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With Outer Harbor property poised to change hands, Higgins welcomes next chapter in waterfront transformation


Wed, Feb 10th 2016 06:00 pm
Congressman Brian Higgins stands at Port Terminal property.
Congressman Brian Higgins stands at Port Terminal property.

Pending port terminal transfer is years in the making

"Buffalo's Outer Harbor area has great potential to become a major attraction that would help change the city's regional and national image from an old industrial center to a city of new and exciting possibilities. Changing the waterfront ownership is fundamental to this goal."

~ New York State Assemblyman Brian Higgins in 2002

Standing along Buffalo's Outer Harbor Tuesday, Congressman Brian Higgins recognized the history being made as final steps are being taken to transfer waterfront property owned by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority for nearly 60 years - a move Higgins has fought to see happen for the past 14 years.

"When we started the fight to transfer the NFTA property well over a decade ago, Buffalo's position as a true waterfront city was met with a 'not in my lifetime' response," Higgins said. "With funding we secured in the Assembly and funds later secured in Congress and through the federal relicensing settlement for the New York Power Authority, project by project we've made substantial progress that has delivered an influx of public desire to explore all the Outer Harbor has to offer. This transfer will, at long-last, take our transportation agency out of the waterfront business and open up valuable land to new opportunities in our lifetime and for generations to come."

On Jan. 28 the NFTA board of directors authorized the transfer of 50 acres of Outer Harbor property, commonly known as terminals A and B, to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. On Feb. 8, the ECHDC will meet to consider formal transfer of the property.

In 1957, the City of Buffalo transferred Outer Harbor property to the Niagara Frontier Port Authority, which later became the NFTA. As a freshman New York State Assemblyman, Higgins fought for funding to improve Gallagher Beach, located at the edge of the NFTA's Outer Harbor land. After completion of that waterfront demonstration project, Higgins began his fight to see the land owned by the Transportation Authority transferred to an owner more suited to meet the waterfront property's needs.

In 2002, then-Assemblyman Higgins wrote to the NFTA calling on the authority to relinquish control and possession of the waterfront property. That letter was followed by an opinion piece written by Higgins and published in The Buffalo News laying out the reasoning for the NFTA to give up the property.

In 2004, Higgins wrote to Mayor Anthony Masiello and the City Council outlining a plan for the NFTA to relinquish Outer Harbor Property. In 2006, the NFTA board gave authorization to negotiate the transfer of its waterfront land to ECHDC, but a deal was never finalized.

In 2008, now-Congressman Higgins kicked off a project to reconstruct Fuhrmann Boulevard from a crumbling one-way street into a new Outer Harbor Parkway by 2010. The $60 million infrastructure project was followed by a number of waterfront access and improvement projects lining the parkway, including: a $6.1 million public access project at the Coast Guard Property, $4.2 million for the Industrial Heritage Trail and Tifft Street Pier, $2 million at Union Ship Canal, $1.4 million at Time Beach and Gallagher Beach and $3.3 million at Wilkeson Pointe.

So, with $77 million in new federal and NYPA settlement-funded projects along the Outer Harbor complete or underway, and the real promise of the Outer Harbor coming alive, in 2012 Higgins renewed his call for the NFTA to release its hold on the Outer Harbor land.

Working closely with Higgins, in 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo authorized the transfer of 340 acres of NFTA waterfront property to become the first New York state park to be located in the City of Buffalo. The impending transfer of the 50 acres of NFTA property at terminals A and B will allow the Transportation Authority to get out of the waterfront land business once and for all, Higgins said.

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