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Fewer trains, more businesses at Canalside, lawmakers say

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation should not be interested in a Canalside Amtrak station, but in developing what is already on the drawing board, like a residential neighborhood. That is from Congressman Brian Higgins and Assemblymember Sean Ryan.

Standing before what the congressman called a construction junkyard, the two legislators say the development agency should be working on putting shops, restaurants and residences into the hole in the ground that used to be Memorial Auditorium.

Ryan said Canalside needs that mix of residential and commercial to build upon each other.

"Their plan calls for this site to be a vibrant Canalside neighborhood that includes a market place to support retail and residential housing, which will support the market place and the retail," Ryan says. "So it's a good plan. The plan's been vetted by the community. It's been approved by the Harbor Development Corporation and we would like to get it going."

In a letter to ECHDC Chairman Robert Gioia, the Buffalo Democrats say the public market was approved by the board in 2013 and nothing seems to have been done beyond that approval.

"The public market is the right kind of development for Canalside, creating a destination that would feature Buffalo's homegrown food offerings, bringing people together in building on the downtown and Canalside experience for the public, for people, not for buses and trains," Higgins says.

Higgins says it has been four years since the master plan called for housing and a public market and nothing has happened. He says he has personally contacted unnamed restaurateurs who say they are interested in a location at Canalside, which currently has limited food offerings.

"You have restaurant interests, who are expressing and will continue to express interest to Erie Canal Harbor that they'd like to have a presence here so that Canalside becomes that much more popular for the general public," he says. "So what's left to be done other than to activate the very master plan that you approved?"

He says putting residential housing on that same Aud block would bring customers for the market and provide an amenity for those who move into the housing. The two lawmakers also asked Gioia to get the ECHDC away from Canalside being a possible train and bus station and just be a growing attraction for the public.

Gioia says there will be a request for proposals this summer to see if a private company is interested in building on the Aud site and perhaps putting up the public market.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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