Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. would acquire 384 acres on the outer harbor from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and enter into a memorandum of understanding with the City of Buffalo for its operation, maintenance and future development, according to a joint proposal filed by Monday’s deadline.
The city and the waterfront agency were the only entities that responded to the NFTA’s request for proposals. The joint proposal could be approved when the NFTA Board of Commissioners meets in February 2013, with the transfer expected to be finalized next fall.
“The City and ECHCD share an interest in revitalizing the City of Buffalo waterfront,” Mayor Byron W. Brown and ECHDC Chairman Robert D. Gioia said in a joint statement. “We believe that an appropriate mix of land uses throughout the property will ensure public access, while providing business growth opportunities that create jobs and a return on investment – both financially and quality of life – to the taxpayers of the city and State of New York.”
“It’s a first step, and we’re looking forward to further negotiations to hopefully conclude a transaction in a timely manner,” said NFTA Chairman Howard A. Zemsky.
The cost of transferring the property is among the issues that will need to be resolved. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, a primary mover on the waterfront, has proposed that the NFTA turn over the land for $2, while NFTA officials have said they have received private offers of $2 million and $3.5 million for the land.
Despite the fact that a price remains to be worked out, Higgins on Monday hailed the proposal.
“The real big news here is that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s 55-year hold on Buffalo’s outer harbor is ending,” he said. “You will see substantial capital improvements by the ECHDC to address the capital needs that the NFTA identified but never addressed, and it will allow the NFTA to get back to its core mission.”
Higgins had hoped the transaction would occur in October so work could start next summer, but he said the current timetable would not slow in any meaningful way momentum already under way.
Work began this fall on a 21-acre park owned by the waterfront agency south of Times Beach, and tests were initiated to see if sandy beaches can be viable there and at Gallagher Beach. An environmental impact statement is expected to be completed in 2013 for a future, although as-yet unfunded, bridge linking the inner and outer harbors. Creating a parkway on Ohio Street between Michigan Avenue and the Fuhrmann Parkway is also expected to begin in 2013.
Gioia said the hundreds of acres on the outer harbor include Brownfield Opportunity Areas that have “multiple environmental issues” that make it “a complicated piece of property.” The city, waterfront agency and Higgins all agreed, he said, that additional funding will be necessary to pay for the costs of revitalization.
“A lot of reviews will need to be done to determine infrastructural needs and what the uses are going to be,” Gioia said.
“There are so many moving pieces here, and the good news is that most of them will be under the responsibility of the same entity, and with the public involved. That’s clearly what this community has been clamoring for, and we need to deliver for them.”
The NFTA, which was conveyed the land by the city in 1957, has been under withering criticism in recent years for failing to do more to develop Buffalo’s waterfront.
The agency announced in June 2011 that it planned to get out of waterfront real estate development and concentrate on its core transportation mission. Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel said at the time it would cost $39 million alone to maintain the Small Boat Harbor with dock repairs, harbor dredging, a new breakwater and parking lot rehabilitation.
When negotiations to sell the land to a private developer fell through in April, the NFTA issued an RFP in August and invited four public entities to respond. The city and Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. made bids, while Erie County and New York State’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation declined.