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Canalside: The Flip Side

As the momentum of Canalside starts to shift, there are always going to be people who don’t like to see the tides of change rolling in. Instead of green space and large concerts, there will one day be infill and mixed use buildings.

There is also a recent train of thought that The Skyway should come down, in order to free up more space for this infill and added infrastructure. Some people love the thought of The Skyway coming down. Other people aren’t so keen on the idea.

One BRO reader submitted an email to us this morning, which provided her assessment of the situation. She’s a fan of not changing anything, for fear that Buffalo will screw it all up. What we would like to pass along to this reader is that there was always a plan to build at Canalside. And if The City can ever improve ingress and egress to the Outer Harbor, it’s the perfect place to position the concerts that are currently being hosted at the Inner Harbor.

The Active Skyline by Nicholas Karl

As for The Skyway, instead of simply studying what it would take to tear it down, why not study all of the different options. There was a time in NYC when the plan was to remove all of the defunct elevated railroad tracks. After a monumental fight, the tracks were left intact and today it’s now known as The High Line.

Following is the aforementioned email from Kathy S:

I was thinking “Why don’t we make The Skyway into a High Line park sort of thing?” I did a search to see if the idea had been considered. That’s how I found BRO (see some ideas). And I could not believe a reader’s response about high density housing! Right–we just got the waterfront back, so let’s block it off with high density housing.

I am a 60-something who enjoys alternative rock and have been to every Kerfuffle since 107.7 started it. Plus a few other concerts as well.  “Meet you at Hanover and Prime” is a slogan in our family, and by the way, I live in Alden.  Many, many bands have remarked on the unique setting for concerts, and how much they enjoy playing the interesting Canalside venue. I too was on the “tear it down” bandwagon until I started going to the concerts, with The Skyway as a dramatic and acoustic backdrop.  I’ve heard that “We shouldn’t get too attached to the Canalside area as a concert venue.”  Well, in my humble opinion, to mess that up would be another classic Buffalo error. People like me come downtown precisely because of that space. We spend money there. We pay parking attendants. We buy food and beverages.  And souvenirs and more tickets! We visit the local establishments, not just the vendors within Canalside.

Skyway Park – Urbanist Tim Tielman’s idea to use half The Skyway as a park, which would free up the other half for development.

I’m so happy to come downtown now.  We probably come down at least once a month (up from once a year), and that number is rising. We’ve been downtown three times this month!  

2017 will be an interesting year for Canalside and the Outer Harbor. The wheels have been set in motion, and the destiny for these two major waterfront areas is changing. Not everyone’s going to like what they hear, but hopefully they will like what they eventually see.

Learn more about the proposed Skyway Park

Photo: Lead photo Chae Hawk | Photo by Christina Laing | Renderings Scott Wood

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at The Hotel @ The Lafayette, and the Madd Tiki Winter Luau. Other projects: Navigetter.

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  • Anthony Laviano

    The high line is unique because it brought a park in an area that didn’t have one.

  • ILikeBuf

    Buffalo is full of people who hate change. Anything that is new is always opposed, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. If I didn’t know better, I’d begin thinking that there are more than a few who thought that the coma that Buffalo was in for the last 45 years was wonderful.

  • BuildBuffalo

    I wish the buildings were more modern and also taller. Remove the skyway please

    • Randy503

      But if we turned it into a High Line, we could think of the stairway as the World’s Biggest Stairmaster.

    • I think they could increase the density in the master plan and make them 2-3 stories taller, but no more than 6-7 stories outside of the one next to CM (should be 7-10) and the N Aud buildings (should also be 7-10+). The master plan actually lays out how high they should be.

  • Andrew Kulyk

    I just love all these do gooders who are so intent on keeping the status quo. Why didn’t they speak up 15 years ago at any of the public meetings and there were many of them which led to the drafting of the master plan and modified general project plan for Canalside. I could just hear them now. “We don’t want mixed used buildings, we want a big muddy crater to replace the spot where the vacant Aud is!”. Or.. “We don’t want permanent buildings, we want oceans of portable toilets, and shacks and shipping containers to serve as concession stands!”

    All the discussion and momentum that is happening now for the Inner Harbor could have and should have happened years ago. As for concerts…plenty of room at Lasalle Park or the Outer Harbor for a permanent and spectacular concert facility.

    • OldFirstWard

      Bringing in thousands of people for concerts is exactly why Canalside is an attraction. People come for events, and they spend money. Take away the concerts, and you eliminate a reason for people to visit on a regular basis.

      • You missed the point. Not to mention, there’s space along the riverfront that won’t be touched, for the time being.

        • OldFirstWard

          Actually the point is that eventually, the organizers want to move the concerts events away from Canalside and maroon them on the Outer Harbor which I am absolutely against.

          • Why are you against it? Things can’t stay stagnant forever.

          • OldFirstWard

            How do you equate “stagnant” with the most popular and highest attended events at Canalside? Last year when Twenty One Pilots played at Canalside, there were kids lined up to the Michigan St. lift bridge to waiting to get in.

    • Chris Ostrander

      There’s a great parcel right next door to Riverworks that Ellicott recently bought. They could build a terrific indoor/outdoor venue there like you see in Pittsburgh with Stage AE. Would be perfect for the acts they get for Canalside and concerts which are too small for KBC

    • Matt Marcinkiewicz

      hey, you’re the guy who wrote the Artvoice article floating the plan for putting the football stadium downtown

  • mediumriser

    Love the skyway ! Leave it alone

  • Texpat

    I personally love the idea of turning a portion of the skyway into a park and tearing the rest out. It could be an awesome and unique attraction. I wonder if it’s steep enough to use as a sledding or toboggan run in the winter? That could be pretty unique and a way to use the space during the winter time. There really just so many cool things that could be done with it.

    • It would be a good attraction if the skyway traffic were diverted by a freeway to I-190.

      I actually like the idea of going up and looking out from the top. Driving across it you can look out at everything. But it should either be done right, or not at all.

  • Michael DiPasquale

    I’m for removal (or partial removal) of the Skyway. I like Tielman’s idea. But, keep in mind, the situation in Buffalo is much different than New York’s Highline.

  • PaulBuffalo

    The NYC High Line is in an incredibly dense area and the exorbitant maintenance costs are paid, in part, by the residents, of the area. It’s only a short flight of stairs up to the next level. Large buildings, some of cutting edge design, help deflect the wind. It’s a park, a thoroughfare, a gallery, a place to eat and shop, and a performance space. It’s exciting because it’s more than black iron.

    Turn Buffalo’s skyway into a park? It’s at least three times the height of the High Line. There is no density and it’s in an area known for high winds. This would likely be a seasonal attraction. What is the compelling reason for local residents to repeatedly visit? Who will maintain it? Who will pay for maintenance? Sorry, comparisons to the High Line are not apt: it would result in a most desolate place after a month or two. If only one person were blown off the thing during high winds, that would be the end of this fantasy. It’s the whitest of white elephants.

    There are so many other great things happening downtown and on the waterfront. Preserving the skyway ain’t one of them.

    • OldFirstWard

      I was about to respond with practically the same comments. Very well said, and I agree completely. The skyway offers some spectacular views of the lake and the areas around it, but its very limited use as a park, walkway or whatever is nothing more than a fantasy. Besides, I cannot accept Tim Tielman freelancing as Howard Zemsky’s proxy.

      • Tbuff90

        I agree with both of you. The skyway is too tall, too long, and the maintenance would be too expensive to turn it into a park. I personally would like to see parts of it preserved in some form. I think it would be cool if they could save some of the pillars and maybe turn one of them into an observation deck or just light a few up at night like they did with the grain elevators.

      • Matt Marcinkiewicz

        Why is Paul’s comment awaiting moderation? I can’t even respond to it directly, so I’m forced to respond to OFW’s reply. Humorous that the best comment on the thread is semi-hidden

        • OldFirstWard

          What, I’m not worthy of your eloquent pen?

  • So you take part of the Skyway down just to make drivers look for another way through, then use the remains for a park. That’s a great idea, except nobody wants to stop for lights on Ohio St (residential) and South Park Ave on their way to the city.

    A bypass needs to be built where the rail yards are, if this is to happen. And I’d either tear it all down or keep it all up.

  • Elizabeth Giles

    How about preserving the green space at the foot of Main (Canalside) and instead building high-density, car-free residential in the immediateyl adjacent Cobblestone District? You know: the “historic Cobblestone District” which is mostly just cobblestone streets dividing massive surface parking lots. It’s high time we rebuilt there to replace the buildings that once comprised the district.

    • Johnny Pizza

      “car-free residential” – What does this even mean? Like it will be a requirement to not own a car to live there? I don’t understand how that would work. There are literally no amenities in the Cobblestone district for residents to walk to so I don’t understand how you envision that working out.

      • Elizabeth Giles

        Former COO of Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus once proposed this (affordable downtown housing in the Cobblestone District). Car-free actually means garage-free. You can achieve higher density that way, when you don’t have to build with residents’ cars in mind – allowing for narrow streets and no driveways or garages. Whalen’s plan called for residents who own cars to park them at a nearby MTC, but hoped they would opt for transit, bikes, and zipcar instead. The Cobblestone District is served by the light rail, so it is not isolated. And there is soon to be an anchor grocery store downtown next to the library, just a Metro Rail stops away, or an easy bike ride.

  • Craig Mazuchowski

    I generally believe it is good that they are going to build more buildings on Canalside especially since the masterplan had that so. The Aud Block hole will be much better as a building then its current state. The only change I would make would be a to keep a bit more green space then planned by the boardwalk and try to keep some form of concerts there even if it isn’t the headliner acts Thursday’s series gets. Part of Canalsides uniqueness is the free element to relax for all of the public and not everything being a paid service. If they can maintain this to a fair extent the area will be even more vibrant then currently built.

    In regards to major concerts moving to the outer harbor I still see this as more of a problem due to the lack of a true amphitheater and the lack of options to access the outer harbor. You have to drive there, the train hasn’t been extended, the nearest pedestrian bridges will make it a far walk or bike ride. There really needs to be a true bridge far lower to the ground to handle that. Also with the lack of residents living near the outer harbor I question how many people would go there just for Thursday concerts. Like I said I’d really like to see a true amphitheater setup like Toronto has with the Molson Amphitheater on their outer harbor

    • Johnny Pizza

      If the concert series cannot survive with a $5 fee then the Buffalo renaissance isn’t anything that it’s cracked up to be.

      • eagercolin

        The concerts are a publicly funded amenity. Discussions about whether $5 is affordable or not are beside the point. We’re already paying for these concerts with funds that ECHDC seems to be frittering away with few results. Giving them still more money is a bad idea.

        • Johnny Pizza

          I would hope the idea is that the $5 off sets what taxpayers need to fund and eventually, it can fund itself.

  • Dan

    The least bad option is to keep the skyway as-is, until it gets too corroded and expensive to maintain and has to eventually come down. Tearing it down now just means that Rte 5 traffic, such as it is, will have to use new surface roads along or very near the same alignment. You’ll have the same problem of no development footprint but only with surface traffic to preclude any access. At least currently you can pass underneath the skyway unmolested by its car noise and conflict risk. And there’s no way Rte 5 traffic will be redirected to Ohio St, Ganson St, or even the rail alignment through Tifft Park just to “free up” this area under the skyway. Until 190 becomes completely obsolete, the skyway’s alignment stays where it is.

    Of course this is only temporary. Eventually the skyway must and will come down. Whether this is done because car traffic one day decreases to a trickle, some structural failure/catastrophe, NYSDOT stops paying for its maintenance, or some other reason; nobody knows. But this is the conversation that we need to be having now. Does anyone seriously think the skyway is still going to be there in 50 years’ time? 100? The laws of gravity and thermodynamics say it’s coming down eventually, for whatever reason. What do we do about that?

    • eagercolin

      Gravity exists, therefore we must plan to remove all bridges.

      • Dan

        Remove, replace, or endlessly repair them. They won’t stay up forever.

    • 300miles

      I don’t think bridge maintenance works that way though. It’s not like owning an old car that you plan to drive until it’s no longer driveable. A bridge must be maintained or else it’s unsafe. So that means regular maintenance costs. If the bridge stays up, then millions will be spent to maintain it’s safety. (I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be kept… just that if it’s kept it will cost us. there’s no inbetween where we keep it but don’t pay for it.)

      • Dan

        Yes, you’re right. I don’t mean that NYSDOT will arbitrarily decide to just stop maintaining it (although if budgets are tight they’ll defer for longer than they should); but rather regular maintenance will end when the decision is made to decommission it, which is inevitable. I should have been clearer.

  • There really is no realistic “flip side” to this.
    Canalside was developed with the intention to put in brick & mortar buildings. Anyone who thinks otherwise that the giant lawn was going to stay is living in make-believe land. Aside from the constant events going on weekly, the lawn doesn’t really get used for anything, and once there are brick & mortar buildings, then events will cater around them, utilizing the boardwalk moreso or move it down to Outer Harbor where there’s plenty of open space.

  • rubagreta

    Paint it, put some cool lighting on it, keep it as a highway, close it on weekends from May 1 to October 15 for biking and walking.

  • grovercleveland

    start auctioning off parcels. if there is a market they will sell. obviously have zoning restrictions, but there is no need to not do this immediately.

  • S.L.Hawks

    Urban redevelopment = clearing old sites & then BUILDING something new, not slapping down acres of sod which only get trampled by hordes of free-concert attendees. “Canalside” (a ridiculous and cynical name) has “boomed” because it’s a free venue where local lemmings follow each other; our actual “Downtown” area continues its slide into Oblivion, for want of customers.