Calling it an unprecedented positive investment in waterfront development, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) was joined by City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Astrid Glynn, Assemblymembers Sam Hoyt, Mark Schroeder and Crystal Peoples, NYS Senator William Stachowski, City of Lackawanna Mayor Norman Polanski and other representatives from state, county and city agencies to demonstrate strong support for the reconstruction of Fuhrmann Boulevard from a confusing, unsafe and underutilized road to a two-way tree-lined, Olmsted-like waterfront parkway that will finally deliver on the decades of promise to bring people to the water’s edge.
This fully funded, $55 million, 36-month construction project will fundamentally change the Outer Harbor landscape and will open up the 120-acre NFTA site and other vast parcels to a mixture of new parkland and new residential development, with commercial development potential as well.
Originally known as the Southtowns Connector Project, the first feasibility study for an improved roadway system was initiated in 1991. “This project has been studied for more than 16 years, costing $6 million with not one shovel in the ground,” said Congressman Higgins. “We must have the collective courage as a community to move forward and finally get the improved access that we have been denied for far too long.”
This waterfront parkway will feature paths for pedestrians and bicyclists and is expected to be the largest project ever undertaken along Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. Upon completion, this reconstructed stretch of Fuhrmann, from the Union Ship Canal to the Coast Guard Station, will incorporate many urban and aesthetic design principles including wide sidewalks, streetscape furniture, stamped concrete, roundabouts, generous landscaping, decorative Central Park-type lighting, a central median, signage and historical markers.
"I am in full agreement with Congressman Higgins that this project is good for the continuing development of Buffalo's waterfront and that it will provide better, not worse, access to the Outer Harbor," said Mayor Brown. "The suggestion that further study is needed for the beneficial impact of this project is curious, given that it has been studied for almost two decades. This is the right project for this critical infrastructure that will strengthen our ongoing redevelopment of the City's waterfront, provide significantly improved access for City residents and visitors to our waterfront, notably the Outer Harbor, and it will position us well for the shared goal of the eventual removal of the Skyway. An Olmsted-like parkway that will open access to our City's waterfront is certainly more preferable and beneficial than a boulevard that will impede access to the waterfront, take more land that could be better used for development and would actually hamper future removal of the Skyway."
Landscape design of the highest quality is critical and to that end, Commissioner Glynn has agreed to create a panel of local stakeholders, including persons familiar with Olmsted’s extensive work in Buffalo, to oversee the $2 million which will be spent on landscaping modeled after the work of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Additionally, this panel would be charged with developing a proposal for the long-term maintenance program to ensure the extensive landscaping has an extensive lifespan.
“A great new day is dawning in Buffalo. Long-awaited progress is coming as a result of the vision and commitment Congressman Higgins and other local leaders have shown through their strong support for this much-anticipated project,” Commissioner Glynn said. “I am gratified by the cooperation the department has received from the community in developing this plan through a years-long process and look forward to continuing to work with local groups to ensure its success.”
“This occasion presents a rare opportunity to tie together areas of public access, parkland, and nature preserves with an Olmstedian parkway design, while allowing for contextually appropriate development to supplement the City’s tax base,” Higgins added.
Real progress on the Fuhrmann Parkway is the first phase of a long-term strategy leading to the ultimate goal of the removal of the Skyway and the elevated section of Route 5. Following completion of the parkway, the next phase will be the implementation of the findings of the required study to identify the best bridge connection required between the Inner and the Outer Harbors. GBNRTC (Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council) approved the $2 million needed to fund the study earlier this year. Empire State Development (ESD) has agreed to lead the study for a bridge between Downtown Buffalo and the outer harbor, the construction of which is necessary for removal of the Skyway and elevated portion of Route 5.
“The Empire State Development Corporation and its subsidiary, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, are excited by the prospect of leading the required study under this project to determine the best bridge connection between the inner and outer harbors,” said Kenneth Schoetz, chief operating officer for Upstate ESDC. “This will be an interesting bridge, and in advancing this effort, we look forward to working with federal, state and city agencies to implement a project schedule that promotes the vision of expeditious and appropriate economic development of the inner and outer harbors.”
Outer Harbor Progress
This $55 million investment complements the exciting number of projects that are under construction, completed and being considered along the Outer Harbor, including:
Outer Harbor Greenbelt Project
Dramatic improvements are being made along the 6,600 feet of Lake Erie shoreline, starting at the now demolished Pier Restaurant, south around the Bell Slip and ending at Terminal B of Buffalo’s port facilities. The project includes $14 million for the Environmental Restoration Outer Harbor Greenbelt Program that will be completed in 2008. Enhancements include:
• Creation of a paved recreational path for public use along the shoreline for joggers, walkers, bikers, etc;
• Landscaping to include native plants to attract local wildlife and provide an improved natural setting;
• Construction of a shallow-water fish habitat along the shoreline within the existing embayment known as the Bell Slip; and
• Replacement of the shoreline embankment with an engineered heavy stone to minimize erosion.
Gallagher Beach/ Boat Harbor/ State Park
• $2.5 million investment included a boardwalk extending the length of the harbor through Gallagher beach, a small boat/ personal watercraft launch, beach access and bike-ways. Negotiations still ongoing with NFTA to turn over to the New York State Park system as the first State Park in the City of Buffalo.
Times Beach Nature Preserve
• A 50-acre former disposal facility, Times Beach now provides safe public access to one of the best birding areas in the Northeastern United States and features 4,000 feet of trail and three wildlife observation decks.
Consolidation of Coast Guard Land
• At the request of Congressman Higgins and Senator Hillary Clinton, the Coast Guard is expected to submit a proposal report to Congress by 2009 for the design, engineering and construction of the project, which would pave the way for the consolidation of the current 31-acre Buffalo Coast Guard facilities, restoring public access to 20 acres of green space surrounding the Buffalo’s historic lighthouse at the Outer Harbor.
19 Acres of Prime Waterfront Land to be Returned to the Public Domain
• NYPA will relocate the ice boom from its present 14 acre location on the Outer Harbor and turn the land over to the ECHDC, once a new site is finalized; and
• ECHDC is negotiating with Cargill to purchase 5 acres of land directly adjacent to NYPA’s ice boom parcel and parallel to Seaway Piers.
Bridge Connecting Downtown Buffalo with the Outer Harbor
• Two million dollars in Federal Highway funds was designated by the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council (GBNRTC) to start the first phase necessary in planning for a new bridge to connect the Inner and Outer Harbors – a connection which will allow for the eventual removal of the Skyway.
• Empire State Development will lead the review which consists of an environmental study and preliminary engineering designs.