By: Bradley J. Bethel Jr.
Recent discussions about the new proposed stadium for the Buffalo Bills has been a point of interest. Many plans range from relocating the Orchard Park facility to the Outer Harbor, or maybe closer to the heart of downtown. Some of these proposals include a new adjacent convention center. The existing Buffalo-Niagara Convention Center, nestled on Franklin Street a mere block from Niagara Square, opened in 1978 with a pathway linking to the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Both facilities sit upon a portion of West Genesee Street. With its direct ties to Main Street and the waterfront lost, very little of West Genesee remains to this day.
Despite facade enhancements in 2012, the convention center continues to be a visible reminder of the planning mistakes of yesteryear. With the upward momentum we are experiencing throughout the city, talks have begun of creating a bigger, more modern convention center in a more appropriate setting. This of course opens up the opportunity of restoring a portion of West Genesee Street, one of the main arterial roads defining the Ellicott street grid.
The legacy of Joseph Ellicott in Western New York is unmistakable. From the time he laid out Buffalo’s radial street grid in 1804, it has had a lasting influence on all that would shape our favorite city. Niagara Square is the strategic center of Buffalo, where City Hall is located, and from where the arterial roads (Delaware, Niagara, Court, and West Genesee Streets) radiate throughout the city. It has made Buffalo more accessible than cities adhering to a strictly square grid. We have shown our appreciation for Mr. Ellicott, time and again, by naming dozens of roads and buildings in his honor.
Over time, however, we have lost sight of the importance of Ellicott’s street plan, and many roadways particularly in the downtown area were altered or lost to development or infrastructure “improvements.” Access downtown had been made difficult by a maze of one-way roads. Some recent efforts have been taken to remedy this situation.
– Oak and Elm Streets have long been structured to funnel freeway traffic between Route 33 and I-190. Efforts have been proposed to calm daily traffic to make both roads more pedestrian friendly.
– Significant portions of Ellicott and Franklin Streets became two-way roads in 2005. As the Medical Campus continues to evolve, more of Ellicott has become two-way in the past year.
– Plans to convert Pearl Street into a two-way road have been set for 2015.
– With the Cars Sharing Main Street initiative, several roadways altered by the unpopular pedestrian mall are being restored. As construction continues on the 500 and 600 blocks of Main Street, work is underway on portions of East and West Mohawk Streets, as well as the foot of East Genesee Street. Evidentially, commercial investments have gone up on the 700 block of Main Street since its restoration in 2009.
– A recent announcement by Senator Chuck Schumer has called for work to be done on the 400 block of Main Street, roughly between Mohawk and Church Streets. This could mean a similar restorative treatment for East Eagle Street, which is already blocked off in various segments traveling east.
– The grid surrounding Erie Canal Harbor, now known as Canalside, is being replicated to improve direct access to our waterways.
– Three proposals for a new bridge linking the inner and outer harbors have been heavily championed by Congressman Brian Higgins. Though an outer harbor bridge once existed at the foot of South Michigan Avenue, which would probably be the most cost-effective option for a replacement, alternatives have also been planned for Main Street near Canalside, and Erie Street near the Erie Basin Marina. The simple fact remains that another roadway, besides the secluded Ohio Street, is necessary to take advantage of ongoing waterfront redevelopment by focusing on the main areas of activity. State Senator Tim Kennedy wants to increase the chances of a bridge being built by seeking a solution for the Skyway (Route 5).
As far as setting the stage for a modern, relocated convention center, Buffalo already seems to be planning ahead. More hotels are opening throughout the city, as a dual initiative to reuse historical buildings with state tax credits, and to attract larger events that could not have been hosted here before. The upcoming Green Code, a comprehensive overhaul of our zoning ordinances, recommends restoring lost portions of the street grid where feasible as new projects are reviewed by the City.
Regardless of where the new Bills stadium is located, as long as the team remains here in Western New York, it is opening up numerous possibilities for restoring Buffalo’s unique cultural and architectural heritage. A combination of a third sports franchise in the city, an all-new convention center tied to the increase in available lodgings, and a fully accessible street grid would build upon the year-round entertainment we are experiencing on the waterfront. Ultimately, acknowledging and repairing mistakes of the past are key to the city’s future.