to be building the boat right there, and that's going to be a theme for Buffalo."
The decision to build the boat in a building that will be called the Longshed, on the south side of the slip along the wharf, replaces the plan for an open-air Pavilion. That building was to have been in roughly the same spot and at 100 feet long and 40 feet wide, about the same size.
The building will now be more reminiscent of a building that stood there in the 1870s and was used as a grocery and ship chandler facility, and it will be used year-round, said Steven Ranalli, the vice president of waterfront development for the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.
The look and design of the building has yet to be determined.
He said it's part of a decision to focus more on the history of Canalside.
"We are going to try to have a more authentic footprint and exterior," he said.
The Union Block building that, like the Pavilion was also expected to open at Canalside in summer 2019 has been put on hold while programming decisions are reconsidered, Ranalli said.
Ranalli said other uses for the semipermanent building will be identified after the packet boat is completed in three years through consultation with community members.