“ECHDC Approves Interpretive Structures Project – Is There Still Hope for the Seneca Chief?”

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) Board of Directors has approved a contract for construction management services related to the Interpretive Structures Project, which encompasses two structures – the Union Block Building and The Pavilion. Both structures will mimic buildings that were previously located at the site, with similar massing. The Union Block Building will be built on the west side of the Commercial Bridge, where Dug’s Dive once found. The Pavilion will be more of an open-air structure located across the canal from Liberty Hound (where Spirit of Buffalo ties up). According to the ECHDC, the addition of these two buildings will accommodate a number of requests by the public for rest rooms, centralized visitor information, and covered programming space.

“While we have been discussing the Canalside Interpretive Structures project for quite some time, today’s board action is a major milestone and signals that we can move forward with construction planning in preparation for a shovel in the ground this fall,” said ECHDC Chairman Robert Gioia.  “The demand for visitor amenities—like permanent public restrooms and centralized visitor information—that will be provided by these structures has been growing at Canalside.  This is all part of Governor Cuomo’s vision for activating Buffalo’s waterfront, while also satisfying visitor needs at Canalside.”

After issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) in November 2017 for a well-qualified Construction Management firm to provide pre-construction, construction and post construction management services, a $1 million contract has been approved and awarded to LiRo Engineers, Inc., a New York State-based multidisciplinary construction management firm, who will team with SLR Contracting & Service Co (M/WBE) and Foit-Albert Associates (MBE) on the project, according to the ECHDC. Groundbreaking for the projects is expected by fall 2018.

While these new projects do alleviate some of the issues associated with extending the Canalside season, by offering indoor space for visitors, along with amenities such as bathrooms and visitor information, the plan doesn’t accommodate one particular project that has been gaining momentum with Canal and history enthusiasts.

According to John Montague of the Buffalo Maritime Center, we might miss the boat when it comes to paying significant tribute to the Canal’s pending bicentennial. Montague has been working on a plan to build a replica of the Seneca Chief packet boat, which was the vessel used by Governor DeWitt Clinton to travel to Buffalo for the Wedding of the Waters ceremony, which officially marked the opening of the Erie Canal.

Montague has been working on a plan to incorporate the construction of the massive replica packet boat into The pavilion project, which he says would not only be an incredible way to pay tribute to the Canal’s bicentennial, it would also be an interactive way for Buffalonians to experience a once in a lifetime historic aspect of the Canal. 40 trades people are currently chomping at the bit, to get the project underway. The site specific project would also allow people to interact with the building in other ways – it would not be solely used for the boat building exercise. Plus, once the boat is launched, it would occupy a permanent home (on the water) at Canalside. The floating packet boat would be used as an interpretive center, a place for gatherings, and a point of pride for Buffalo. The vessel would also make trips down the Erie Canal, acting as a Buffalo ambassador, while bringing significant heritage tangibility to villages along the way.

The current plans do not accommodate space for the 40 ton vessel to be built – a project that would take two years to complete, and would tie into the Reimagine the Canals initiative. Montague has been pushing for more of a historic buildout of the Canal site for year, with room for a “living classroom”. He is still hoping that the ECHDC makes room for the Seneca Chief project. He says that there is another opportunity to see the idea come to fruition, if a platform can be built over “The Ruins”. Once a platform is installed, a temporary building would then be built on top, which is where the packet boat could be constructed. The building of the boat would be a year round interactive project.

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