Momentum can be a fabulous thing, but it can also be fragile. It can be tripped up, sidetracked or otherwise depleted. That is among the worries as Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, pushes for local and state officials to pick up the pace on a critical highway project.
Higgins has the money in hand to rebuild a dilapidated, 1.4-mile stretch of Ohio Street, a crucial connection between Buffalo's fast-developing Canalside project and the outer harbor.
Its badly needed improvement would not only improve access between these two important waterfront districts, it would also open new opportunities for development. The plan would turn Ohio Street into a parkway with such things as pocket parks and lanes for biking and running, and planting flowers and trees.
But a clock is ticking. Delays could cause Buffalo to forfeit $5.1 million out of $8 million in planned federal funding. It is not a crisis - at least, not yet - but Higgins' warning should serve as notice that the players involved need to get together to get the project moving. Those players include the City of Buffalo, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. and the state of New York.
Higgins sees the opportunity as a "renaissance" for the Buffalo River corridor and, given the developments already under way, the description doesn't seem unreasonable. It is in the city's interest to see that it capitalizes on the momentum created by those developments, and one of the smartest ways is to take advantage of $8 million in federal funding.
The progress on the waterfront unfolds daily. Canals are being constructed to replicate the days of the Erie Canal. The old Donovan State Office Building has been skinned and will be reborn as a hotel and office building. Twin ice rinks and more hotel rooms are scheduled to be built on the adjacent Webster Block. Summertime concerts help make Canalside a lively destination on many nights all summer long.
At the outer harbor, Dug's Dive is about to become a year-round restaurant after owner Tucker Curtin and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority managed to agree on a deal to keep it open. The NFTA, meanwhile, is trying to figure out what to do with other outer harbor property it owns, but that is inconsistent with its mission and sucking up revenues it needs to devote elsewhere. The possibilities there are intriguing and, with the rebuilding of Ohio Street, are more likely to occur sooner rather than later.
Many constituencies are along for the ride on this project. Jill Jedlicka, executive director of the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, supports the reconstruction, noting that, "The Ohio Street corridor has been a vision for Riverkeeper and many of our partners for at least 20 years, and we have an opportunity now to make that vision a reality."
But first, the city, state and harbor agency need to get busy and ensure that Buffalo retains the federal funds for this project. The city too often has had the unfortunate habit of getting in its own way. This can't be one of those times.