Buffalo-Niagara Waterkeeper closed out the summer with a bang last week. At its major summer fundraising event, the organization, until last year known as Buffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper, announced it is taking the next step in the process of creating a regional waterways center.
At the event, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper Executive Director Jill Jedlicka shared this vision: “The Waterways Center will be the physical representation of 30 years of collaborative work on regional waters and ecosystems, and provide a platform for Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper’s mission and vision going forward. The Center will help create a new legacy for the Buffalo waterfront, through the enhancement of the water-based economy, establishment of a permanent community connection to our water, and re-branding the region as a healthy outdoor recreation and eco-tourism corridor.”
Waterkeeper also showed conceptual renderings which, I’ve been assured, don’t depict any specific location. And sure enough, even though some of what appear to be older, existing buildings in the renderings look vaguely familiar, they don’t depict an actual site. I confirmed this by checking aerial imagery of the entire waterfront in Erie and Niagara Counties, because our job is to do the research so you don’t have to. In that sense, the renderings are like those in Green Code, which resemble buildings we see around the city. Such conceptual renderings can be crucial in projects like this, as they allow everyone – especially decision-makers and prospective funders – to immediately grasp the essentials of the proposal.
This project has been a long-sought goal for the organization, and some might feel long overdue, as other communities on the water have such centers. But to me, the timing feels exactly right. I was involved in the startup of a similar center in Rochester in the 1990s, that was created in response to the Canal Recreationway Plan. That plan made it clear that pleasure boats and tour boats would soon become common on the Genesee River south of the city, which had become a haven for crewing, kayaking, and canoeing. Watersports proponents knew they would have to make their presence felt if they didn’t want to be shunted off to the side by larger, motorized craft. Thus was born the Genesee Waterways Center.
In a way, our waterfront has come to a similar juncture, with improved access to the Outer Harbor, cleanup of the Buffalo River, and shoreline restoration projects everywhere acting as a magnet to bring everyone back to the water. As in Rochester two decades ago, it may be time for us to take our efforts to assert the equality – if not primacy – of hand-powered craft to the next level. While that isn’t stated anywhere as a project goal or objective, to me it’s one of the reasons this effort is so important.
The goals and objectives that have been stated by Waterkeeper are that the waterways center will:
- Serve as a centerpiece and anchor facility for the region’s eco-tourism sector and internationally recognized outdoor recreation hub.
- Develop a one of a kind community-based water stewardship and education space.
- Include a variety of tenants in spaces that encourages multi-sector and multi-discipline interaction, environmental education, and collaborative problem solving for our region’s environmental challenges.
- Provide universal and equitable access for all WNY residents and visitors to safely and easily access our region’s waters.
- Honor our natural and environmental history, our Great Lakes regional ecosystems, and water revitalization successes.
- Utilize sustainable and eco-friendly design, innovation and technologies.
- Stand as a sentinel and guardian for protection of regional waters for the next generation.
With this new announcement, it’s good to see this effort back on track, and Waterkeeper in the driver’s seat, after it appeared for a time that it might be sidetracked by a more recent parallel effort that did not engage the community. Waterkeeper, on the other hand, has been about this for nearly a decade. In its press release, Waterkeeper said, “The idea of the Center began to take shape nearly 10 years ago, and through numerous community conversations and planning sessions, citizen input has helped shape the vision for establishing a new legacy for Buffalo’s waterfront.” Most recent was a visioning session with the community. There will be more opportunities for community input and participation in planning of the project, according to Jedlicka.
The next big step is site selection, which requires a great deal of due diligence – not unlike what’s involved in buying a new home. To assist it with that process, Waterkeeper is putting out an RFP for real estate consulting services, which you can find here.
Where do you think the waterways center should be? You know how to tell us.
With de-industrialization, and cleanup in the water and on the land, our waterfront is at a crucial juncture. What uses will prevail on the water, now that everyone wants to be there? Will Buffalo’s waterfront become a haven for nature and low-impact uses such as kayaking? Or will it be a speedway for pleasure craft and jet skis? How do we preserve our neglected industrial heritage upriver, once isolated, but now in reach of more and more people on the water? Will we be able to protect from development pressure the unused land on the Outer Harbor and along the Buffalo River that nature has been reclaiming?
Let’s create a waterways center that attracts people to enjoy and appreciate our waterfront – and that also convenes people to determine how to secure the best future for our waterfront.
Get connected: Buffalo-Niagara Waterkeeper Waterways Center