People have long clamored for paths, walkways and more access to Lake Erie on Buffalo’s outer harbor.
Gallagher Beach, a place for sunbathing and sand castles, was designated a state park earlier this month. But another property just to the north and recently turned over to the state waterfront agency may have even greater promise.
The land and water offer the potential for motor boating, sailing, fishing, canoeing, leisurely walks, picnics and hikes along woodland trails. It’s also ready-made for views of the sunset, where the waterfront is one of the few to face west over the water.
Cleaning up the 130 brownfield acres will take time, but the idea of creating mixed use on the outer harbor with a park component has the support of Rep. Brian Higgins, a catalyst for waterfront development, and Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., the agency that will soon be in charge of the land.
Now, a conceptual rendering by the landscape architecture firm that designed Brooklyn Bridge Park will be presented Thursday when community groups unveil their ideas for an outer harbor park.
Their ideas imagine a future for an area whose access was made difficult by industry, roads and railroads. The design, intended to stimulate public conversation, was funded by the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation.
“For generations, our residents have been cut off from the Great Lakes and from the waterfront, so this is our community’s chance to reconnect to the water,” said Joanne Kahn, who is chairwoman of the ad hoc group 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor, which has led the park effort. “The whole idea is to make this park a really significant regional recreational attraction.” For more information, visit www.21stcenturypark.org, beginning Thursday.
“There is no greater time to do it than right now,” said Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.
The park would be located between Wilkeson Pointe, where a 20-acre park was recently completed on the northern portion of the outer harbor, and the recently sold Terminals A & B. It would also be the southern anchor of the Niagara River Greenway, a system of parks and conservation areas linking more than 50 miles of bike trails, paths and waterways along the Niagara River, from Lake Ontario in the north to Lake Erie in the south.
A promenade with small restaurants and an amphitheater are envisioned in the conceptual rendering by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates of Brooklyn. Commercial development away from the water, although not depicted, is also anticipated.
A park would fulfill the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who originally envisioned South Park to be on Lake Erie back in 1888.
“Olmsted wanted to connect all of Buffalo to Lake Erie, all of the park system to Lake Erie, and now we finally have an opportunity to do it,” Kahn said.
Community supporters include Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, GO Bike, Buffalo Maritime Center, Partnership for the Public Good and Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Sept. 5 that New York State would make Gallagher Beach and the Small Boat Harbor a state park and that Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. would be in charge of developing the nearby brownfield. The properties are being transferred from the longtime control of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
Kahn said the park could be another critical piece in Buffalo’s turnaround.
“Why do our young people go to Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Boston? They go because they’re exciting places. There is not just work, but all the other amenities that those scenes provide. Creating something that will make people excited about Buffalo is one of our main goals,” Kahn said.
She ticked off a number of attractions being massed on the waterfront, including Canalside, Silo City, Tifft Farm, Times Beach, Erie Basin Marina and the Ohio Street parkway between the inner and outer harbors on which work will soon begin.
“We’re really getting something like a critical mass that, if it were really exciting and iconic, could also attract visitors who go to Niagara Falls to spend a few nights here,” Kahn said.
It’s too soon to know what the costs would be, including remediation. But Higgins said a park would be a catalyst for complementary development.
He said there is merit in the artistic rendering proposed.
“Conceptually, I think they are clearly on the right track here. This proposal is a creative parkland proposal, and within our waterfront tradition,” Higgins said.
He also thought it was premature to get behind any one proposal before the public has had a chance to weigh in. Funding will also help determine what happens, he said.
“The process should be from the ground up, and not the top down. In that regard, I think these ideas and other ideas need to be taken very, very seriously,” Higgins said.
Tom Dee, president of the waterfront agency, said a park could be blended with other uses.
“There are going to be a lot of ideas, and we’ll digest all of them. The governor was in town and talked about utilizing this land as parkland and mixed-use development, and it’s a great opportunity.”