Once a thriving metropolis with the largest inland port in the United States, Buffalo, New York, became a symbol of the rise and fall of America's industrial northeast. Heavily impacted by the loss of shipping traffic after the simultaneous opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway and development of railroad and motorized transportation in the second half of the 20th century, the Queen City fell into a long decay. What caused the city's demise has recently become the engine of regeneration efforts undertaken by local authorities. On the banks of the Buffalo River, the historical wharfs of the Erie Canal Harbor are being repurposed into an epicentre of entertainment in the downtown area.
Known today as Canalside, this waterfront district stood mostly abandoned and forgotten during the past few decades, after its canal network was filled in with gravel to make way for parking lots and paved streets, and the elevated Thruway was built in the mid 1950s. After a decade-long series of efforts led by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, the canals and vestiges of the long-gone neighbourhood began to be unearthed in 2005, and the first wave of regeneration was completed in 2008 thanks to a masterplan designed by architect Perkins Eastman.
The first phase of revitalization included the reconstruction of the Erie and Main-Hamburg Canals and the restoration of the Commercial Slip, which was once lined by warehouses and brick buildings whose foundations are all that remain today. The canals were reconstructed with a freezing system that creates the largest outdoor skating rink in the United States every winter, and New York State-fabricated Whipple truss foot bridges connect the recreated banks of the waterways and recall the area's historical canal spans. Along Main Street, $300 million worth of construction has already replaced many brownfields, which are connected to the rest of the city thanks to the Buffalo Metro Rail.
Adjacent to the First Niagara Center, which opened in 1996, stands the recently completed HarborCenter. Designed by Populous and built at a cost of $172 million on a 1.7-acre block, this new 20-storey entertainment complex features two hockey rinks, a 205-room Marriott Hotel, parking, and ground-level retail spaces that will include restaurants. Immediately to the north is the $30-million One Canalside which was completely renovated in 2013 by Benderson Development but originally built in 1962. It is now home to a 102-room Courtyard hotel, several levels of office space occupied by a prestigious law firm, as well as retail spaces at street level.
At the end of the cobblestone-paved streets, the wooden-plank Central Wharf runs along the Buffalo River. Passersby can see the ships of The Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park and museum from a sandy beach dotted with Muskoka chairs. Further phases will include the redevelopment of the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium site to the north, which has been vacant since the building's demolition in 2009. Remnants of the Art Deco arena are visible along the canal, including two rows of the iconic orange plastic chairs. A new 3,700-square-metre Explore & More Children’s Museum will also occupy part of the South Aud Block, along with additional retail spaces and possibly a historic carousel. This educational facility is expecting to attract 130,000 visitors annually.
A residential component for the project has not been confirmed yet, but the City of Buffalo has announced its intention to study this possibility, as the success of this redevelopment shows Buffalonians' interest in the area. Buffalo's urban and cultural regeneration has been promoted by locals through initiatives such as BuffaloVibe.com and Buffalo CityBration, who recently organized the 'Take Another Look' event to showcase the changes happening in the city from the 28th floor of the renovated Art Deco Buffalo City Hall, from which the illuminated grain silos of Canalside are visible.
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