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ECHDC sued in attempt to halt pavilion plan in Outer Harbor

Ryan Zunner, WBFO
Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the ECHDC explain their legal action Friday morning.

After a Common Council approval Tuesday, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation is going ahead with plans to place a mixed-use events venue at Buffalo’s Outer Harbor to replace a smaller one at Canalside. But now, four local groups are bringing the ECHDC to court over what they see as a disruption to green space.

Jay Burney of the Western New York Environmental Alliance contends that the Outer Harbor needs to be designated a park, in order to protect green space and animal species, and prevent what he sees as privatization with a planned events pavilion, and other amenities.

“We recognize that this is a very environmentally sensitive area. We also recognize that it's public land, and our interest is in keeping public land - public,” Burney said. “And we're concerned that this will privatize that public land by charging ticket prices, which makes money for someone but it disallows full access to the public.”

Gladys Gifford with the League of Women Voters of Buffalo and Niagara, said the region needs natural spaces free of commercialization.

“The waterfront, the lake shore, attracts a lot of usage. But that's usage that people, the public themselves, have figured out and are happy to do,” said Gifford. “We have to be careful that whatever so-called development, whatever commercial things happen on this waterfront does not monetize what we consider to be important, almost sacred space. This is a place where you come when you want to connect with the outdoors.”

Opponents called the planned venue an amphitheater, something the ECHDC and Empire State Development contend is not the case.

ECHDC President Steven Ranalli disagrees with that term, telling the Buffalo News earlier this week an amphitheater “generally conveys a much larger facility than we’re building.”

A spokesperson for Empire State Development said that they do not comment on pending litigation, but stressed again that plans call for an “open pavilion” on Terminal B, which is a former Tops Warehouse along the southern portion of the Outer Harbor.

If the Outer Harbor were to be designated a state park like the plaintiff groups want, they say it would add an extra layer of protection to the area, as any development plans would then have to go through the state legislature.

Ryan Zunner joined WBFO in the summer of 2018 as an intern, before working his way up to reporter the following summer.