Federal designation brings economic benefits, jobs to WNY
Congressman Brian Higgins joined Erie Canalway Heritage Fund Board Chairman Thomas Blanchard late last week to detail the economic benefits the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor has across the state and right here in Western New York.
"The Erie Canal played a significant role in Western New York's story historically and, in recent years, we have a greater appreciation the role it can have in helping to define a waterfront experience unlike others," Higgins said.
According to a study conducted by Tripp Umbach, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor generates $307.7 million in economic impact, supports 3,240 jobs and generates $34.9 million in tax revenues.
"Our economic impact is the result of many partners working together to preserve the best of the past, while ensuring a vibrant future along our canals and waterways," Blanchard said. "The National Heritage Corridor provides a critical link that unites communities and assets and draws international and national attention to New York's legendary canal corridor. We're especially excited about the heritage development that has taken place in Buffalo. As was the case in the 1800s, investments made are reinforcing each other to advance the entire region."
Completed in 1825, the Erie Canal, which connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, had a lasting impact on New York and the U.S. The Erie Canal was first designated a National Heritage Corridor by Congress in 2000. Higgins, in the House of Representatives, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, in the U.S. Senate, led on federal legislation to reauthorize the Erie Canal as a National Heritage Corridor in Congress. The federal designation, which was set to expire in 2015, has been renewed through 2021.
Through this designation, a federally appointed canalway commission, in conjunction with the National Park Service and U.S. Department of Interior, is tasked with promoting the corridor as a tourism destination and ensuring the historical and natural features of the canal and its communities are preserved.
The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor is one of 49 National Heritage Areas across the country.
While the National Heritage Area report calculates the economic impact specific to the work of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, Higgins pointed out millions of dollars more in economic development and jobs is driven by recent efforts to reimagine areas in and around the historic Erie Canal.
Canalside, built with funding secured by Higgins through the federal relicensing settlement with the New York Power Authority, first opened in 2008. The site embraces Buffalo's role as the western terminus of the Erie Canal with a once buried, re-watered commercial slip, whipple truss bridges replicating original bridge designs, unearthed cobblestone streets reconstructed and labeled with the original street names, and ice skating rinks built to replicate the historic canals.
Public investments in and around Canalside are building confidence in the region and prompting private sector investments.
Phillips Lytle law firm became one of the first Canalside tenants, bringing 300 employees to One Canalside, a $30 million overhaul of the former Donovan Building led by Benderson Development with Phillips Lytle as anchor tenant. A hotel and restaurant have also opened at the site.
The new, $200 million HARBORCENTER, which first opened in 2014, features a large restaurant, retail stores, ice rinks and a hotel, supporting hundreds of jobs and attracting thousands of visitors.
Next up are plans for an Explore & More Children's museum on a parcel along a portion of the site where the Memorial Auditorium once sat.
"From our offices at One Canalside, we have a view of the historic Erie Canal terminus, the replica canals and all of the excitement around Canalside that has been made possible by Rep. Higgins' tireless advocacy," said David J. McNamara, Phillips Lytle's managing partner. "We are privileged to be part (of) the new Erie Canal heritage that recognizes the canal's contribution to our region."
Along the Buffalo River, more than $72.88 million in federal funding to clean up the waterway has sparked $81.2 million in private sector investments since 2013 - more private investment along the Buffalo River than at any other time, since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959.
The Erie Canal Corridor is one of the largest National Heritage Areas, covering 4,834 square miles across 23 counties, extending from Tonawanda to Whitehall at the bottom of Lake Champlain and includes Buffalo, Rochester and the Finger Lakes, Oswego, Syracuse, Albany, Saratoga National Historic Park, and Glens Falls. For more information about what there is to do and see along the Erie Canal, visit www.eriecanalway.org.