Share this article

print logo

Outer Harbor proposals: From promenades to playgrounds, 'we have an option for you'

Waterfront promenades and boardwalks. A mountain bike expansion and BMX competition course.

An adventure playground and play beach. The conversion of an unused grain elevator into a rooftop restaurant and small museum.

These are among dozens of ideas for the Outer Harbor that about 150 people considered Monday at an open house presented by a state waterfront agency. Dozens of colorful placards presented three design options for each of the Outer Harbor's three sites, all showing varying degrees of passive and active recreation.

The three sites are: nearly 150 acres stretching between Bell Slip and Wilkeson Pointe, the 16-acre First Buffalo River Marina and the 15 acres around Terminal B, a vacant building at the southern end of the Outer Harbor.

A final choice for each will be revealed in the spring, along with cost estimates and possibly projected deadlines. The projects are being paid with $15 million from the state's Buffalo Billion II economic program.

"We've heard over many years what people want and thought really hard about how to offer different alternatives within those things," said Steven Ranalli, vice president of waterfront development for Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.

"If you're interested in quiet space, we have an option for you," Ranalli said. "If you're interested in more active recreational space, we have an option for you. If you wanted that space one place or another, we have that, too."

A boardwalk is proposed along the First Buffalo River Marina.

The choices were guided by feedback received at the first Outer Harbor open house in July, Ranalli said. The six categories people indicated they wanted to see at the Outer Harbor are industrial heritage, more access to the water, more access to the land, ecological and habitat restoration, recreation and comfort amenities.

Jay Burney, a founding member of the Outer Harbor Coalition, a community group that includes environmentalists, has been critical in the past of the waterfront agency's plans for the Outer Harbor. He isn't now.

"I like that there is more open space, more habitat, more public space," Burney said. "I think that's a great development. We've worked hard to get our voices heard, and they're listening."

Some viewers were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information to absorb.

"It's really nice to see this kind of interest in putting this space back into public use and building on what's been going on in Buffalo," said Joe Schretzman, who lives in Amherst.

"I'm glad to see how much they are leaving as open space," he said. "But there's a lot of information to digest at once, so I'm glad they're leaving information and the surveys online."

Dave Elder also felt like it was a lot to take in as he studied proposals.

"The first thing I look for is something that is terribly wrong, like a high-rise, and there is nothing to be offended about in any of the plans on this first viewing, so that's heartening," Elder said.

A walking bridge by Lake Erie is under consideration for an Outer Harbor project.

"They are all worthy of a lot of thought, and a revisit online is required," he said.

Some were unhappy by what they saw. Eric Lander, a commercial real estate consultant, said the plans should have more development, including two- to three-story residences. That would make the Outer Harbor active year-round and contribute toward the cost of needed infrastructure.

"Not everybody kayaks, goes skateboarding or plays volleyball," Lander said. "I ride my bike here, I kayak. I get it. I love that. But you also have to have something that activates the area 24/7, and that is economically sustainable. Who's going to pay for this? The taxpayers."

Douglas Riffel of South Buffalo said the proposals failed to address access to the Outer Harbor for people without cars. He was also concerned about the potential loss of boat storage, but glad to see that none of the proposals called for high-rise buildings.

More trails, boat rentals, swimming on public's wish list for Outer Harbor

Margaret Wooster said that in a time of climate change and water quality concerns, nothing in the proposals address how to protect the Outer Harbor's water supply and sustain its fisheries.

The one-story, 96,000-square-foot Terminal B building and the behemoth Connecting Terminal grain elevator would be transformed. Terminal B could also possibly be removed altogether.

The proposals called for it to either be removed, reduced to its metal frame or shrunk in size by half.

Options for the grain elevator include a rooftop viewing deck and restaurant – one proposal calls for year-round space – as well as interpretive space for the elevator and the silos on the ground floor. An elevator and stairwell would need to be added.

Boaters would see the removal of dry dock facilities at the marina, where repairs are done.

"We want to maintain the marina," Ranalli said. "In every case we're holding the number of slips and provide parking for them."

Winter storage now available for 150 boats would be lost if a decision is made to operate a full year-round restaurant on the Connecting Terminal, since that space would be needed for winter parking, Ranalli said.

You get a say on what to put on the Outer Harbor

Erie Basin Marina and Buffalo Harbor State Park don't offer winter storage, he said.

Ranalli said the three sites are being considered at once to provide a comprehensive and coordinated approach for the undeveloped state land under the waterfront agency's control.

The trick, he said, will be to find the right balance between quiet, ecological spaces and more activated sites, as well as whether the public wants amenities like restaurants.

"The public's comments are going to have a significant amount of weight," he said. "We have a limited budget and around 200 acres to deal with, so we need to move forward with some consensus on what the Outer Harbor is going to be."

The online survey will be available until Dec. 23 here.

There are no comments - be the first to comment