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Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. has hired marketing and public relations firm Eric Mower + Associates to help create a stronger brand awareness for the Canalside redevelopment, while also reaching out to businesses and Buffalo's minority community to participate in the area's revival.

At its monthly board meeting, the public authority Wednesday approved a new contract with the firm, valued at up to $317,900, after conducting a bid and review process. The firm's headquarters is in Syracuse, but the Buffalo office bid the job and will do the work.

The goal is to promote a new image of the waterfront and bring more people to partake in activities, by capitalizing on the current momentum at Canalside, where five active construction projects are under way and three more are in design, along with a surge in both planned events and attendance.

The contract calls for the firm to work with the agency and the public to identify and further develop a “brand” for Canalside that will appeal to the wider community. That's designed to make people more conscious of what is happening downtown.

“Branding is going to be critically important for us,” said Thomas P. Dee, president and CEO of Erie Canal Harbor Development. “It will give us a strong platform. We want to get an identity, just like a Google or an Apple, so that as soon as you hear it, it resonates.”

Currently, he said, the message is more confused, if it even exists. A recent informal study of people at Eastern Hills Mall found that only 10 percent of those interviewed even knew what Canalside is.

“Are we a harbor?” Dee asked. “Are we entertainment? Are we food? Are we music? Are we a natural resource? Are we a tourist destination? Are we a park? Are we a cultural destination?”

At the same time, Mower will seek to expand involvement from the city's minority residents and businesses, and also tap the private sector and developers “so that people know what Canalside is.” And it will act as the agency's public relations arm “as needed to help with any given situation,” Dee said.

“This is definitely going to help us,” Dee said. “Then we can figure out how to make it bigger and better.”

email: jepstein@buffnews.com