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$125 million Outer Harbor plan gets high marks

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation
Rendering of the Outer Harbor "preferred" vision aired Thursday evening.

Perhaps a year from now, there will be construction on Buffalo's Outer Harbor with a new $125 million plan for the long-quiescent hundreds of acres.

Credit Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation
Preferred vision of the Outer Harbor aired Thursday evening.

Officials of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation on Thursday unveiled the plan during a session at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. The several hundred people in attendance studied renderings of the "preferred" plan and heard from the consultants who prepared this plan.

The plan is a far cry from the original proposal for the land, featuring high-rise condos and lots of steel and concrete. Under public attack, that eventually went away and softer plans were developed.

For many, this apparent final stage has been a long time coming. Joanie Kahn has been to a lot of these events showing possible plans for the Outer Harbor.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Visitors to the Burchfield Penney Art Center review Outer Harbor plans.

"We at 21st Century Park has been involved since 2011, so it's been a long draw, but we're really very pleased tonight," Kahn said. "It's a wonderful plan. It's connecting that waterfront. It's going to be such an asset for our city and our region."

There is some concern from boaters who question the decision in the planning to shrink winter boat storage at a marina across the Buffalo River from Canalside. Andy Graham uses a marina for his boat and needs winter storage.

"People from the Small Boat Harbor and from Erie Basin, neither of which have winter boat storage or the facilities to lift those boats our of the water and take them and put them on a cradle, these are non-trailerable boats," Graham. "So to diminish that down to 115 winter storage spots, I think they had over 300 boats stored at First Buffalo River Marina last year."

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation President Steven Ranalli said it is all a great use of a vast, sprawling piece of land.

"Mixture of passive and active recreational areas, additional five miles of trail, increased access down to the water's edge, so you can actually get down in places and touch it," Ranalli said. "There'll be more places to get out to the Outer Harbor and fish. We're going to maintain the marina that's out there, keep all of those slips, and then down at the southern end by Terminal B, we're actually going to re-use that building."

Ranalli said the development corporation has an initial $15 million from Buffalo Billion II. State Assemblymember Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo) said the plan is good for Canalside, across the water.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Visitors to the Burchfield Penney Art Center review Outer Harbor plans.

"Developers need to know that we want them to develop on the Inner Harbor at Canalside and that the Outer Harbor is basically going to turn into an active recreational area that could be used to help the Inner Harbor in those assets," Ryan said. "So it's only one quick bike ferry away from being in something very close to traditional parkland."

Ryan is one of the people in Albany who can help ensure funding for the plan. There were also some graduate student planners from the University at Buffalo present. Megan Koury said she likes the plan.

"It's about time that Buffalo is doing something, especially with the Outer Harbor," Koury said. "I like that we're going to do a lot of habitat restoration. I'm liking a special sunset wall where the people can lay and go out into other waterfront for a long time, since the Industrial Revolution in Buffalo we have been disconnected from the waterfront."

A key element of the plan is to allow the public to actually get into the water at several places.

"Naturalized area, a place to go and recreate, a place to get away from the city," said Ranalli. "We've spent a lot of energy and effort at Canalside building that urban downtown and we've got a little bit more work to go there, but I think we're going to have a place at Canalside that's urban, that's dense, that's really activated and then the Outer Harbor is actually a very nice complement."

The corporation board has to approve plans for the mandatory environmental workup for the project, estimated to take 6-9 months.

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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