Getting To Buffalo’s Waterfront

June 13, 2009

Buffalo’s waterfront is a vibrant, ever-changing world of private and public investments, dwarfed only by the length of its shoreline and frustrated by the lack of access to it.

I saw this firsthand today on while on a tour sponsored by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s Young Professionals group.  We traveled as far south as the Bethlehem Steel property and north to Squaw Island.  In between there was some amazing development, made even more so by Luke the bus driver’s needle-threading precision maneuvering around roads not ever meant for bus travel.

The Bell Slip, a tranquil cove adjacent to a staging area piled high with stone curbing.  In the calm and soothing natural setting you could almost ignore the deafening bellows of the front loader working on the Route 5 redevelopment nearby.

Bell Slip Panorama

The Outer Harbor Parkway Project, which punches holes into the soon-to-be new Furhmann Boulevard so that traffic will eventually be able to move east/west under Route 5, connecting the outer harbor to South Buffalo, possibly allowing South Buffalonians to flee west.

The Antique Boat Club, nestled inside and behind Nanodynamics, the old Ford Plant.  One would think that the Antique Boat Club area is a perfect spot for a boat launch, inside the breakwall, were it not for the fact that the water is 15 feet below the rusted steel pilings that make up the abrupt and artificial shoreline in that area.

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The Old Freezer Queen (cum next condominium, if the economy ever improves and the Outer Harbor starts to take shape) complex, taking up oodles of space on the water, almost directly across Furhmann Boulevard from the Tifft Nature Preserve.  The amazing Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park, a huge plot of reclaimed brownfields encompassing the Union Ship Canal, parkland and brand new facilities courtesy of Sonwil Distribution, Certainteed, Cobey and a dozen yet to be claimed undeveloped and spooky-being-in-a-city parcels.  The Riverwright complex, which while shockingly ugly and even uglier up close still holds promise as a future biofuel manufacturing center until we Buffalonians litigate it to death or controlled nuclear fusion is realized, whichever comes first.

There’s the cobblestone district, Canal Side and Buffalo Harbor, condos on the lake, LaSalle Park, the Black Rock Channel, Towpath Park, Cotter’s Point and that tiny part of the Erie Canal that sticks out by the Scajaquada and is full of driftwood and old tires.

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And there’s a most tortuous trip between really ugly Navy property and the no-man’s land adjacent to the tracks which are adjacent to the I-190, to the West Side Rowing Club and an absolutely spectacular Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fontana Boathouse next door.  I now know how to get to this place but it would be impossible to give someone directions to it.  Frank’s secret is safe with us.

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These and other small parks, slips and marinas pepper the waterfront among the ruins of a once booming shipping and transportation center.  What’s lacking is a great many small things.  For instance, there were a total of three restaurants along this 7-mile stretch, one of which was the Hatch which no one in their right mind would consider a restaurant.  There are rusting and crumbling industrial properties looking for a buyer.  There are still huge brownfield areas begging for reclamation dollars.  There’s barbed wire, concrete walls and debris strewn everywhere.

But the big thing that’s lacking is easy access.  Squaw island via a narrow one-lane steel-decked bridge?  The West Side Rowing Club via a snaky drive past some snarky buildings?  Buffalo Harbor via streets that twist and turn under the elevated I-190?  Who dreamt up this road map?

There’s a ton of stuff on the waterfront.  We just can’t get to it.


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