Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday toured several key attractions at Buffalo’s waterfront to promote the transformation of the Outer Harbor and encourage tourists to visit the many attractions throughout the city.
Since 2011, visitors to these attractions have increased tenfold, attracting 1.5 million visitors in 2016 alone. To build on this momentum, the governor announced a new request for proposals for the last remaining vacant land at Canalside.
“Buffalo’s waterfront is both an attractive tourist destination and an engine of the region’s incredible resurgence, creating jobs, and increasing economic opportunity for the region,” Cuomo said. “From Canalside to the Buffalo River to the Outer Harbor, you can see the story of Buffalo’s turnaround from its waterfront, and the South Aud block will move that momentum forward and become the jewel in the crown of the new waterfront.”
South Aud Block Announcement
The South Aud Block development represents the next major project at Canalside with a $2 million commitment from the governor to incentivize this development. This approximately .75 acre site – located across Main Street from One Canalside and HarborCenter, and adjacent to the replica canals and Explore & More Children’s Museum – is considered a prime downtown parcel due to its proximity to Buffalo’s revitalized waterfront. The RFP, to be issued in June, will seek mixed-use proposals from experienced real estate developers for the purchase, long-term lease or a combination thereof, and redevelopment of the parcel of land in accordance with the overall Canalside modified general project plan.
In fall 2017, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. will issue a RFP for a developer for the North Aud Block.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said, “As someone who grew up in Western New York, the transformation of Buffalo’s Outer Harbor is the most obvious return to vibrancy along the waterfront in my lifetime. Gov. Cuomo’s commitment to bringing back the Buffalo harbor and to enhancing our tourism assets here and across the state are unparalleled. The development of the South Aud Block will complete the development of the waterfront, which has attracted recognition worldwide.”
Canalside: Transformed Buffalo’s Inner Harbor into a year-round attraction, a mixed-use urban entertainment destination that features Erie Canal Harbor, including the commercial slip, boardwalk and the historic replica canals.
Completed Improvements to the Waterfront Area
Buffalo RiverFest Park: Buffalo River Fest Park, also known in the Valley as Peg’s Park, features a bandshell, boardwalk, reconstruction of the wharf, which was formerly historic Front Street, winding walkways, pergola and landscaping that frame panoramic views of Buffalo’s historic waterfront. It transforms 2.5 acres of previously vacant land on Ohio Street between Michigan and Chicago directly on the Buffalo River. The park includes a restaurant known as Tewksbury Lodge. The New York Power Authority, through the Niagara Greenway Commission, provided $1.2 million toward the completion of this project.
East Canal: $5.8 million state investment created an outdoor public space that features a granite plaza, a shallow pool of water, fountains, seating, lighting and a shaded tree grove. It is located just south of One Canalside, the former Donovan State Office Building. This project preserves public access to the waterfront, with a new outdoor space for locals and visitors to enjoy, and it also serves as a catalyst for private investment and development.
One Canalside: In 2011, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. issued an RFP for development of this project, which transformed the Donovan State Office Building into One Canalside. This $30 million complex, the first major private investment at Canalside, is the home of a 102-room Courtyard by Marriott and the 85,000-foot headquarters of Philips Lytle LLP, one of Buffalo’s largest law firms.
HarborCenter: In 2012, the state supported HarborCenter with $25 million in state tax credits. Today, this $200 million 20-story HarborCenter is a bustling destination for the entire region, hosting two NHL regulation indoor ice rinks as well as a 205-room Buffalo Marriott. Construction alone provided about 1,600 local construction jobs over the course of two years, and the facilities are expected to create 350 full-time jobs and generate $48 million in state and local taxes over the next 10 years.
Boardwalk Extension: This project, with a state investment of $3.9 million, enhances the recreational use of the Buffalo River and Canalside, as well as the trail system along the river.
General Mills: In October 2016, General Mills increased its cereal production in Buffalo, allowing the company to retain 417 full-time jobs. The $25 million project included the purchase of new packaging equipment, upgraded ingredient systems and the added production of Corn Chex and Honey Nut Chex cereal products at the Buffalo plant. State investment on this project was $1 million.
Grain Elevators/Connecting Terminal Grain Elevator Lighting: In November 2015, Buffalo’s historic Connecting Terminal grain elevator was fit with new lighting display that provides a direct visual link to Canalside and anchor the Buffalo River’s gateway from Lake Erie. The grain elevator is lit every night throughout the year and marks another significant milestone in fulfilling Cuomo’s vision for a revitalized Buffalo waterfront. The project includes a state investment of $4.2 million.
First Buffalo River Marina: The First Buffalo Marina is a full-service marina located in the Buffalo River at the gateway to the Buffalo China Lighthouse. It has received $10 million in state funding since 2011. It boasts slips, outdoor storage for 300 boats, a launch pad, and 150 boat/trailer parking spots.
Buffalo Lighthouse: Built in 1833, the Buffalo “Chinaman’s Lighthouse,” is one of the oldest lighthouses on the Great Lakes. The state invested $188,000 funds for masonry repair and stonework on the exterior and interior of the lighthouse structure, which will help prepare the lighthouse for new visitors.
Queen City Bike Ferry: The state invested $825,000 in to the Queen City Bike Ferry, which connects pedestrians and bicyclists from Canalside to the Outer Harbor and back daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day for $1 per person each way. In 2015, its first year of operation, the ferry exceeded expectations as it welcomed over 50,000 riders.
Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park: This park is home to several decommissioned US Naval vessels. It is a popular tourist attraction adjacent to Canalside and includes a restaurant, the Liberty Hound, which the invested $200,000 toward operations.
New York Gateway Connections Improvement Project: This $60 million, which received $30 million in state investment, had several components, providing direct access between the U.S. Peace Bridge Plaza and Interstate 190, removing Baird Drive from Front Park, replacing the bridge carrying Porter Avenue over Interstate 190 and the CSX Railroad, and renovating and realigning the Shoreline Trail along the Niagara River between LaSalle Park and the Peace Bridge. Improvements to the Shoreline Trail include the approach structure, overlook structure and new pedestrian bridge ridge along with the new pathway.
Wilkeson Pointe: This is the state’s first project on the Outer Harbor. Once a location where NYPA stored the ice boom, this area has become a popular tourist and recreational attraction, with the snack stand, sunset watching, and even yoga classes. The state’s $5 million has also helped bring a kayak launch, wind sculptures and volleyball courts.
Ohio Street Gateway Reconstruction Project: Managed by Erie Canal Harbor Development Council, along with the NYS DOT, the federal government, and the City of Buffalo, this reconstruction project is located along a 1.4-mile stretch of mainly vacant or underutilized land in the First Ward Neighborhood of downtown Buffalo. This project, which received a state investment of $3.3 million, dramatically transformed the street into a parkway and a major waterfront arterial linking Canalside/Downtown to the Outer Harbor. It has been the catalyst of several multimillion-dollar development projects, including the Buffalo Scholastic Rowing Association and the $18 million Buffalo River Landing residential development.
Transformative Developments in Progress
Explore & More Children’s Museum: March saw the groundbreaking on the $27 million Explore & More Children’s Museum on the South Aud Block of Canalside. The 43,000-square-foot stand-alone building will house seven educational play zones, each offering hands-on activities and exhibits that tell the stories of Buffalo for children and families. With approximately $11 million in state investment, Explore & More’s project is expected to create 36 full-time-equivalent jobs, in addition to 40 construction jobs, and bring 250,000 new visitors annually to Buffalo’s waterfront and families.
Carousel at Canalside: In October 2016, Cuomo announced a $1.2 million state challenge grant to construct a building to house the nearly century-old DeAngelis Carousel at Canalside in Buffalo. The installation of the vintage carousel complements the rapid transformation of Buffalo’s waterfront. The new building will enclose the historic, custom-designed wooden carousel to allow for year-round access, and showcase Buffalo’s rich history in carousel making and its vibrant waterfront.
Canalside Interpretive Structures Project: The Canalside Interpretive Structures project, budgeted at $11 million total – 100 percent state funded – consists of new facilities at several locations, with a focus on former buildings located along the Commercial Slip. In March, a $1.3 million contract was approved with Hamilton Houston Lownie Architects LLC, a Buffalo-based architectural firm, to provide architectural and engineering design services for the project. The project will incorporate architectural elements that celebrate and interpret the historical significance of the Erie Canal and surrounding area.
DL & W Terminal: The NFTA will extend Metro Rail and provide second-floor access in order to activate the site for future development. The authority is seeking bidders for the environmental studies needed to start the $42 million project. The project took a leap forward earlier this year when Cuomo committed $20 million through the “Buffalo Billion II” initiative. The idea is to extend Metro Rail beyond its last downtown stop into the DL&W, where the NFTA houses its yard and shops complex.
160 Acres of Outer Harbor Land: The state has invested $20 million toward approximately 160 acres of land north of Buffalo Harbor State Park to be improved and used in accordance with a community-driven Buffalo Outer Harbor blueprint, a long-term plan that was developed in accordance with ECHDC’s guiding principles and significant public input.
‘Buffalo Blueway’: This $10 million investment from the “Buffalo Billion II” will leverage the Buffalo River cleanup to catalyze regional connectivity and link many of Buffalo’s most prominent tourism destinations, historical sites, cultural institutions and natural spaces. The “Buffalo Blueway” will enhance and expand waterfront access for all communities and will be strategically connected to existing sites and attractions. By connecting these prized assets, the “Buffalo Blueway” is intended to spur tourism and revitalization, bring together communities, and improve the social well-being and health of local residents.
Buffalo Harbor State Park: The state has invested $15 million for a three-phase development of Buffalo’s first state park. Phase one included creation of the destination playground, picnic pavilions and improvements to the green space, which has become the great lawn for the park. Phase two includes structural rehabilitation work at the marina breakwater as well as rehabilitation of the southern revetment. The revetment was completed by Memorial Day of 2016 and has become a popular fishing access point. Phase three began in August of 2016 and includes construction of a boat launch, a parking lot, intra-roadway parking lots and utility upgrades. This project will serve to help with the flow of day-use boaters as well as traffic in the park. This phase is expected to be completed in July.