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Canalside will host some 800 events and activities this summer in a program designed to draw 800,000 visitors and spawn more economic activity along the city’s burgeoning waterfront.

The events, announced Friday by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., will include concerts, festivals, dance, theater and poetry performances, outdoor exercise classes and family activities.

Some highlights of the mammoth series, which the harbor corporation pulled off with a budget of just $200,000, include the Pride Festival on June 2, a pop-up playground June 15, a July 4 celebration, Squeaky Wheel’s Outdoor Animation Festival on Aug. 21 and the Buffalo Irish Festival from Aug. 23 to 25.

The organization also announced a new website, canalsidebuffalo.com which lists all the planned activities.

At 10 a.m. today, the canal corporation will host a preview of the summer’s events, featuring several dozen presentations from the likes of MusicalFare Theatre, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Young Audiences of Western New York and the Rince na Tiarna School of Irish Dance. Food trucks will be on hand in a preview of the “Canalside Food Fight” series of competitions among local mobile food vendors.

The fair-weather activity at Canalside has grown significantly since summertime programming began in 2009 with a handful of events. After Friday’s news conference in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, Tom Dee, president of the canal corporation, said that Canalside’s vastly improved reputation has helped make it into a lucrative destination for cultural groups.

“In our infancy, we had nobody coming down here. Nobody would come down, nobody knew where we were, because everybody said there was nothing to do. So we had to pay people to come down and entertain,” he said. “Now people are knocking on our door, saying, ‘We’ll do it for free. We want to get our name out there.’ The Irish Center, the Philharmonic, the Pride Festival – we gave them money last year and the year before. This year, no money. And they’re saying they’re thrilled to come down.”

Mayor Byron W. Brown praised Dee and his agency for its approach to developing the waterfront, which has shifted in the past five years from silver-bullet solutions like a Bass Pro shop to incremental, piecemeal projects designed to reach a critical mass.

“It’s a philosophy I support, because by promoting smaller events, it creates more excitement, more momentum, continuous activity,” Brown said after Friday’s news conference. “There is always something to see and do down here, and I think that really helps to set the table for the larger investments.”

Brown added that small-scale public investments in events by the canal corporation were crucial in attracting private money from Benderson Development’s renovation of the former Donovan Building, Ellicott Development’s Carlo project near Templeton Landing, and the Buffalo Sabres’ $172 million HarborCenter on the Webster Block.

State Sen. Mark Grisanti joined the chorus of praise Friday for the series of summer activities.

“When you listen to the radio and you talk to people, there are still a lot of naysayers out there that are saying that nothing’s happening in Buffalo, that Buffalo’s dying,” he said. “But let me tell you, those have got to be individuals who have not been down to the waterfront.”

Today’s Canalside Food Fight will get the season off to a lively start and fill a void for downtown visitors who love to eat.

The city’s licensed food trucks, barred from the Canalside area in most times, will be allowed to park and sell food this afternoon for what will be a season-long cooking competition, said organizer Matt Carlucci.

From noon to 4 p.m. today,seven trucks will be serving paying customers, Carlucci said.

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com