Plans to redevelop more than 150 acres of Buffalo’s outer harbor are moving forward, as the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. prepares to issue a request-for-proposals today seeking a consultant to help develop a master plan for the area.
The agency’s new Outer Harbor Advisory Committee on Monday approved the wording of the RFP and a set of “guiding principles” to provide structure to the consultants’ work and help frame the final decisions.
“It’s an important time for this committee,” said Robert Gioia, chairman of ECHDC and the committee, and president of the Oishei Foundation. “It’s something that this community has been waiting six decades for, to bring the waterfront closer.”
The decision comes as the agency also prepares to take title to the property itself in the next couple of weeks from its longtime owner, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
The authority has owned more than 400 acres of prime waterfront land, that has largely sat unused or underused for decades, a sore point for many local leaders and proponents of economic development. But under an agreement brokered by the state under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last September, NFTA agreed to sell almost all of the land to Erie Canal Harbor Development, which will take charge of redeveloping it.
Specifically, the southernmost parcel, consisting of about 200 acres, will be owned by ECHDC but will be leased to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to become the first state park in the City of Buffalo. That includes the NFTA-run Small Boat Harbor and Gallagher Beach. Tentatively dubbed the Buffalo Harbor State Park, a final name will be determined and announced later.
Another 70 acres includes two buildings that are being sold to Toronto-based Gracious Living, a designer and manufacturer of Adirondack chairs, which will set up a manufacturing facility on the site and employ about 200 people.
But plans for the remaining 150 acres remained open, except that it was to be available for public access.
The guiding principles include language about “activating” the waterfront and ensuring public access for recreational and similar purposes.
“We have a unique opportunity with this to create some kind of economic driver. The things I hear around the table are all seasonal,” said Buffalo Sabres Chief Development Officer Cliff Benson, a committee member. “This has got to be a place where people will come all year.”
The RFP calls for hiring an interdisciplinary and master consultant team to look at possibilities for redeveloping the outer harbor land, solicit public feedback and ultimately develop a blueprint for the project. The team must have expertise in mixed-use development, urban planning and design. Besides requirements for minority-owned and women-owned business participation in the process, the team must also include local expertise, officials said.
The RFP will go out to as many as 36 professional firms nationwide – including several locally – that have been prequalified by the Empire State Development Corp. for such work. ESD is the parent agency for Erie Canal Harbor Development.
Bids are due back by April 25, with interviews scheduled for May 1 and 2. The committee will make its decision and recommendation to the Erie Canal Harbor board May 12.