Bringing New Life to Canalside
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Buffalo bringing new life to Canalside: Revitalization of Erie Canal launching tourism revolution
Opening the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959 brought new prosperity to Montreal, Toronto, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and dozens of other Great Lakes ports.
But it delivered a devastating blow to one of America’s busiest ports.
For more than a century the Port of Buffalo had been a vital connector between the Atlantic Seaboard and the Great Lakes. It was the western terminus of the Erie Canal, the principal conveyor of ship-borne goods and settlers between the Atlantic coast and the Midwest.
Buffalo had a population of 575,000 when the seaway opened and 259,000 today. But thousands of those remaining Buffalonians are bringing new life to that forgotten canal and turning their city into a tourism mecca.
The Erie Canal in central Buffalo was filled in to build the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium — home of the Buffalo Sabresof the National Hockey League. The auditorium was dismantled in 2009 and that forgotten canal was dug out again to bring new life to Buffalo’s waterfront as part of Canalside.
Today, you can still sit in Buffalo Auditorium seats, but now it’s to put on your skates and join the throngs skating on the artificial ice of the old canal. You can find more people on the Buffalo waterfront today than you could in its heyday when it was the grain-handling capital of the world.
Buffalo’s waterfront is now a mixture of brand spanking new structures and looming icons of a long-gone transportation era. Billionaire Terry Pegula owns both the Sabres, and the Buffalo Bills of the NFL. He built the $200-million HarborCenter complexnext door to First Niagara Center (new home of the Sabres).
HarborCenter has two NHL-size ice pads that seat up to 2,000 spectators, plus two destination restaurants. One of them — a sports bar named 716 (Buffalo’s area code) — has two-storey ceilings and one of its 70 TVs is almost the size of a drive-in theatre.
This past fall, a 205-room Marriott Hotel opened in HarborCenter. There is also a six-storey indoor parking garage.
On the corner of HarborCenter, facing the canal skating rink, is a Tim Hortonsrestaurant/museum. Patrons sit on replica seats from the old Buffalo Memorial Auditorium and the walls are covered with Tim Horton memorabilia. He was playing for the Sabres when he died in a car crash on the Queen Elizabeth Way in 1974 while returning to Buffalo from Toronto.
Further along the Buffalo River, two developers Doug Swift and Earl Ketry are converting old grain elevators and abandoned warehouses into RiverWorks, a complex of recreation/entertainment venues, putting new life into the old structures.
They still look like old industrial buildings, but now they produce fun and laughter rather than noise, dust, steel and bulk cargo for freighters, rail cars and canal barges. An outdoor beer garden is called Medusa because of the twisted rebar steel rods protruding from the chopped off concrete pillars that look like Medusa’s hair.
Ketry owns one of Buffalo’s most popular restaurants – the Pearl Street Grill and Brewery. He and Swift plan to create a new hotel inside a bank of abandoned 12-storey grain elevators along the Buffalo River. They’ve knocked the side walls out of two river-side warehouses to create two NHL-sized skating rinks with covered roofs, which have hosted many minor hockey and curling tournaments.
The Queen City Roller Girls now conduct their knock–down, drag–out competitions in another of the Swift/Ketry warehouses on the river that can seat 2,000 spectators at a bar/restaurant.
Another bank of six grain silos has been painted to become the world’s largest six pack of Labatt Blue. Ketry and Swift are building a brewery within the silos that will feed beer via tubes directly to four different bars on the RiverWorks complex.
It’s not just private money and tourism that is pumping new life into Buffalo. The State of New York has committed $1 billion into new business developments in Buffalo, such as creating SolarCity a new industry along the Buffalo River to produce solar panels that convert sunlight to electricity and will employ 1,500 people when fully up and running.
Another new hotel schedule to open next year will have historic architecture. The 140-year-old Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane has been sitting empty and abandoned for 40 years, but is undergoing a $100-million renovation to include the 88-room Hotel Henry. There will also be a conference centre that will become an architectural think tank where creative minds in design, function, preservation, culture and urban planning will convene on a regular basis