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Top 16 proposals for reimagined Buffalo Skyway Corridor revealed

Empire State Development

Demolish the Skyway Bridge to make way for housing along the waterfront.


Enclose the Skyway in glass for a year-round “Skybeach.”


Or keep the Skyway, make improvements and reroute traffic.


Those are just some of the ideas submitted for New York state’s “Aim for the Sky” competition, which challenged urban planners and architects to reimagine the Buffalo Skyway Corridor as a more recreational waterfront.




The top 16 submissions were unveiled Wednesday at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, where they’ll remain on display until Sept. 13. The proposals also available to view online on the Empire State Development website.


Community members are asked to view them and then submit questions, which may be asked of the applicants during a live pitch meeting.


“We need to consider a new vision — the time is right,” said Howard Zemsky, chairman of Empire State Development, the state’s economic development agency. “We need to draw inspiration from this city’s unique waterfront and we need to respond to the collective aspirations of the community.”


Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the Aim for the Sky competition in February, soliciting proposals to reimagine and build on previous investment in the Buffalo Skyway Corridor, which stretches four miles along the Buffalo River and Lake Erie from downtown to Lackawanna, and includes the four-lane Skyway.


Since the competition opened in May, there were more than 100 submissions from across New York, the United States and Canada, and even as far as Italy, India and China. The Aim for the Sky committee then whittled down those submissions to just 16.


Zemsky, who is chair of the committee, said members were impressed by the variety amongst the proposals.


“You’ve got robust recommendations to … consider really removing the Skyway,” he said. “You’ve got ideas to reuse the Skyway. You’ve got ideas to keep parts of the Skyway. So you've got a full range.”


Zemsky declined to say which option he prefers.


Built in 1955 when the city had a thriving industrial waterfront, the Skyway was meant to transport trucks from factories and the Port of Buffalo to the then-fledgling state highway system.


But between the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959 and the closing of the area’s major steel plants in the 1980s, the Skyway is now mostly for commuting, carrying nearly 40,000 trips of commuter traffic per day.


It’s now also seen by many as an impediment to recreational development along the waterfront.


Congressman Brian Higgins, a vocal proponent of removing the Skyway, said Wednesday the bridge doesn’t meet today’s safety standards and is fracture critical, meaning the entire structure could collapse if just one section collapses. 


He added it’s closed about a dozen times a year due to weather.



Credit Tom Dinki/WBFO News
Congressman Brian Higgins speaks with the media after Wednesday's Aim for the Sky competition presentation at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

“Clearly, clearly we can do better,” said Higgins, D-Buffalo. 

Higgins and Zemsky acknowledged that what to do with the Skyway Corridor has long been debated. Zemsky said he remembers complaints and discussions about the Skyway since he moved to Buffalo in 1981.


However, they both voiced optimism this time would be different.


“This is a new day,” Higgins said. “This is a real process that will produce a result that will make Buffalo better. Over the next two years we will make decisions that will affect Buffalo for the next 100 years.”


The top 16 proposals will be whittled down to about eight for the live pitch meeting.


Eventually the top three submissions will be selected and awarded $100,000, $50,000 and $25,000, respectively. Winners will also have the chance to define the scope of future waterfront development and inform the direction of future state and private investment, according to state officials.


While the Empire State Development website states winners will be announced in mid-September, Zemsky did not have an exact timeframe for the selection.


“We’re eager to review these, eager to get public feedback, eager to continue to move the process forward,” he said. “When we have a specific day we’ll share that.”

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.