A long-awaited effort to redevelop Buffalo’s waterfront is on the right track, according to the chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.
Robert D. Gioia, who is also president of the John R. Oishei Foundation, sat down with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer to discuss development along the inner harbor and plans for the outer harbor. Gioia also talked about a decision by the region’s largest foundation to provide a $10 million gift to rename a new children’s hospital on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Here is a summary of some of the issues covered in an interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full six-minute interview at BuffaloNews.com/video.
Meyer: How convinced are you that within five years, we’ll look at what’s happened at Canalside and it will live up to the expectations of being be a year-round people magnet?
Gioia: I am extremely convinced that the approach that we’re taking is the right one. We’re engaging with the public. We’re listening to what people have to say. We’re talking to experts that do year-round park entertainment and allow for children to participate ... in family recreation. Just looking at the numbers of folks that have come to the waterfront over the last couple years, this year there’s going to be over 600 events on just that half of a block – not even half of a block. I look out my [HSBC Center] window, and I see the construction of the canals. And we go to New York and talk to the folks that are planning [what] the people piece will be once the canals are open. I look at that, and I get very excited.
Meyer: You went from the lighter, quicker cheaper mantra, which sort of got things back on track according to a lot of people, to some big-ticket projects – a $170 million HarborCenter proposed by the Sabres. How does that actually fit into the mission of Canalside?
Gioia: Canalside is supposed to be the incentive ... to strive for public-private partnerships. If you look at what Benderson is doing in the Donovan Building and now what the Sabres are going to be doing on the Webster Block, I don’t think any of us would have ever thought that somebody would take a parking lot in front of an arena and build a $170 million complex that really will fit the needs [of] the community very nicely – and provide the parking ... There will be enough parking, we hope, so that we don’t have to use public money for parking ...
Meyer: The primary hat you wear is that of president of the John Oishei Foundation. This has been a busy, busy year for the foundation – the largest single donation in its 72-year history to a very well-known institution. Tell us about that.
Gioia: It was a very quickly moving discussion amongst the board. How better could we serve the name of John Oishei, and what he’s done for this community, than naming this institution that is a pillar of our health care community ... It is typically not something that we do in that magnitude. But we thought that we needed to do a couple of things. One is we needed to publicly thank Mr. Oishei, and secondly, we needed to really help jump-start the Children’s [Hospital] initiative, because it’s quite a leap of faith for them to move down to the Medical Campus.