The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. (ECHDC) board of directors met Monday to approve several items its said represent Gov. Kathy Hochul’s vision for the continued revitalization and maintenance of the Buffalo waterfront. The board endorsed three contracts for the management of the public space, facilities and grounds “to enrich the programs for families to enjoy at both Canalside and the Outer Harbor.”
“The contracts approved today continue the great momentum and progress we have seen on Buffalo’s waterfront under Gov. Hochul’s leadership,” ECHDC Chairperson Joan Kesner said. “The success at Canalside and the Outer Harbor is spurring the first private investment in Buffalo’s waterfront in more than 50 years – which is attracting more visitors to Western New York and making the citizens of Buffalo even prouder of our rich history.”
The board of directors voted to enter into a seven-year contract with Be Our Guest Ltd., doing business as the Rich Entertainment Group, to continue providing hospitality and programming on the waterfront. This is a revenue-generating contract that has no cost to ECHDC. A percentage of the profits will be allocated from Rich Entertainment Group to ECHDC. The terms of the agreement will include: a base flat fee that increases each year; a percentage of gross sponsorship: a percentage of gross revenue; and a portion of live event ticket sales.
Rich Entertainment Group has managed the Outer Harbor since 2016 and Canalside since 2017. As ECHDC creates more structures and open space are created for public access, a third-party operator is required to manage the utilization of the spaces and maintain the overall activity schedule at Canalside and the Outer Harbor – two increasingly popular sites with a range of large events, from local community group gatherings to yearly concert series featuring national music acts. On a smaller scale, the sites have been used for everything from yoga classes and boat tours to athletic clinics and history lectures.
The contract requires the Rich Entertainment Group, as the operator, to continue to provide the following services:
•Hospitality services: Operator will provide staff to work in customer-facing roles like the reception desk at the Gateway Building and the front office of the transient boater office. Associates will also staff the information kiosk on the boardwalk, and respond to customer inquiries via social media and the Buffalo Waterfront email and phone line.
•Programming: Operator will be responsible for managing, coordinating and advertising the programming, at all locations throughout the year, with an aim of maximizing and lengthening visits, and encouraging return visits by the public.
•Food, beverage and merchandise: They are responsible for developing, managing, stocking and staffing a new, boutique retail location in the Gateway Building at Canalside. This 600-square-foot space will open to the public in May 2026 and should provide a range of Buffalo Waterfront and Buffalo-centric merchandise, as well as drink and snack food takeaway options.
•Marketing/advertising: Operator will develop a marketing and advertising plan, along with a media buy budget to promote the diverse activities at the Buffalo Waterfront. Advertising in print and electronic media, as well as on billboards and in local print, is expected.
•Operations and maintenance: They are also responsible for all cleaning/janitorial, waste management and pest control, repairs/restoration, and maintenance associated with hospitality services, programming, food and beverage and merchandise.
•Management and staffing: As part of the yearly plan, Rich Entertainment Group will provide adequate staffing and management oversight to ensure the continual improvement of quality, customer service.
“We’re grateful to the ECHDC board of directors and to Gov. Kathy Hochul for their trust and confidence in our team to continue and enhance the quality programming and services we provide at two of Buffalo’s most iconic public spaces,” said Kevin Parkinson, vice president of finance and operations for Rich Entertainment Group. “We look forward to continuing to host the popular live music, family programming and engaging events that have made our city’s waterfront a destination for both residents and tourists.”
The second contract approved by the ECHDC board was also awarded to Rich Entertainment Group for facilities management services. The $10,974,059 contract, funded by the New York Power Authority, requires the operator to provide all staffing, materials, fuels and supplies required for general operations and maintenance of buildings, structures, utility systems, rink/fountain, public spaces, FF&E, vehicles, capital project management, seasonal transitions, daily custodian services, etc. Scope of services may include, but not be limited to, the operation, maintenance, cleaning, repair, preventative maintenance, renovation, addition to or modification of the structures, property and systems. The contract will cover fees and expenses for a period of five years, ending March 31, 2029.
The third contract approved by the board is for grounds management services. Elbers Landscape Service was selected to provide all staffing, materials, fuels and supplies required for groundskeeping services, lawns, landscapes, trees, shrubs, seasonal horticulture, snow removal, grounds and landscaping capital project management, seasonal transitions, and invasive species management throughout the property. The $3,016,561 contract runs through March 2029.
ECHDC is governed by a nine-member board consisting of seven voting directors and two non-voting, ex-officio directors. The seven voting directors are recommended by the New York state governor and are appointed by the New York State Urban Development Corp. (dba Empire State Development) as sole shareholder of ECHDC. The two non-voting, ex-officio director positions are held by the Erie County executive and the City of Buffalo mayor.
As a subsidiary of Empire State Development, the state’s chief economic development agency, ECHDC supports and promotes the creation of infrastructure and public activities at Canalside, the Ohio Street corridor and the Outer Harbor.