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Higgins pushing for clear plans for what remains of NYPA settlement in waterfront development

Congressman Brian Higgins is calling for solid plans for more than $90 million in funding that is headed for Buffalo’s waterfront, and he has ideas on what to do with it.

Standing in the heart of Buffalo’s Canalside district, Congressmen Brian Higgins competed with the sounds of construction on the Skyway above and a future museum nearby as he called for defined plans for the future of the city’s waterfront.

A federal relicensing settlement with the New York Power Authority, negotiated in 2006 and renegotiated by Higgins and then-New York Governor David Patterson in 2009, secured close to $170 million for access and development along the city’s waterfront over 20 years.

Now, the deal’s halfway point is approaching, and more than $62 million of those funds have been spent. Higgins said there’s tangible evidence that they money has been put to good use at Canalside and the Outer Harbor, but he wants to see movement on plans that have been stagnant for nearly five years.

“There have been some good ideas,” said Higgins. “Some of those ideas are aligned. Some are a little bit different. I think there’s been ample public discussion. I think there’s a time to discuss and a time to move, and today is a time to move.”

Higgins is proposing six projects receive funding from the NYPA settlement. They include $7 million for the high-line trail project along the DL&W rail corridor, $8 million for improvements to the former Michigan Pier area on the outer harbor, and $10 million for finalized development of the North Aud Block at Canalside. The list also calls for $5 million in updates to the Erie Basin Marina and $7 million on the waterfront’s Naval and Military Park, as well as $5 million for construction of a pedestrian and bicycle bridge between Silo City and the Outer Harbor.

“These are all projects that are fundamentally consistent as to why these moneys were secured in the first place,” said Higgins. “And that was to build, to construct, waterfront access projects for the people of Buffalo and Western New York who had been denied access to their waterfront for more than 50 years.”

The projects would account for a total of $42 million out of the more than $92 million in funding that remains. Higgins has pitched his list to Empire State Development, which oversees the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation – the entity that, ultimately, decides what goes up along the waterfront. But he also said he shouldn’t be the only one weighing in on new plans for the money.

“We also believe that the public should weigh in as to projects that they – the public – believe merit considerations,” said Higgins.

Already planned for this year and next at Canalside are the opening of the Explore and More Children’s Museum, installation of a historic carousel, and construction of a pavilion and public services building. Higgins calls them all valuable additions to the area, but says more “high-outcome” projects need to be planned.

He said unlike some projects, the money already is available – it’s just a question of how it will be spent.

Follow WBFO's Avery Schneider on Twitter @SAvery131.

Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.
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