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Skyway selection jury gets look at towering concrete structure

Members of a selection jury to help determine the future of the Skyway visited Buffalo Monday to get a look at the aging highway, some for the first time.

Their visit comes five days before proposals are due on how to reimagine the Skyway and the land around it. That includes plans that would keep the towering concrete structure or tear it down.

Lynn Richards, president and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, already had her mind made up about what to do about the Skyway.

"I know the Skyway, and the Skyway has to come down," said Richards, who lives in Rochester. "There are so many other alternatives. It is in a prime real estate spot, and it provides an incredible opportunity for the city to reconnect its downtown with a thriving waterfront."

Ethan Kent, senior vice president of Project for Public Spaces, is impressed by the process. Project for Public Spaces, as a consultant, helped steer Canalside's development toward a "lighter, quicker, cheaper" approach after the Bass Pro chain abandoned its project there nearly a decade ago.

"The process of having this conversation is very valuable," Kent said. "Buffalo has shown people all over the country what is possible for a waterfront.

"This is now an opportunity to take that vision and that process to a much larger scale."

Before the group started its Canalside tour led by Steven Ranalli, president of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., a senior adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo explained what the process intends to accomplish.

Rep. Brian Higgins, center, and State Sen. Tim Kennedy, second from right, walk with others on the selection jury for the competition to Re-Imagine the Buffalo Skyway Corridor. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

"What this process is really about is visioning alternatives for the Skyway corridor, and not just the Skyway bridge itself," John Maggiore said.

What to do about the Skyway has been a source of discussion for years. The design competition initiated by Cuomo, "Aim for the Sky: Competition to Re-Imagine the Buffalo Skyway Corridor," aims to reach a decision in a four-month period.

The panelists, a mix of local and national representatives, include some of the most progressive thinkers in urban planning.

Maggiore cited Buffalo's raised profile in media stories around the country, and how this process is intended to help the city further progress by exploring options to benefit downtown and the waterfront.

He said the corridor stretches about 4 miles, so the group would examine land alongside and on both ends of the Skyway's reach.

"We're not just talking the bridge," Maggiore said. "We're talking basically from downtown Buffalo over the Outer Harbor and the area to the south. It's not like the bridge ends and there is no corridor anymore."

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 selection jury will announce the top 20 submissions on July 15. The jury will then review those proposals over the last two weeks of August.

Public information sessions will be held during the weeks of Aug. 26 and Sept. 2. First-, second- and third-place winners are to be announced the week of Sept. 9.

In addition, the State Department of Transportation is studying transportation alternatives to the Skyway, which will ultimately be factored into a final decision on the Skyway's future.

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