There were no rows of chairs or microphones at the outer harbor public planning open house meeting Wednesday evening in the WNED Studios in downtown Buffalo.
Instead, the crowd of nearly 300 stood and mingled amid tall triangular kiosks highlighting aspects of the outer harbor and long tables covered with waterfront maps.
Some of them wrote brief suggestions on Post-it notes – “No housing west of Route 5” and “Sports stadium @ Bethlehem Steel” – and stuck them to appropriate places on the kiosks.
“It’s time to turn this long-neglected property into a world-class mixed-use development,” Robert Gioia, chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., declared as the formal part of the program opened.
After introducing Mayor Byron W. Brown, he turned the lectern over to Karen Alschuler of Perkins + Will, the planners hired to come up with a blueprint for the outer harbor, who encouraged the audience to share ideas the way the firm does it in its design studio.
“You can use the Post-it notes,” she said. “You can go to the corner and talk on video. And, finally, you can join us in something we call the Planning Game.”
Four sections of the Planning Game were organized around the long tables, where planners provided guidance as groups of 10 or 12 people placed paper squares designating parks and playgrounds and attractions such as a Ferris wheel, a convention center and a stadium on maps of the outer harbor. They pasted in options for transportation. Half of them wanted to tear down the Skyway.
Others, like Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Riverkeeper, browsed the kiosks, sticking up Post-it notes.
“This is the moment to define the next generation for the outer harbor,” she said. “We don’t want this to be Anywhere U.S.A. We want this to be spectacular. Ninety-five percent of North America’s fresh water flows past our front door every day. We need to capitalize on it.”
Not part of the Planning Game was Buffalo Harbor State Park, just south of the outer harbor site, but it also had a kiosk with maps and photos and a few Post-it notes attached.
“We’re taking suggestions,” said Ray Goll, project coordinator for the park.
David J. Colligan, an Erie Canal Harbor Development Committee board member and chairman of its outer harbor task group, was pleased. “These are world-class planners,” he said, “and they’re doing it with what I call a rocketship ride. It’ll be seven or eight months from the time they set foot in Buffalo to printing a master plan.”