Visitors to Buffalo's Canalside pass by a fence surrounding the pit marking where Memorial Auditorium once stood. It used to rock with basketball, hockey and The Who. Wednesday night, the public was shown three possibilities of what might rock that two-acre hole into the future.
The Aud closed in 1996 and was finally demolished in 2009, leaving the pit. Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) has long criticized the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation for letting the property idle, as other pieces of the neighborhood have been developed and heavily used.
That is supposed to change, with eventual construction of low-rise, medium-rise or high-rise buildings built on top of major indoor parking. ECHDC President Steve Ranalli said the renderings shown to the public are a sign of what will be.
"That's been the best part of being involved and when we started this and people would come to meetings and question if this would ever get done," Ranalli said. "Now we come to meetings and people are here because they know something will get done, and they want to make sure that it's something that they want to see. Absolutely, people understand that things are changing. They are changing for the better, but they definitely still want to be part of that change."
Ranalli said the agency should be ready to send out development proposals in about a year, once decisions are made on which of the three possibilities, or some combination of the three: housing residential, commercial and retail space, with some streets along old routes and some quirky plazas among the new structures.
Tara Boggio is with the Dutch engineering firm T.Y. Lin International Group, which has been brought in for the infrastructure project. As Deputy Project Manager, Boggio said there is support for a neighborhood.
"We've heard the word neighborhood a lot. We've heard people say they want it to be a neighborhood, but they want it to be a welcoming neighborhood to all of Buffalo and people who come to visit," she said. "Obviously, being Canalside, a lot of visitors come down here, so it wants to be the best of both worlds, right? It wants to be welcoming and accomodate people who are coming from the outside, but it also wants to be a neighborhood that can be self-inclusive if they want it to be."
Local preservationist Tim Tielman said this plan will guarantee the Outer Harbor stays grassy and open.
"This is where we ought to be developing more densely. We want to help downtown," Tielman said, "and I think the implication - you're absolutely correct - the implication is that the Outer Harbor will be for open space recreation, while, in a sense, this is for urban living and urban types of recreation."
Tielman said he has been impressed with other work from the Dutch development consultant brought in for the project.