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Plans for developing the South Aud Block portion of Canalside – where a replica of the Erie Barge Canal is being built – are advancing into the design stage.

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. on Monday approved a $2.49 million contract for design and engineering work on a proposed restaurant, children’s museum and mixed-use facility on the block.

The state agency approved a contract with Fontanese Folts Aubrecht Ernst of Orchard Park for architectural and engineering services on the 1-acre block.

Plans call for a new Explore & More Children’s Museum, a three-story, 15,900-square-foot restaurant building, a mixed-use facility that could include apartments, offices or retail space and a 3,500-square-foot “comfort station” building with restrooms and storage. In all, those three buildings – the museum and mixed-use facility will equally split an 80,000-square-foot building – will take up about 100,000 square feet of space.

Negotiations are continuing with potential restaurant operators, all of whom are local and already have a couple of locations elsewhere in the area, said harbor development agency CEO Thomas P. Dee. Officials hope to bring a recommendation to the board in March or April.

“The Canalside project is now entering the next phase of development, and with guidance from these design consultants on the South Aud Block, we are confident in the direction our waterfront is heading,” agency Chairman Robert D. Gioia said.

The contract begins March 1 and extends through the fourth quarter of 2016. It includes a base amount of up to $2.077 million, plus a contingency of $413,274.

The state agency, part of Empire State Development Corp., also extended its contract with the master architect for the project – EE&K – for 30 months, for a maximum of $236,000.

The firm, formerly known as Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn, is part of global engineering and design firm Perkins Eastman Co., which merged with it in 2011. It has been the lead site plan designer for all of Canalside since 2006, providing an overall design, proposed programming and public spaces, schematics and images. Its contract – which has been expanded over time with additional services – is currently capped at $5.1 million.

The contract extension will cover fees and expenses over 30 months from March 2014 through September 2016, enabling it to continue overseeing the work of architects, engineers and contractors – including Fontanese. Officials said that it wasn’t feasible to bid the extension out for other firms, given that EE&K has been working on Canalside for so long.

Separately, Philadelphia-based Global Spectrum, the entertainment management firm that was hired last month to maintain and operate Canalside, including the summer concert series, announced that it is accepting submissions from event planners for programs at the waterfront this year. The firm, which took over from Buffalo Place, is working with the harbor development agency and the Arts Services Initiative of Western New York.

Submissions can be made online at www.canalsidebuffalo.com/submit. A Canalside Event/Programming Information Session will also be held at noon Feb. 27 in the Helium Comedy Club, 30 Mississippi St., for event planners and other interested parties to discuss ideas with Canalside officials. “We are looking to have a bigger and better season than ever,” Dee said.

Dee said Global Spectrum has started its hiring process and is taking résumés at www.global-spectrum.com. Global Spectrum will also take over operation of Clinton’s Dish, with a new menu.

email: jepstein@buffnews.com