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Buffalo Planning Board approves Outer Harbor amphitheater, despite much opposition

A rendering of the amphitheater
Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation
A rendering of the approved 8,000-person amphitheater for Buffalo's Outer Harbor.

In the end, it came down to a butterfly garden for the Buffalo Planning Board to move a performance stage on the Outer Harbor another step toward construction.

The 8,000-person amphitheater would be built at the southern end of the 200-acre Outer Harbor and replace the stage at Canalside. The site is near the bicycle track, flanking the Great Lawn.

Those at events would be looking at a stage in front of an old warehouse stripped of its metal sheet wall and opened to a view of Lake Erie. Parking would be on an old industrial parking lot and along the road flanking the Outer Harbor.

The Planning Board said it fits in with the recently changed city zoning and it would make use of an old warehouse that holds together a section of the seawall.

An aerial view of where the amphitheater will be located.
Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation
An aerial view of where the amphitheater will be located on the Outer Harbor.

There was a lot of opposition to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation plan from an array of environmental organizations and activists. Much of the opposition was based on the idea the amphitheater didn't belong in the park many want on the Outer Harbor.

Activist Daniel Sack said performances would be very loud in a park, calling the environmental review completed "pathetic."

"It asks the question: The proposed action may result in an increase in noise, odors or outdoor lighting. And the answer is: No or a small impact may occur. Well, I'm a sound engineer. I've done sound for concerts. Trust me. Every concert down there would violate the city's noise ordinance," Sack said.

ECHDC leaders submitted that review and said there won't be many concerts, perhaps similar to those at Canalside, where there were eight over a summer before COVID-19.

"To allow all these other really successful event to continue," said ECHDC President Steve Ranalli. "Frankly, with the noise ordinance, I suspect you gotta have some receptors to have an issue with noise. The site on the Outer Harbor clearly has very few receptors that are there on a permanent basis. Again, we're moving these things from Canalside in an urban area out to the site."

A larger aerial view of the Outer Harbor.
Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation
A larger aerial view of the Outer Harbor.

Planning Board member Cynthia Swartz amended the project for more lawn and vegetation.

"One modification being that two acres of the Great Lawn be preserved for kite flying and other similar kinds of activity and the remainder acre in some kind of strip that would be a border becomes a butterfly garden or something similar," Swartz said.

There is a lawsuit against the $12 million plan. Monday's meeting was a replay of one from three months ago, when the board approved the plan only to see the ECHDC come back to get it approved again.

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.