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By Robert Gioia

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. has so far held five meetings over two months, attended by nearly 1,000 Western New Yorkers who embraced the planning conversations, put forth varied ideas and are helping design a blueprint for Buffalo’s outer harbor.

We’ve heard more fresh thoughts than there are acres on the outer harbor and we value them all. At a sixth meeting, in September, we’ll present a “first-draft preferred alternative plan” to the community that synthesizes the public’s demands with our guiding principles. We will also seek further input from the community on this evolving master plan.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised the region that the blueprint, with easily obtained initial goals, would be ready this fall. Perkins+Will, a nationally known architecture firm, assembled a team of experts and spent the last four months gathering data, setting baselines and listening to the public in an interactive and transparent process our residents embraced. The information is available at http://www.eriecanalharbor.com/outer-harbor/.

People advocating a domed football stadium challenged proponents of nothing but open space and parkland – and were challenged right back. Others suggested a gondola to the outer harbor. Some wanted tractor pulls in the muddy summer and snowmobile races in the frigid winter. Many said no cars, no housing. Others argued for housing, retail and restaurants. We welcome all ideas and expect the same at future meetings – to Buffalo’s benefit.

Those attending heard me say this repeatedly: We do not yet know what the blueprint will show. That’s what the Perkins+Will team is formulating.

People who want to walk, bike, fish, watch birds, fly kites, swim, boat and simply sit and relax will be able to at multiple sites. And it also likely will need tax-producing properties – retail, housing, commercial are all possible – that can sustain the greenspace and the popular options that don’t generate revenue.

As we’ve seen in waterfront developments around the world, municipalities must maintain trails and overlooks, keep parks safe, make repairs if there is weather or vandalism damage, provide signage and public restrooms and plow snow and plant greenery. This costs money that can be raised through taxes on sustainable development.

We welcome everyone, including our critics, to join this discussion. Let’s design a spectacular outer harbor together.

Robert Gioia is chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. board of directors.