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Joan Kesner to serve as Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. chairperson


Mon, Oct 23rd 2023 01:55 pm

Kesner will lead governor's plans to improve access to Buffalo’s waterfront, including ‘transformational redevelopment’ of North Aud Block

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Joan Kesner, formerly the governor’s regional director for Western New York, will serve as chairperson for the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. Board of Directors. Hochul appointed Kesner to the board and also recommended her as the next chairperson of the ECHDC board, which the board approved Monday. 

Leslie Zemsky, vice president and partner in Larkin Development Group, and Sam Capitano, business manager at Laborers International Union of North America, Upstate New York Laborers District Council, were also appointed to serve on the ECHDC board. 

ECHDC is the state agency that supports and promotes the creation of infrastructure and public activities at Canalside and the Outer Harbor in Buffalo. It works to attract private investment and enhance the enjoyment of the waterfront for residents and visitors.

“Joan Kesner is a dedicated and talented leader who will focus the state’s efforts to revitalize our economy, starting at the waterfront,” Hochul said. “As we ramp up efforts to encourage visitors, developers and investors to the water’s edge, Joan’s collaborative spirit and hard work will ensure continued progress on the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.’s initiatives. I also welcome Leslie Zemsky and Sam Capitano to the board and am confident their expertise will be an asset to Buffalo’s waterfront moving forward.”

Kesner said, “I couldn’t be prouder and more excited to continue the development projects that will bring more people to Buffalo’s waterfront. The waterfront and its development are a major priority of Gov. Hochul’s, and I look forward to working with her to transform this destination and continue the excitement – especially leading up to the bicentennial of the Erie Canal’s completion in 2025. I am excited to work with the talented and creative board and staff of ECHDC. We will work together to make our waterfront one we all can enjoy and be proud of. I thank Gov. Hochul for this incredible opportunity and her strong commitment to Western New York.”

Kesner, a Western New York native, recently served as Western New York regional director for Hochul, advancing key regional projects and initiatives while representing the governor at community events. Prior to that, Kesner worked in the New York Senate for more than 26 years as the executive assistant to New York State Sen. William T. Stachowski, where she managed grants and project development in the district. She participated in negotiations with the New York Power Authority to arrive at a series of agreements that facilitated the 50-year operating license for the Niagara Power Project and understands the role of ECHDC.

Hochul’s team added, “Kesner was also instrumental in advocating for water safety and worked to assist paid and volunteer water rescue units that respond to emergencies in Lake Erie, which led to the formation of Western New York and Ontario, Canada ALERT (Advanced Local Emergency Rescue Teams), and supported the first Erie County Sheriff’s helicopter.” 

Kesner was elected and served on the Hamburg Town Board for more than 14 years. She previously worked in the Erie County Clerk's Office, and subsequently as then-Congresswoman Hochul's district manager from June 2011 to March 2012. Kesner attended Hilbert College and graduated from SUNY Empire with a degree in liberal arts. She lives in Hamburg with her husband and has two adult children.

Leslie Zemsky is currently the vice president and partner of Larkin Development Group, which has been renovating a series of warehouse buildings on the east side of Buffalo that were once part of the Larkin Soap Co. Renovations since 2002 include more than a million square feet of office space, more than a half-mile of streetscape renovations and a public gathering space for events called Larkin Square. The company continues to develop “Larkinville” via new projects along Seneca Street, including multiple mixed-use residential and retail projects and a newly planned public park. 

As “director of fun” in Larkin Square, Zemsky has overseen events attracting more than 130,000 people to Larkin Square each season. Popular events include “Food Truck Tuesdays,” “Live at Larkin Wednesdays” and the “Larkin Square Author Series.” She also is involved in the community, having served on a number of boards, including the First Niagara Foundation, Buffalo AKG Art Museum, Visit Buffalo Niagara, and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, and is a current mentor for the East Side Avenues Community Real Estate Development Course.

Sam Capitano is currently the business manager at Laborers International Union of North America, Upstate New York Laborers District Council. LiUNA represents members employed in the construction industry and other fields. Capitano’s accomplishments include the private Donovan Partnership Agreement, a $7.5 million asbestos abatement project, a union and non-union construction agreement allowing both union and non-union sides to come together jointly and work side by side to its successful completion; working with ECHDC and Empire State Development on removing the Bass Pro project and developing a plan for what is now known as Canalside; and leading the Buffalo Building Trades negotiation team on the Buffalo Sabres’ Harbor Center project, a $300 million project that helped transform Buffalo’s waterfront and laid the foundation for the ensuing economic development of downtown area.

Hochul’s team said, “The governor’s announcement today comes as efforts are ramping up at Buffalo’s waterfront. The Wilkeson Pointe improvements project on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor started this fall. Working within an approximately 7-acre site, the area between the Wilkeson Pointe water edge and the nearby Fuhrmann Boulevard entrance will be renovated to provide a better visitor experience. The $13 million Outer Harbor events pavilion will be ready to host concerts and other experiences next spring. A $5 million improvement project at Bell Slip is under construction and will provide restrooms and an overlook deck at the water’s edge.

“The transformation of the North Aud Block is beginning with construction starting on the Gateway Building, a multistory, state-funded structure that will allow ECHDC to manage site operations from a location within Canalside. Plans for the remainder of the North Aud Block are also progressing. The plan envisions a transformation of the nearly 2-acre vacant parcel for a mix of commercial, retail and residential uses in several buildings that would reflect portions of the original 19th century street grid while also adapting and incorporating 21st century infrastructure and amenities.

“In that same vicinity, the $40 million Heritage Point project is underway, which will bring 61 apartments, a restaurant, offices and retail space to Canalside.”

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