The shipbuilding industry is about to return to Buffalo's Inner Harbor – albeit, in a very limited way.
The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. got the green light from the Buffalo Planning Board Monday to erect a new wood frame longshed building at Canalside, on 0.2 acres along the Commercial Slip.
The long, slender barn-like structure will initially be used by the state agency and the Buffalo Maritime Center to construct a replica of the 1825 packet boat, which transported Gov. DeWitt Clinton from Buffalo to New York City to mark the official opening of the Erie Canal. That process, which will involve volunteers from the community, is expected to take about two to three years.
During that time, the interior of the two-story building at the corner of Prime and Lloyd streets is intended to be open to the public so that the Maritime Center can showcase the work being done on the boat and recruit volunteers to join its construction crew.
"You’re looking at Canalside 2.0 here," said Steven Ranalli, ECHDC's vice president of waterfront development. "We have this fantastic site. Now we need to build out those elements for people to see."
Once completed, the packet boat will be berthed in the Commercial Slip, where the Maritime Center will develop a tourism package of programming around it. The boat will tour sections of the Erie Canal system once a year.
"We certainly want to see it go up and down the canal system," Ranalli said. "It’s a calling card for Buffalo."
The year-round hall with its gabled roof will then be turned into flexible multipurpose space for educational and historical programming by a cultural organization, or to host large public gatherings.
It will be headquarters for the 200th anniversary celebration of the Erie Canal in 2025.
Ranalli said ECHDC will have some flexibility over how the facility is used, but officials haven't determined if it could be available for private functions. "It is public space. The intention is to have it open," he said. "Could there be closed-off events? Possibly, but I can’t say for sure."
Designed by HHL Architects with heavy wood timber, natural cedar siding and corrugated silver-gray steel roofing, the 4,000-square-foot facility will look like the kind of structure that existed along the canal in 1825, with a facade similar to the Newman & Scovill Groceries and Ship Chandlers store that used to be there.
Besides the main floor – which stretches the length of the building – the longshed will include a small mezzanine level along a two-tiered facade on one side. It will have a separate two-story portion with red corrugated metal that will house the building's mechanical equipment so that it can't be seen by passersby.
A square glass overhead door will face Lloyd and Prime, while a one-story exterior porch on the south side will face the Canalside lawn. The building will feature storefront-type entry doors and second-floor windows.
There are plans for signage, including the word "Buffalo" on a painted rectangular panel on one end of the building and potential sponsorship or dedication on another side. Changeable signs or panels are being incorporated, to promote special events or programs, as well as a horizontal information panel to highlight history of that area.
The location prompted the only criticism of the project Monday, from Anthony Diina, who said it would obstruct the public's views of the water, and suggested that "there are plenty of other sites" to build a boat.
"It’s on the most used pedestrian area of Canalside," said Diina, a former member of Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park's board. "The success of Canalside is often pointed to as public access. To put it on that most valuable corner is a poor siting of the building and depriving the public of access and use of that land."
Maritime Center officials and volunteers rebutted Diina's complaint, saying Canalside was the perfect place. The Maritime Center currently has its boat repair, manufacturing and education center in Black Rock.
But center leaders and volunteers said this project needed to be in a highly visible location – especially since it's funded in part by the state.
"We’re a volunteer organization. We have some paid staff who are shipwrights and engineers, who will design it, but as with most of our projects, it’s built by volunteers," said Joe Koessler, the Maritime Center's board president. "So we would like to have this located at the particular site because of the number of eyeballs that will be on it and the number of volunteers that will hopefully join us in this project."
"The best thing about this location is we’re going to be building this boat with the door open – maybe not in the winter – and people can see their neighbors building this boat," said Maritime Center volunteer Dan Reichardt. "Our location in Black Rock is great, but front and center is better."
The $4 million project was unveiled as part of a package of $24 million in investments for three Canalside projects unveiled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in August.
The proposal needs a special-use permit from the Common Council to allow an artisan factory on site, but that approval is expected Tuesday.
The project will go out to bid by contractors in coming weeks, with a goal of starting construction later in the spring.