Waterfront to break new ground in 2012
By JAMES FINK
[email protected] | 716-541-1611
Colorful Adirondack chairs, Alice Cooper, the Tragically Hip and yoga classes were some of the things that generated momentum over the summer for Canalside in downtown Buffalo.
What happens in 2012 will likely cement its position as the transformative project envisioned by many when it was created nearly a decade ago.
In the next year, more than $75 million in Canalside projects - and others under the domain of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. - will be in the construction phase. That means when people come to the 20-acre campus overlooking Lake Erie next summer, they will see construction cranes, backhoes and bulldozers.
"In a lot of ways, it will be gratifying to many to see these tangible signs of progress," said David McNamara, managing partner of Phillips Lytle LLP. "Those signs are going to benefit the city and region in a lot of transformative ways, probably more than most realize. Aesthetics - in this case, construction - matters to people."
Phillips Lytle has a vested interest in Canalside. In late 2013, the law firm will move offices from HSBC Center to the top four floors of the soon-to-be renovated former Gen. William Donovan State Office Building. It will lease 85,000 square feet and bring more than 300 employees to the building - and, in effect, to Canalside. The move gives the project a dose of critical mass.
Benderson Development Co. is investing more than $30 million to renovate the eight-story Donovan Building. It's negotiating with other tenants, as well.
"What is happening now and in the next few months is hugely important," McNamara said.
Benderson's role is likely to spur other private-sector investment in Canalside. There was a leap in attendance in 2011, thanks to programming created by Buffalo Place Inc. and Erie Canal Harbor Development.
More than 400,000 people attended the 300-plus events at the Central Wharf or in the waters near Canalside. That included a dozen concerts presented by Buffalo Place Inc., including Alice Cooper, the Tragically Hip, George Clinton, Elvis Costello and Great Big Sea.
"We are seeing and fielding some reasonably significant calls from out-of-town groups that suddenly have some real interest in Canalside," said Jordan Levy, chairman of Erie Canal Harbor Development.
Eric Recoon is Benderson's Development senior vice president of leasing.
"The development community is very cognizant of what's happening at Canalside," Recoon said. "It has piqued the interest of a lot of different people, more than you'd think."
Canalside was plagued by a prolonged early stage in which a number of scenarios were based on a Bass Pro store anchoring the project where Memorial Auditorium once stood.
In July 2010, Bass Pro withdrew after a nearly decade-long courtship. Erie Canal Harbor Development switched its focus to a series of smaller developments.
When completed, Canalside will have more than 1 million square feet of office and retail space, restaurants, entertainment and residential units.
The centerpieces will be the wooden boardwalk Central Wharf and a series of replica canals from the Aud site toward Washington Street.
"People were skeptical, rightfully so, because of false promises and unmet hope," Levy said. "This summer, people started to have a different view and will really have a much different view when they see all the construction taking place."
Besides the Donovan and canal work, a new restaurant called Liberty Hound will open this winter in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval Park's main museum building.
Bids on the first phase of the canal work are under review by staff and directors of Erie Canal Harbor Development. A vote on the construction contract is due by early February.
The first phase of the canals will run along Perry Street between Main Street and Marine Drive, behind the former Aud site.
Thomas Dee, president of the harbor development agency, said pre-construction work is under way.
The second phase, from Main Street east to Washington Street, will be bid in 2012.
"Don't underestimate what this means," Dee said. "In a very public way, it signifies that Canalside isn't a pretty design on a piece of paper but a reality. Shovels in the ground represent progress. This is what the public wanted and asked for."
The canals and the ensuing private development working its way through the pipeline are designed to make Canalside a year-round destination.
"This summer's events opened a lot of doors," Recoon said.
Dee and Levy envision the canals being used by canoe and kayak enthusiasts in the summer and skaters in the winter. Other winter events will be planned as construction and development move along.
"Each event that happens down there ultimately adds to the mix," Dee said.