Remember when the waterfront, including Canalside, was just a figment of everyone’s imagination? It wasn’t even Canalside. Or the waterfront. Not in the sense of place. Those came later. Back then, only a few years ago, the area that bordered Buffalo’s waterfront – the city’s defining resource – was a wasteland.
How things have changed.
Now, the once moribund portion of land abutting Lake Erie is alive and thriving with things to do, places to go and people to see. Thursdays during the summer feature top-shelf entertainment; there’s Zumba and yoga classes, boat rides and kayaks and canoes. During the winter, ice skaters glide along – or tumble onto – the frozen canal. A children’s museum is under construction while Shark Girl supervises. A historic carousel will soon be installed.
This welcome transformation did not come easy, but the good news is that the seeds of growth are starting to blossom. The vision of what Canalside could become is taking root and, by no small measure, through continued funding.
In particular, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s recent $24 million pledge of state money to boost the waterfront initiatives is about to make a difference. The money targets key areas that will take this public project to the next level.
The latest shot of millions will be distributed in support of several projects:
• $10 million to jump-start residential development at Canalside, including work on canal-era street patterns, underground parking and other infrastructure improvements. The nearly 2-acre hole in the northern portion of Canalside would make 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. This is another centerpiece that will initially house the construction of a replica of the historic 73-foot packet boat that then-Gov. DeWitt Clinton boarded in Buffalo to travel to New York to mark the canal’s opening in 1825.
The Buffalo Maritime Center never gave up in winning support for this potent addition to Canalside. The center’s members, with the help of volunteers, will build the boat which will eventually be moored at the Commercial Slip and used for tours and taken out occasionally – where else? – along the canal.
• Then, at 13 sites, a total of $10 million will be spent providing access to water for anglers, kayakers, boaters, bikers, pedestrians.
The governor’s commitment to the successful build-out of Buffalo’s waterfront is working. Standing in for Cuomo at the announcement, Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo observed that, “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.” It was Higgins’ dogged efforts that originally secured money for the development of Canalside.
Meanwhile, a neighborhood is developing at Canalside. The state waterfront agency approved plans for two five-story brick buildings with first-floor retail expected to open by Memorial Day 2020.
Forty-one residential units in the two buildings will soon follow and the structures will overlook the public spaces that tens of thousands of people have come to enjoy. Sinatra & Co. Real Estate won approval for the project. The governor offered $2 million for infrastructure work.
The vision for the waterfront, which seemed much too narrow about a decade ago, has evolved. It is historically informative and preservation-centric. It emphasizes the city’s waterways and the Buffalo Blueway plan.
The waterfront, including Canalside, has grown from a figment of the imagination into a vibrant, all-season, all-weather, 24/7-hour live-work-play destination. There is a sense of place. It is the vision coming into focus.