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Half gone, half park: Winning plan for Skyway redesign selected

Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News

After decades of debate and a global redesign competition, the Buffalo Skyway Corridor is coming down—at least part of it. That’s according to the winning idea announced Tuesday.

The design that prevailed out of a group of nine finalists is called “City of Lights: Re-View Our Waterfront,” and it was proposed by a Western New York team comprised of the Rochester-based architectural firms SWBR, Fisher Associates and MRB Group.

“Taking home $100,000 is an idea that proposes removing the Skyway, with traffic being redistributed over a series of new facilities,” said Howard Zemsky, board chair and former president and CEO of Empire State Development. And, “a piece of the Skyway high-level bridge would be repurposed as a Skyway park, which would provide iconic views and recreational amenities.”

Speaking after Zemsky and a number of local elected officials, Gov. Andrew Cuomo committed $10 million to start the environmental impact assessment for the redesign “right now.” He also said he wants the entire project completed in less than five years, a timeline he described as the “fastest timeline of any project ever done of this magnitude.”

Credit Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul pose for photos at Seneca One Tower, with a view of the Skyway in the background, on Tuesday.

If that sounds impossible, the governor has a message for you.

“[People said], ‘It’s impossible to keep the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo.’ Yeah, until we did it. ‘It’s impossible to take Canalside from 150,000 visitors per year to 1.5 million visitors per year.’ Yes, but we did it.”

Cuomo also said people claimed it would be too hard to rebuild Seneca One Tower—the site where Tuesday’s announcement was held.

“Is it going to be hard to take it down? Yes,” Cuomo said of the Skyway. “But I have news for you: No great accomplishments are easy.”

The City of Lights team, some of whom live in Buffalo, said they used their local knowledge of the city and past proposals for the Skyway to their advantage.

Credit Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News
Members of the City of Lights design team speak to reporters.

Bill Price, a landscape architect for SWBR, said they asked themselves, “’What would we do?’ Because we live here and we commute, and we want to get to the waterfront and we want to get to the concerts at Canalside, so [we] kind of did what we would want if it was our money being spent.”

Some elements of the design—such as a new lift bridge at Michigan Avenue and a “Tifft Street Extension” road connecting to I-190 to accommodate displaced personal vehicle traffic—were previously proposed. “So, we think we can get going fairly quickly with plans and designs that can go right into environmental assessment,” Price said.

As for the top of the half mile of Skyway that will remain, according to the plan?

“We took an idea of taking the grain silos and kind of peeling them open, and we would have shelters along the majority of it,” Price said. The “Skypark” is also designed to include landscaping and pedestrian and bicycle paths.

“It’ll be a really nice experience when you’re just up there walking and looking at the skyline or the water.”

The City of Lights team estimated the total project cost at $330 million dollars. Gov. Cuomo said the project could cost as much as $600 million, 80% of which he expects to be funded by the federal government. New York State will match 20% of the project costs.

“I think this city is worth the investment,” said Congressman Brian Higgins, a longtime advocate for reimagining the Skyway. “I think what we stated today very simply is that we’re no longer going to invest in the past.”

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown also spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony, and he praised the governor for his continued focus on the revival of Buffalo.

“We have never had this level of attention and this level of investment in the future of Buffalo,” Brown said. “The question of what to do with the Skyway has long gone without an answer, and no one thought the answer would be this big.”

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.
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