A new museum at Canalside. Upgrades at the airport. New life in the city's tallest building.
The new year is expected to bring plenty of change – from the Buffalo waterfront to suburban shopping centers.
Local politics will be front and center, too, as candidates line up to run for seats in Erie County, on the Buffalo Common Council and on West Seneca's expanding Town Board, among others. At least one area representative could make a bid for U.S. president, and another will keep fighting charges in federal court.
Here's a look at what to expect in 2019, including what's on tap in Albany, why you're likely to see traffic woes on major highways and who's likely to run for Erie County executive.
It will be the Year of the Progressives in Albany.
With the Senate in Democratic hands, the new, all Democratic-run government will push through items blocked when the GOP ran the Senate. Look for early action to expand protections and access to abortions, along with election law changes, like early voting and ending the many scattered state, local and federal election and ballot measures. Campaign finance changes are also likely coming, including the end to a loophole regarding donations for limited liability corporations that has been generous for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers.
Other initiatives: ending cash bail for criminal defendants, a big infrastructure program, lengthening the statute of limitations for child victims of sexual abuse to bring civil and criminal cases against their attackers, decoupling teacher evaluations from student test scores, legalizing recreational pot, sports betting, and giving state college aid to children of undocumented immigrants.
A single-payer health system, pushed by the left, remains most uncertain. And, of course, there will be the annual fight over a $170 billion-plus state budget, who gets taxed or not taxed, and who gets the most state money.
Look for more things to do at Canalside and the Outer Harbor in 2019, including some long-awaited family-friendly attractions coming to Canalside. Explore & More Children's Museum will open its doors in April, and the restored, vintage Buffalo Heritage Carousel will provide rides for kids of all ages later in the year.
Groundbreakings will include the Longshed, which will house the construction of an Erie Canal packet boat, and Heritage Pointe, a mixed-use development opening near the children's museum.
On the Outer Harbor, a bike park for riders with different skill levels, and for different types of riding, will open by Memorial Day. A multi-use trail and events lawn, along with areas where habitat has been restored, will also open there.
Amenities are coming, too, from bike racks, benches and Adirondack chairs along the bike trail to a food truck area, kiosk, public seating and overlooks near the events lawn.
Some major construction projects are expected to advance.
At Buffalo's One Seneca tower, which is the city's tallest building, developer Douglas Jemal expects to wrap up work on three phases of a plan to redevelop the building in the coming months. He’s bringing 115 new apartments, several storefronts and more than 100,000 square feet of new commercial space to the market, in a bid to “activate” the tower’s barren plaza level and make the entire complex more inviting for pedestrians, tenants, shoppers and visitors.
Across the street, Paul Kolkmeyer’s Priam LLC is trying to finish up its conversion of the former Marine Trust Building into condos, while his new banquet space in the former first-floor bank lobby is already open.
And William Paladino’s Ellicott Development Co. is working on its 12-story tower at 500 Pearl, with a hotel, office space, apartments, retail and parking.
Projects are also underway in South Buffalo, North Buffalo and the East Side, where People Inc. has teamed up with Nick Sinatra and David Pawlik on the new Jefferson Avenue Apartments. Rocco Termini is adding to his incubator community on Chandler Street, while Dr. Greg Daniel converts the former Pierce-Arrow Administration Building into apartments.
One of your senators will likely start a run for president. One of Western New York's House members will continue to fight criminal charges. And all eyes will be on the runup to the 2020 presidential election.
In other words, 2019 looks to be an unusually dramatic year in Washington.
All signs point to Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand's joining the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, probably early in the year.
Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican arrested in August on insider trading charges, appears ready to fight the case in court all the way up to his February 2020 trial.
And President Trump will try to fend off whatever special prosecutor Robert Mueller finds in his probe of Russian election interference.
Call 2019 the Year of the County Executive.
Incumbent Democrat Mark C. Poloncarz is expected to seek a third term, with no intraparty challenge expected. Republicans are planning for a serious challenge, though no clear contender has yet emerged.
Still, many Republicans are suggesting as a candidate State Sen. Christopher L. Jacobs, who has thrived in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. He will lose his Senate majority power in January following the Democratic takeover of the upper chamber, and he could be looking for a new post.
Jacobs is not talking, nor are Republican leaders. But others losing their majority influence in the Senate include the GOP’s Patrick M. Gallivan of Elma and Michael H. Ranzenhofer of Amherst — who both could bring strengths to a Poloncarz challenge.
Other big races this year will revolve around the entire County Legislature, the Buffalo Common Council and the mayor of Niagara Falls.
All nine seats on the Buffalo Common Council will be up for election, as will the city comptroller's job.
The race for city comptroller appears wide open after Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder told his staff last week that he was leaving city government to become commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Within 90 days of Schroeder's resignation, the Common Council must select a replacement, who will serve through the end of Schroeder's term. The position is on the ballot for a full, four-year term in November.
Residents of the cities of Niagara Falls and Lockport will elect mayors in November.
In Lockport, a new mayor, Michelle M. Roman, will take the oath of office today to fill a one-year term. Roman, who will be first Democratic mayor in 15 years, was elected to complete the term left vacant when former Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey resigned Aug. 8 to become president and CEO of Eastern Niagara Hospital.
A full four-year mayoral term will be on the ballot in November.
In the City of Niagara Falls, people are already lining up to run for mayor in November. Democrats Robert M. Restaino and Seth A. Piccirillo have announced intentions to run, while Mayor Paul Dyster, who has led the city since 2008, has not yet announced his plans.
This will be one of the most interesting elections in West Seneca history, and it's all because of upsizing.
Voters overwhelmingly approved adding two councilmen to the Town Board in 2018, and those new seats will be filled in 2019. That means seven town offices are up for election Nov. 5, including four members of the Town Board, which will have five members in 2020.
In addition to the new council slots, the supervisor's seat and one councilman position also will be on the ballot. It's possible there could be four new faces and just one incumbent on the board in 2020. Voters also will choose a town clerk, highway superintendent and town justice.
Look for Part II of major road reconstruction next summer, with three major projects starting their second year in the spring. That means reduced lanes and detours on some of the region's major thoroughfares. They include:
Thruway: The $66.4 million, two-year project includes the reconstruction and rehabilitation of nearly 3 miles of road and bridges over four creeks, as well as replacement of the Norfolk Southern Railroad bridge. New signs, guard rails, shoulder expansion and additional reflective pavement markings are being added to enhance safety.
Skyway: The $29.9 million project includes rehabilitating the concrete road deck, replacement of bridge joints and minor steel repairs. The inbound mainline deck work was completed last summer, and work shifts to outbound lanes this year. During construction, inbound-only traffic will be allowed during the morning commute while outbound-only will be allowed during the evening commute and on weekends.
Youngmann Highway: The $6.7 million project is replacing two precast concrete bridges with new steel bridges. The eastbound bridge was replaced last summer, while the westbound bridge will be replaced next summer.
At the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, officials are planning for major construction for an $80 million expansion of Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Plans call for new passageways, escalators and baggage conveyors to upgrade the Cheektowaga facility to modern standards.
Significant construction will mark traveler’s experience at the airport for the next two years, but officials say their plans should minimize problems.
The NFTA will also continue its efforts to extend Metro Rail to the University at Buffalo North Campus and beyond. The authority will proceed with its $5 million environmental review required by the federal government for the extension, which is expected to cost at least $1 billion.
Officials in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca are waiting in suspense to see if revenue from the Seneca casinos will start flowing again.
An arbitration panel met Dec. 12 and 13 in New York City, and either a decision or a negotiated solution is expected sometime in 2019.
The Senecas say their original casino compact didn't require them to pay any of their profits to the state after 2016. Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca all receive shares of that revenue.
"The faster that we can get this dispute behind us and get back to more normal friendly relations, the better off we're all going to be in the long term," Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said.
2019 should clarify how to redevelop key properties in Erie County's northern suburbs.
In Amherst, the town is reviewing the best reuse of the former Westwood Country Club, the Boulevard Mall's future remains uncertain and construction should begin on the first new stores in the Northtown Plaza. In Clarence, the new owners of the Eastern Hills Mall continue to study how to transform the shopping center into a town center.
On Grand Island, the town will weigh whether to acquire Cannon Design's headquarters for use as a new town hall, with the global architecture firm eyeing a move to Buffalo.
The City of Tonawanda seeks momentum at the 45-acre Spaulding Commerce Center, site of a $20 million taxpayer-funded cleanup completed in 2012, which remains a vacant lot.
In the City of Lockport, one of the most important public works projects in the city's recent history is on tap. Kandey Co. of West Seneca will be paid $6.7 million to replace the last two miles of the 13-mile pipeline that brings drinking water to Lockport from the Niagara River at North Tonawanda.
With contributions from Tom Precious, Mark Sommer, Jonathan D. Epstein, Jerry Zremski, Robert J. McCarthy, Deidre Williams, Barbara O'Brien, Thomas J. Prohaska and Stephen T. Watson.