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By Robert Gioia

Give Western New Yorkers a real say in the future development of a prized waterfront asset and they will turn out in droves and passionately drive home their surprising and innovative ideas.

With the last of three meetings, already attended by hundreds and hundreds of citizens, still to be held, it’s safe to say the outlook for the outer harbor is bright. Thanks to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s leadership and his challenge to move fast and achieve much, fresh ideas from the public and the conversations that planners Perkins+Will started, our whole community is making marked progress right before our eyes, as Mayor Byron W. Brown noted at the meetings.

We were encouraged well beyond the impressive numbers of those who are attending – though we do want to thank all of them. They all seemed aware of our guiding principles: Accessibility, diversity, planning and design, and financial payback.

After years of regional futility, where too much discussion occurred behind closed doors, this is a new day and a revolutionary approach in Buffalo that will bear fruit for decades to come.

For anyone who witnessed the meetings, they seemed like a family gathering in a large living room, packed with people milling about, engaged in energetic conversation about this or that idea for the outer harbor. While there might have been disagreement, there was also mutual respect, listening and consideration.

The team from Perkins+Will has the task of gathering all the public input – written, emailed, videotaped and stuck on display boards – assembling it and devising three approaches for outer harbor development.

These will not be plans, per se. They will be major components and possible choices that could comprise a draft blueprint.

The three component plans will be presented to the public in another open meeting in August, followed by a draft blueprint presented publicly in September. From that renewed public input, a final plan will be drafted for the nine-member Buffalo Waterfront Development Advisory Committee and the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., which will ultimately be asked to approve the plan and provide oversight over its implementation, with Cuomo’s input.

The last of the meetings will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Old First Ward Community Center, 62 Republic St. You can also email your ideas and thoughts to outerharborinfo@esd.ny.gov whether you attended a meeting or not.

The outer harbor, as we’re seeing with Canalside, will grow and prosper, and Buffalo and the region will also prosper in direct proportion to the innovation and appreciation citizens have for these ripe waterfront areas.

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