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With $169 million in improvements along Buffalo River underway, Higgins outlines next steps for Buffalo's waterfront


Wed, Sep 16th 2015 10:15 am

Congressman: DL&W Terminal and Kelly Island River Trail represent key components to facilitate greater access and connectivity to the water's edge

In a detailed report highlighting investments leading to the quiet renaissance along the Buffalo River, Congressman Brian Higgins outlined his vision for next steps of action to maintain waterfront momentum and capitalize economically on significant federal resources supporting the environmental revitalization of the Buffalo River.

"Investments in the Buffalo River have moved this waterway from ecologically dead to an economic driver and public destination point," Higgins said Tuesday. "Waterfront energy is at a new high, but in order to keep the momentum we must find a way to connect the waterfront destination dots and create new destination points with the continued expansion and preservation of public access along the water's edge."

In the past decade, the federal government has invested $72.8 million in and around the Buffalo River. An additional $34.6 million in support has come from state and local governments, $27.2 million of which was provided through the 2005 federal relicensing settlement with the New York Power Authority. Including private sector investments of approximately $61 million, a total of $169 million has been infused in the Buffalo River's water and adjacent land.

Higgins argued that, with the success at Canalside and growing excitement and attention to the Outer Harbor, a focus on access and connectivity along the Buffalo River is a critical component of piecing together the missing link along Buffalo's waterfront.

Specifically, Higgins is calling on Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. to make the investments necessary to prepare the DL&W Terminal for private development and build out a trail providing riverfront public access around Kelly Island.

DL&W Terminal

Located at the foot of Main Street as it intersects with South Park Avenue, the former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Terminal sits along the Buffalo River adjacent to Canalside, First Niagara Center and nearby HARBORCENTER, the Cobblestone District and Ohio Street. The NFTA owns the DL&W Terminal property and uses the ground floor as a maintenance facility for Metro Rail cars. The top floor, which offers close to 75,000 square feet of space, including more than 57,000 square feet outdoors with scenic views of the Buffalo River, sits vacant.

Higgins is urging the ECHDC to make the investments necessary to the second floor of the DL&W Terminal to make the property development-ready. In his report, Higgins noted the NFTA will soon publish a study that will likely call for a new light rail station on the ground floor of the DL&W. Moving forward on improvements to the second floor would encourage new interest in this transit-oriented development.

Kelly Island Trail

Nestled in between the harbors and surrounded by the Buffalo River and the City Ship Canal is Kelly Island. Recent planning documents have outlined the need for a trail to improve public access along the Buffalo River. Higgins is pushing for ECHDC to initiate build-out of a public access trail to connect the river to public access points at Canalside and the Outer Harbor and link points along the River, including: Riverfest Park, Silo City and Riverworks.

Rough estimates place the cost of upgrading the DL&W and building-out Kelly Island Trail at approximately $10 million each. Higgins proposed ECHDC use $20 million of the roughly $30 million in funding set aside for parking structures toward the development projects. While parking ramps may be a valid development decision, Higgins noted they are self-financing and therefore not the highest and best use of NYPA funding, which is intended for waterfront improvements.

In Congress, Higgins is a member of the Great Lakes task force and a vocal advocate in Washington for federal funding support Great Lakes restoration. In Western New York, Higgins fought to win more than $279 million for waterfront development through the 2005 federal relicensing settlement with the New York Power Authority.

Robert Gioia, chairman of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., said, "Congressman Higgins has been a great advocate and champion for Buffalo's revitalized waterfront. We appreciate his input and, as stewards of the continuing planning and implementation of policies and programs that have contributed to the overwhelming success of Canalside and the Outer Harbor, thanks largely to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's commitment to Buffalo's waterfront, we will consider his recommendations for all future related development activities."

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