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Governor commits $2 million to spark Aud Block development

Mary Catalfamo, WBFO

One day after Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown stated that the city and Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation were moving ahead with Canalside's 2004 master plan, Governor Andrew Cuomo came to town and committed state money to spark development on an idled plot of land at Canalside.

Cuomo was a guest of honor on a boat tour of Buffalo's waterfront. After several state and local leaders took turns explaining the completed and forthcoming projects along the Inner and Outer Harbors, the governor praised the city's redevelopment but acknowledged a need to develop the Aud Block.

The site of the former Memorial Auditorium is partially reused as "canals" that host water activities in the summer and ice skating in the winter. But the northern portion of the block remains a fenced-in undeveloped space. Cuomo announced on the boat tour that he is willing to provide state money to spark its redevelopment.

"We are prepared on the state side to put two million dollars on the table, put out an RFP (Request For Proposals) and let's get the best private sector company deal we can to redo the Aud Block. We're going to do it right away," Cuomo said.

The governor's announcement came one day after Mayor Byron Brown spoke of working with the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation to get moving on Canalside's master plan. That plan calls for developing a mix of offices, residential space, entertainment, restaurants and green space. 

Mayor Brown pointed out that a similar strategy turned the former Webster Block into what is now HarborCenter. He was asked what two million dollars could do to generate private interest in the Aud Block.

"It's certainly enough money to close a gap. It's certainly enough money to whet a developer's appetite," Mayor Brown said. "And with all of the other investment here, I think developers are going to be pretty excited about that opportunity."

Cuomo, during the boat tour, said it's the private sector that creates the jobs, though it's the public sector which provides the catalyst for development.

The governor also stated he will make good on his promise to deliver the one million dollars he offered to pay for consulting fees, if Buffalo were to organize and decide where to put a future train station. A panel organized by Mayor Brown chose last month to build downtown.

Cuomo said even if the consulting fees are below one million dollars, he's willing to part with the money because he offered it with the hope Buffalo would simply make a decision.

"Buffalo has a bad history of the inability to make a decision," the Governor said. "My way of saying 'make a decision' was saying 'here's a million dollars if you make the decision.'"

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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