For decades Buffalo’s Inner Harbor and waterfront sat desolate and underutilized until 2005, when the
Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) was formed by New York State to spearhead Buffalo’s waterfront revitalization and reclaim the area as one of America’s brightest historical treasures. ECHDC’s mission is to revitalize Buffalo’s Inner and Outer Harbor areas and restore economic growth to Western New York, based on the region’s legacy of pride, urban significance and natural beauty.
ECHDC’s activities are governed by an active Board of Directors. Projects are funded through a combination of money from New York State and the New York Power Authority Relicensing and Industrial Incentive Agreements.
Millions of dollars in both public and private investment have transformed Buffalo’s Inner Harbor into what is now known as Canalside- a mixed-use urban entertainment destination. Open to the public since May 2008, Canalside features several fully restored facets of the original Erie Canal Harbor, including the Commercial Slip, Boardwalk, and the Historic Replica Canals. A year round attraction that hosts nearly 1.5 million visitors annually, Canalside boasts thousands of events, concerts, festivals, family activities, attractions, historical
& cultural programming, art, food, and tours that capitalize on and showcase the diverse resources of the Western New York region. In addition, the Historic Replica Canals are frozen in the winter months to become New York State’s largest outdoor ice skating rink!
Some recent successes include:
- Summer 2016: Events and programming are growing by leaps and bounds at Canalside, which has become one of Buffalo and Western New York’s most popular destinations for both tourists and locals. In summer 2016, Canalside hosted nearly 3,000 events with nearly 1.5 million visitors. Popular events include concerts, the annual 4th of July celebration, children’s programming, and fitness classes: including yoga, Pilates, and Zumba. In the winter months, Canalside hosts over 70,000 ice skaters, curlers, and ice bikers; as well as broomball and pond hockey leagues.
Spectra Venue Management, through a contractual agreement with ECHDC, maintains and manages the property.
- The Canals/The Ice at Canalside is a $20 million-plus project that, in the wintertime, is frozen to provide visitors a unique ice skating surface that is three times the size of Rockefeller Center. The Canals have three unique bridges and 22,000 square feet of towpaths to reinforce the pedestrian experience and allow for future development as Canalside grows. Winter visitors to the Canals enjoy skating, ice bikes, curling and other winter activities. Summer visitors can rent Paddle or Pedal Boats, remote-controlled sail boats, and bicycles. The area also hosts several events and activities throughout the year. The newly added Canalside Pavilion features several local food and beverage vendors and is heated in the winter to warm up visitors to the Ice Rink.
- Canalside Permanent Boardwalk Extension: The ribbon was cut on this $2.2 million project in May 2016, which upgraded and extended the existing wooden boardwalk by 500 linear feet. The project also expanded the children’s Beach play area and replaced a temporary chain link fence with a permanent railing. Bike pathway improvements have been made at the southern entrance to the site, including new walks and paths, signage and landscaping.
Grain Elevator Illumination: Buffalo’s historic Connecting Terminal grain elevator has become a canvas for a spectacular lighting display that provides a direct visual link to Canalside and anchor the Buffalo River’s gateway from Lake Erie. The project contributes to the enhancement of the Buffalo nightscape, as well as its waterfront and downtown. The grain elevator is lit every night throughout the year and marks another significant milestone in fulfilling Governor Cuomo’s vision for a revitalized Buffalo waterfront.
- Explore & More Children’s Museum: In September 2015, the ECHDC Board voted to accept Explore
& More’s revised plan for a children’s museum at Canalside’s Replica Canals. The new, stand-alone building will house a world-class children’s museum that tells the stories of Buffalo through eight educational play zones. The new location is a switch from the original parcels selected for the Museum in 2012, but better aligns with ECHDC’s plans to create a cultural corridor at Canalside. The new location and new building configuration also provides Explore
& More with more usable square footage. The building’s new location opens up more outdoor programming space for the Museum along the canal towpaths, as well. ECHDC recently selected a Construction Manager for the project and is expected to break ground in early 2017 with a ribbon cutting in 2018.
- East Canal: Completed by ECHDC in December 2013, The East Canal is an outdoor public space that features a granite plaza, a shallow pool of water, fountains, seating, lighting and a shaded tree grove. Located just south of the One Canalside building, there are further private investment possibilities between the East Canal and HARBORCENTER.
Outer Harbor: www.outerharborbuffalo.com
In 2013, ECHDC acquired approximately 350 acres of property owned by Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority located on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. As per the Governor’s direction, the boat harbor and beach has become
Buffalo Harbor State Park and the remaining vacant land will be activated by ECHDC.
- Buffalo Outer Harbor Blueprint: Long-term plan that was developed in accordance with ECHDC’s guiding principles and significant public input. The Blueprint describes future land uses and areas for future development/redevelopment and was recently received by the ECHDC Board of Directors and will be incorporated into the City of Buffalo’s new Green Code. Pending the implementation of the Blueprint land uses and its subsequent environmental review process under the City of Buffalo, the project approved by the ECHDC Board includes a number of relatively low-disturbance activities (visitor center, complete bike path, redevelop the Michigan Pier into a multi-use flex space, overlook locations, comprehensive signage, develop mountain bike course - funded with $5 million from the Buffalo Billion) meant to enhance access and facilitate greater public use/enjoyment of the Outer Harbor. See more information
here. The subject lands have already undergone a number of incremental trail access, clean-up/remediation, and recreational improvements over the last decade while in NFTA ownership, including shore stabilization, new trail systems along the water’s edge and along public roads in the area, remediation of former disposal sites, clearance of blighted structures, and periodic programming of activities such as concerts.
- Event Management: In November 2015, the ECHDC Board authorized entering into an agreement with B. R. Guest Ltd., a subsidiary of Rich Products Corporation for event management of the property at Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. B.R. Guest, under the name Outer Harbor Management Group (OHMG), is managing events and operations in designated public spaces of Buffalo’s Outer Harbor for the calendar years 2016 - 2018 (with renewable options for 2019 and 2020). In exchange for conferring to the right to offer events and generate profits, ECHDC will receive a base rent and share of revenues, portions of which may be used to fund operations, as well as civic and cultural programming on the site. In summer/fall 2016 OHMG is hosting 21 events, as well as daily activities such as kayak and bike rentals and a beer garden.
- Wilkeson Pointe: Completed by ECHDC in May 2013, Wilkeson Pointe is a recreational area on the Outer Harbor with various design components, including: pedestrian paths along the entire perimeter and water’s edge, volleyball courts, natural playgrounds, wind sculptures, a kayak launch, and a fishing dock. In the warmer months several events, kayak and bike rentals and a beer garden are hosted at “The Pointe” by the Outer Harbor Management Group.
Queen City Bike Ferry & Landing
- The Queen City Bike Ferry connects pedestrians and bicyclists from Canalside to the Outer Harbor and back daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day for $1 per person each way. In 2015, its first year of operation, the Ferry exceeded expectations as it welcomed over 50,000 riders. During the offseason, ECHDC invested $825,000 into a revamped Ferry landing at the Outer Harbor which was designed to improve the pedestrian-bicycle trail system along the waterfront, providing a direct link to the water’s edge, rest area for riders and enhanced experience. The new landing replaced a group of existing boat docks and installed amenities to permit the expanded Queen City Bike Ferry service. Also, a paved pedestrian pathway was created, which extends from the water’s edge through a landscaped waiting area, and terminates at Fuhrmann Boulevard. Additional site amenities and aesthetic features include signage, benches, planters,
& accessory structures. The Bike Ferry is operated privately, however ECHDC pays all operations costs while putting all revenue back into the operation.
Past ECHDC/ESD projects include the $53 million dollar Erie Canal Harbor Redevelopment Project, which revitalized 12.5 acres of idle waterfront space into what is now down as Canalside’s Central Wharf, completed in 2008. Reclamation, asbestos remediation and demolition of the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium ("Aud"), as well as reclamation and asbestos remediation of the General Donovan State Office Building, also were substantial projects that have improved the area near the waterfront.
ECHDC’s efforts have also spurred two major private development projects in the Canalside District:
- One Canalside is a $30 million mixed‐use project that transformed the former Donovan State Office Building into a mixed-use development. The project begin in December 2007, when ECHDC assumed ownership of the vacant building, remediated hazardous waste materials, and completed interior demolition. The building was then purchased by Benderson Development who stripped the building down to its steel beams and gave it a modern exterior and interior. One Canalside is anchored by the law offices of Phillips Lytle and also includes a Courtyard Marriot and Pizza Plant restaurant.
- HARBORCENTER is a $200 million mixed-use sports and entertainment complex developed by Buffalo Sabres’ owners Terry and Kim Pegula. HARBORCENTER consists of a 200 room Marriott hotel, two NHL-sized ice rinks, a state-of-the-art training facility, (716) Food and Sport restaurant, a flagship Tim Hortons Café and Bake Shop, retail shops on the first floor, and an 800 space parking ramp.