Canalside has become one of the top waterfront destination in Western New York and record numbers proved to be the theme of its summer season.
As that season wraps up, local officials remembered that building the attraction began with humble expectations.
“Everything that we started with, we anticipated hundreds. Well that turned into thousands and then it turned into tens of thousands and then it turned into hundreds of thousands. So it’s certainly been successful,” said Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation Chairman Robert Gioia.
Gioia said it has taken a lot of work to get Canalside to where it is today and that none of it came easily. Based on a photo displayed next to Gioia as he spoke from the boardwalk Tuesday morning, you might never know. It showed a wide-angle shot of the waterfront where two things stood out – the Route 5 Skyway and so many people at Canalside that you couldn’t even see the ground beneath them.
That success, based on the draw of crowds, ran right through the end of the summer. State Senator Marc Panepinto described lengthy lines of people who waited to use the popular paddle-boards on Labor Day Weekend and said Canalside is a testament to the economies of scale built on the waterfront.
As a frequent visitor to Canalside, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said she loves to see locals and out-of-towners who are amazed at the progress on the waterfront. She said it was fascinating to hear that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently declared Buffalo as “the place cool kids want to live.”
“We’ve always known we were the cool kids, right everybody? But now others are following in our footsteps and this is the place for young people to come down. Because they want a sense of place. The economy is roaring back, the jobs are here. But not only do Western New Yorkers work hard, we like to play hard, and that play begins right here on the waterfront in Canalside,” said Hochul.
On top of the throngs of visitors for free concerts and events at the waterfront, State Assemblyman Sean Ryan highlighted the use of the Queen City Bike Ferry. The Ferry well surpassed its initial goal of 10,000 riders for the season, wrapping up the summer at 48,000.
Ryan said the average number of riders per day – about 450 – is ten times as many visitors that could be found walking around the Canalside area just four years ago.
“It’s working just as we planned,” said Ryan. “The goal was to try to provide the linkage. You’re down here, you look across, and you say, ‘How do I get out there?’ And the answer was always very complicated, involved a car. But we solved it for them, and it also helped link the organizations who are already on the outer harbor.”
Ryan said the Buffalo Light House Association and Times Beach Nature Preserve both reported record high numbers of visitors, all coming by ferry boat. He said the goal of one connected waterfront has been achieved and there’s more to come.
Gioia echoed that message, noting that new construction and expanded attractions are on the way. New bike improvements and beach area expansion will be added to Canalside for next season, and festivities will continue in the short term with this weekend’s Buffalo Maritime Festival and a special Halloween exhibit on the waterfront in October.
“It’s hard to believe we might be ice skating in a couple of months,” said Gioia. “But the issue is this is all about 12 months out of the year, it’s for the family, and we hope you continue to enjoy it.”