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Congressman Higgins Outlines Next Steps at Canal Side, Outer Harbor | Business

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Congressman Higgins Outlines Next Steps at Canal Side, Outer Harbor

Congressman Moves Forward with Plan to Enhance Public Space, Connect Waterfront & Drive Economic Growth

Standing along the Erie Canal Commercial Slip, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) outlined his plan for next steps in Buffalo’s waterfront development.  The Congressman formally submitted the plan to Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) after receiving Bass Pro’s July 29, 2010 letter “withdrawing from further consideration of this (Canal Side) development” and has been working on implementing components of his plan over the last several weeks.

“Western New York has an extraordinary opportunity and extraordinary resources to remake its waterfront,” said Higgins.  “By making the necessary investments in public infrastructure we set the stage for long-term private sector investment.”

The Congressman’s plan focuses heavily on building out the public components of existing Inner Harbor plans and expanding waterfront opportunities at the Outer Harbor through, among other projects, a bridge that links downtown to the Outer Harbor.

Higgins’ plan calls for:

  • Construction of Canals and Canal Side Hall providing a market place for local small business
  • Build out of the South Basin providing dock space and exciting new shoreline features
  • Support for converting the DL&W into a cultural destination
  • A long-term contract for Buffalo Place to continue the public events that draw people to the water’s edge
  • Seed money to attract the necessary funds for construction of the Buffalo Harbor Bridge
  • Infrastructure improvements to make residential living possible along the Outer Harbor
  • Support for the Olmsted Parks Conservancy to maintain landscape features along the Outer Harbor
  • Gallagher Beach improvements including additional paths and the creation of a sandy swimming beach
  • An open and competitive development process

Higgins added, “This community has waited decades to see results on the waterfront.  Anchor discussion shouldn’t be weighing down progress on our waterfront.  The anchor, the main attraction, is the water. There is no need to waste time or money chasing an anchor.  It has been here all along.  When we focus on the water, which has a limitless longevity, and build out around it in a way that is attractive to the public and to developers we create economic opportunities for years to come.”

Next steps in the development of Buffalo’s waterfront

1)      Canals and Canal Hall.  The Corporation should advance the public components of the August bid package which are not associated with Bass Pro.  These include the exciting Canal Hall development, with high-quality space for cultural institutions and small businesses, and the new canals, which will provide a unique year-round pedestrian experience.

2)       The South Basin.  The South Basin is a proposed new inlet immediately south of the Central Wharf.  Its construction will add variety to the shoreline profile, will increase dock space, and will increase the significance of the Central Wharf as it will cause the Central Wharf to be surrounded by water on three sides.  This is the only major public component of the 2004 Master Plan which has not yet been built out, and it presents a rare opportunity as it already has a federal Record of Decision, effectively permission to proceed.  The cost for a bare-bones build out was estimated to have been $2.8 million in February, 2005; therefore the cost for a full build out now might be on the order of $5 million.  There is a demonstrated demand for itinerant dock space at the Inner Harbor, and this investment comports with the important goal of making the Inner Harbor an exciting destination for recreational boaters from Western New York, Southern Ontario and throughout the Great Lakes.

3)       Cultural and or Market Space at the DL&W.  The second floor of the remaining portions of the former Delaware Lackawanna and Western Terminal at the foot of Main Street on the Buffalo River presents a compelling development and historic preservation opportunity.  The DL&W is a unique piece of Buffalo’s built heritage with approximately 100,000 square feet developable space which could be made available as exhibit and/or market space.  To unlock this potential, an investment in mechanical systems and accessibility on the order of $10 million is required. 

4)       Longer term contract for Buffalo Place  The relationship with Buffalo Place as a provider of programming at the Inner Harbor has been one of the most significant and positive aspects of the waterfront’s overall development.  They have produced approximately 100 events per year at the Inner Harbor, which have attracted more than 150,000 people to our waterfront.  The Corporation should enter into a three-year contract with them in order to give them the lead time necessary to ensure high-quality productions, with not less than 5% annual increases in this allocation.

5)       Buffalo Harbor Bridge.  The Buffalo Harbor Bridge would substantially increase the development potential of the 300 vacant acres at the Outer Harbor and therefore presents one of the best opportunities to have an immediate and positive impact on the city’s decimated tax base.  This initiative could achieve a Record of Decision and advance to final design as soon as 2011 for construction to commence in 2012.  It was estimated to have cost between $63 and $87 million in 2009.  As we learned with the Outer Harbor Parkway, putting up a generous funding match is a strong incentive to state transportation officials to apply the funds at their disposal toward a major transportation project.  As such, it would be appropriate for $20 million from the NYPA settlement be applied toward this purpose.  The bridge is also a necessary next step toward the eventual removal of the Skyway.

6)       Infrastructure for Moderately-Priced Outer Harbor Residential Development.  Because Buffalo’s waterfront has been deprived of appropriate infrastructure investment for the past fifty years, it requires additional investment in road and utility infrastructure in order to attract private sector investment.  While the Outer Harbor Parkway is an important first step toward unlocking this neighborhood’s potential, additional investment is needed to make Outer Harbor parcels shovel-ready for market-rate but moderate-income residential development.  An allocation of $10 million from the NYPA settlement would begin to address these needs in a substantive way.  

7)       Interim Financing for Outer Harbor Parkway Maintenance.  There is a need for interim financing of the maintenance of the landscape amenities along the Outer Harbor Parkway.  Once private sector development occurs at the Outer Harbor, there will be a means of paying for the maintenance of these features, following the model of Union Ship Canal Park, where the property owners in the Lakeside Commerce Park pay a small incremental assessment to cover maintenance costs.  To bridge this gap, a one-time payment of $500,000 to the Olmsted Parks Conservancy to pay for the maintenance of these landscape features for 2011 is appropriate.

8)       Gallagher Beach.  This important public space on the Outer Harbor requires targeted investments to meet its full potential.  First, the requisite physical improvements should be made to convert Gallagher Beach to a sandy swimming beach.  There is no reason why other Great Lakes cities in the U.S. and Canada should have swimming beaches on their lake shorelines and we should not.  The area is currently used for swimming informally through events such as Carly’s Crossing.  Sand beach access represents the highest and best use of funds for public access to complement the newly transformed Outer Harbor Parkway.  Additionally, the construction of a multi-use pathway along the breakwater around the Small Boat Harbor would substantially complete the Outer Harbor’s impressive and diverse catalogue of trail infrastructure.  The estimated costs of the breakwater trail and necessary, related improvements was $3,714,000 in 2008; these two investments could be completed for a combined sum of approximately $5 million.

9)     Encourage Competition.  These public investments will make possible extensive private sector investments at the Inner and Outer Harbors.  Before land is conveyed to private developers, it is important that an open and competitive process be employed to ensure that the development is as creative, exciting and appropriate as possible.

 

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