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Editorial: Canalside confluence

Buffalo used to have a thriving market for architectural renderings of future development projects – schemes that too often failed to get off the drawing board.

That’s no longer the case. The cranes in the air and shovels in the ground during the past decade have been markers of our city’s rebirth. Some projects have a longer germination period than others, which is understandable when quality takes precedence over speed.

That’s the approach for developing the North Aud Block, where architects from Amsterdam have unveiled three design options for creating a waterfront neighborhood on the land where Memorial Auditorium once stood.

After several years of talk and promotion of the idea by civic boosters, the creation of a major new attraction at Canalside is starting to take shape.

These are exhilarating times in the neighborhood. The old Amtrak station on Exchange Street has been razed and construction of a new one is underway.

M&T Bank is preparing to launch a technology hub in Douglas Jemal’s Seneca One tower, where it will be joined by 43North and other new tenants.

The Explore & More Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Children’s Museum is just months old, and Canalside remains a hot spot for summer fun. Meanwhile, property values in the nearby Cobblestone District have been escalating, partly based on hopes that a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills or a new convention center could locate there.

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. recently hosted an open house to display the three design proposals for the North Aud Block, created by the Amsterdam-based firm PPHP and consultant T.Y. Lin International Group.

Members of the public have been promoting the idea of creating a village where the Aud stood. The former home of the Sabres was torn down 10 years ago.

Tim Tielman and his Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture backed the concept, as did Peter Dow, Mark Goldman and Scott Wood, from Friends of the Buffalo Story.
The ECHDC’s president, Steven Ranalli, is wisely seeking community input on the village’s final design.

“We want to hear from the general public about what their expectations are before we make any decisions,” he said.

As with many of Buffalo’s major development efforts in the past decade, an infusion of public dollars put the project in motion. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in August 2018 designated $10 million for infrastructure improvements, hoping to attract private capital to the site.

Designing and building the North Aud Block project involves challenges, such as dealing with noise from the elevated section of the Thruway. The designers have to work out how much of the historic street grid to follow without becoming too constrained by it.

A final design choice is expected later this fall.

Ranalli won’t mistake haste for progress.

“We want to move quickly on this, but we want to do it smart and make sure we have a great plan that can stand the test of time,” he said.

It’s a smart approach.

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