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One of the region’s leading forces in developing Buffalo’s waterfront believes the key to maintaining momentum involves transferring land along the shoreline owned by the NFTA to waterfront planners.

Latest: Gallagher Beach, Small Boat Harbor to be operated as a state park

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, met with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer at Wilkeson Pointe, a new public recreation space along the outer harbor, to discuss waterfront issues. Watch the full interview above.

Meyer: We’ve certainly seen many visible signs of progress on the waterfront ... If there was one thing that had to happen … to keep the momentum going, what would that be?

Higgins: It’s to get the 384 acres that is currently held by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority – it has been held by them for almost 60 years – into the hands of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. for development. We’re seeing great progress all around that property, but nothing happening there.

When you consider the Small Boat Harbor, (there’s) a good restaurant down there. But we need several. The demand is there now. People are coming, they’re enjoying the waterfront. Here we are at Wilkeson Pointe, a great destination for bikers, walkers, runners. That’s the kind of waterfront we have to create.

But we have to get it into the hands of the right agency. The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. has one singular focus, and that’s waterfront development. And they also have resources because of the 2006 New York Power Authority settlement that has to be used specifically for waterfront development projects.

The second piece is access. We’re dealing with that directly, immediately, with the conversion of Ohio Street – an old, broken industrial roadway into a brand new tree-lined parkway with lots of hiking, biking and pedestrian-friendly access. That will serve as a land bridge between the more densely developed Canalside (and) downtown Buffalo with the outer harbor.

Meyer: Are there any indications that the NFTA is going to get out of the land management business?

Higgins: I think it’s a question of when. And I suspect the governor will be here in the next couple of weeks to make a major announcement about that. But it will be what we make of it. I often say momentum doesn’t do you any good as a community unless it can be sustained.

Meyer: President Obama was in town talking about proposed reforms in higher education. What do you make of his plan?

Higgins: As a parent of two kids – one just graduated, one is still in college – higher education has gotten out of control in terms of its cost. Access to low-interest loans is helpful, but these kids are coming out today with $50,000, $75,000, $100,000 in student loan debt. So I think what the president is proposing is a good thing. It’s about choice and competition. And it will establish a values-based rating system to determine levels of federal aid. Anybody can go to whatever college they want to, but we’re looking for value.