Bit by bit – and at an increasingly rapid pace – Buffalo is becoming a city unlike any its residents have seen in decades, if ever. Next up on the agenda of improvements is an actual park on the city’s no-longer remote outer harbor.
Waterfronts developed around the time Buffalo’s was were often devoted to industry, cutting cities off from a valuable resource. In Buffalo, that problem was compounded by highway construction that also separated residents from waterways that are their birthright.
Much of the industry that once occupied Buffalo’s waterfront is long gone, but that land has nonetheless remained largely out of the reach of residents, as a result of political stagnation, financial hardship and environmental pollution.
For the past couple of years, work has been under way to reconnect Western New York to its lakefront and to expand the number of reasons residents and visitors would want to go there. Faux canals are being built. Hotels and new hockey rinks are under construction. The old summertime Thursday at the Square concerts are now Thursday at the Harbor, and regularly attracting a large crowd. A new parkway was built to provide an easier trip between downtown Buffalo and the Southtowns. Pending improvements to Ohio Street will further ease travel.
All are important developments for the city’s long-squandered waterfront, but they focused mainly on the inner harbor area. Now, with next month’s planned opening of the yet-unnamed park, the outer harbor will begin to see development.
The 21-acre park will occupy land once used by the New York State Power Authority to stash the winter ice boom that prevents chunks of ice from floating downstream and damaging the intakes of the Niagara River power plants in New York and Ontario. The park will feature gazebos, bridges, trails and wind sculptures that rotate and sit on a mound of land on a peninsula. Another portion of that land will be reserved for private development. Sitting on Fuhrmann Boulevard and adjacent to Times Beach Nature Preserve, the park will offer views of the Buffalo skyline.
The work has actually been under way for nearly two years, since the Niagara York Power Authority transferred the land to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. for the bargain price of $1. With that, the Power Authority was able to find a better place to store the ice boom, on the Niagara River and, more importantly, make a prize parcel of land available for a much better public use.
The development of this as yet unnamed park marks an important point for Buffalo, as does the progress on the inner harbor, stymied for a long time on the hope that Bass Pro Shops would build an anchor store that would draw visitors and other merchants to the waterfront. Buffalo is on the cusp of a change that will remake the city into a better place for residents, business and visitors. That’s in everyone’s interest.