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In the location where hockey teams and hoopsters once competed, a “back to the future” presence is taking shape.

Water began flowing this week into the “historically aligned” replica canals at the site where Buffalo Memorial Auditorium once stood.

The site is now dubbed “Canalside,” and the long-delayed $20.5 million project is scheduled to be completed by this fall. The canals will serve as reflecting pools in the summer and skating rinks in the winter.

State officials say the addition of the water-themed attraction on a significant historic site represents a milestone for a new waterfront destination.

The water flows being tested this week represent “a big step forward,” said Laura Magee, deputy director of public affairs for Empire State Development Corp., which is overseeing the project.

“Now that the weather has broken, with temperatures above freezing, crews were able to fill the basin with water, which will sit for 72 hours, to ensure water tightness,” she said. “The test and results will be evaluated by the design team for compliance purposes and upon approval will be drained so additional work can continue.”

A waterproof membrane will then be applied, followed by addition of canal stones and ice-making materials for the skating activities projected for next winter, she said.

The new rink planned for the site is pegged at three times larger than the famous ice space at Rockefeller Center.

Historically accurate bridges are now under construction and soon will be installed over the canals on the site, Magee added.

Construction won’t stop after the canals are completed. Other buildings and attractions also are expected to go up on the former Aud site.

Plans call for the Explore & More Children’s Museum to move from East Aurora to Canalside. The museum, which is slated to open in 2016 and would target children up to age 12, is expected to occupy two floors covering nearly 40,000 square feet, with administration on the third floor of a multistory building. There would be eight permanent exhibit spaces – including “Moving Water,” “Lighting Buffalo’s Imagination” and “Building Buffalo” – and another reserved for traveling exhibits.

In addition, a public market and full-scale restaurant are planned, the restaurant facing the Buffalo River with glass roll-up doors providing shelter and food for visitors.

The restaurant is expected to be used for two years before being moved to the outer harbor, at which time a permanent restaurant would be built at the Aud site.

The 5,000-square-foot restaurant could include some room for programming inside. A wine garden and food kiosks are also under consideration.

State officials describe Canalside as a regional destination and entertainment district, occupying 21 acres.

It is being built on the spot where the Erie Canal once had its western terminus and is expected to blend with other waterfront facilities now under development nearby.

The entire project is expected to cost around $20.5 million.

Canalside was supposed to take 10 months to complete, but it has been beset with delays. That included a legal dispute involving one of the firms hired to perform the work.

The slow wheels of Albany funding helped slide the original Thanksgiving 2012 deadline to June of 2013, then November of 2013. Completion is now set for this fall.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com