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Contest to rethink Skyway will unfold over four months

Should the Skyway stay or go?

The state expects the right answer in four months.

"Let's ask the best minds in the country, the most creative planners, designers, community groups, to give us their best ideas," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

A request for submissions – issued Monday – seeks a new vision for what some see as an aesthetic and land development problem but what others see as a necessary artery for transporting people.

"We are seeking creative submissions that are transformative – and yet affordable, feasible and technically achievable – that draw inspiration from the community's unique waterfront landscape," according to the state document announcing the competition.

What to do about the towering concrete structure has confounded planners. So Cuomo created a design competition – "Aim for the Sky: Competition to Re-Imagine the Buffalo Skyway Corridor" – to help reach a decision.

A selection jury features some of the country's most progressive thinkers in urban planning. The 11-member jury includes Lynn Richards, president and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism; Ethan Kent, senior vice president of Project for Public Spaces; Jennifer Vey, director of the Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking at the Brookings Institution; and Calvin Gladney, president and CEO of Smart Growth America.

"I am not aware of any city or state doing a design competition around a highway removal or transformation," Richards said. "I think it shows great leadership by Gov. Cuomo, and it is an example for other states – both governors and mayors – to follow."

Local representatives include Mayor Byron W. Brown; Hal Morse, executive director of the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council; and Robert Shibley, dean of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning. Howard Zemsky, president and CEO of Empire State Development, will serve as chairman.

As an added incentive, the competition will award $100,000 to the first-place winner. Second- and third-place winners will receive $50,000 and $25,000, respectively.

"The Buffalo waterfront has always been one of the city's great assets," Cuomo said during a telephone conference call with local media. "Everyone has pointed out its potential growth opportunities. We have realized it. But we want to do more.

"It came to mind when I was at Explore & More recently," the governor said of his visit to the soon-to-open children's museum, located near the Skyway. "You see the new Buffalo meeting the old Buffalo."

The state has spent $138 million on projects at Canalside and the Outer Harbor during Cuomo's tenure as governor.

The fast-track process is characteristic of how Cuomo has pushed projects forward in Buffalo.

"Buffalo has had a history in the past of protracted deliberation on major capital problems," Cuomo said.

"This will not be a protracted deliberation. It is another big idea. It’s out of the box, and I think it’s exactly what we need – another big, visionary, creative idea to excite Western New York and let the rest of the country know that Buffalo is back," he said.

"It's a Gov. Cuomo tight time frame," Zemsky added.

Submissions are due June 28, with the jury announcing the top 20 submissions on July 15. The jury will then review those proposals over the last two weeks of August.

During the weeks of Aug. 26 and Sept. 2, public information sessions will be held.

During the week of Sept. 9, eight finalists will be announced, followed by the first-, second- and third-place winners.

The Skyway, built in 1953, reaches a height of 110 feet over the shipping channel of the Buffalo River. The bridge corridor covers about 75 acres.

Cuomo cautioned that any project involving the Skyway won't happen quickly.

"My guess is you’re talking years," the governor said. "But we are very aggressive in moving projects forward."

Buffalo in the '50s: Skyway was city's 'brightest jewel'

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