On The Boards: Canal Side - Buffalo, NY

Canal Side is a new mixed use district that reconnects downtown Buffalo to its waterfront. Combining 1.1 million square feet of cultural, entertainment, retail, commercial and residential uses on an approximately 20-acre downtown site, Canal Side establishes an exuberant new center of activity in Buffalo’s historic inner harbor area. It is the signature piece of a larger Buffalo Inner Harbor Plan that will eventually include several other new residential and mixed-use districts.

Canal Side offers Buffalo’s residents and visitors opportunities for dining, shopping, culture, outdoor recreation and fun, or simply relaxing and walking around – all within a dramatic public environment where city streets lead into re-watered canals jammed with boats, towpaths, great sheds and bridges. In the spirit of the Erie Canal, Canal Side invites visitors to travel from one place to the next, experiencing a wide variety of environments and vistas along the way.

Canal Side pays creative homage to the harbor’s commercial and industrial past while looking ahead to the city’s future. The district’s dense network of streets, waterways, and open spaces is designed to convey a sense of constant, bustling movement, recalling the original energy of the canal itself. The Canal is a three foot deep channel of water at the Center Canal and 18 inches deep in the other segments (all above the Hamburg drain) lined by “towpaths” harkening back to the days of the Erie Canal, where mules would pull barges. The towpaths will be pedestrian paths lined with restaurants and shops, with connections to the many different levels of the public and retail environments. At points along the canal visitors will be able to occupy the canal on a series of anchored barges housing cafes and restaurants. At the center of the Canal will be the Bass Pro Aquarium stocked with local species of fish as an attraction to experience marine wildlife. Visitors will be able to experience all angles of the aquarium by traveling beneath it in a “Water Tube” which connects the Bass Pro entry atrium and parking garage to the new Canal Side Hall, above it on a bridge and around it on an encircling towpath.

In warm weather the Canal will usher in a comfortable breeze from Lake Erie, and be the site of events and activities. Visitors will be able to rent paddle boats and get out on to the Canal, Bass Pro will host periodic fishing tutorials, and a temporary stage that is located on the Canal will host summer concerts. Café tables and outdoor seating will line the tow paths using the Canal environment as the backdrop for a meal or snack, and enforcing the vibrancy of the district.

In the winter the canals will transform into a central community space where skating rinks will keep the space alive with crowds. The rinks will be lined with seating at the edges of the drained and iced canals. Skate rentals/boat rentals will be available from a mobile kiosk adjacent to the Skyway. Public restrooms will be provided within the nearby Canal Side Hall. The paths will be active areas in the winter as well with fireplaces and a series of varied heated canopies for cover. The design also pays special attention to shielding visitors from the harsh elements of the winter using landscaping and massing elements to break winds from the lake.

Anchoring the development will be the Bass Pro store, a 130,000 sf. outdoor, hunting, and fishing retail experience. Bass Pro stores across the country expand the definition of “region” attracting visitors who drive hours to shop, and enjoy the interactive displays and events that are regularly featured. The Bass Pro experience will not be wholly contained within the store, rather they will utilize the aquarium on the Canal for fishing events, and the Canal Side Common for several annual tented events. Bass Pro will also occupy 30 boat slips located off the Central Wharf for boat displays and sales. The best districts utilize the drawing power of major anchors and ensure people stay by offering plenty of options for any experience that might be desired.

At every opportunity, the heritage of the canal is interpreted through murals, sculptures, and other narrative and artistic devices. In addition to public art the canal journey has several specific features that will be identifying landmarks in the project. The Liberty Pole, located at the Washington Street terminus of the Canal is a historically significant monument that was once located steps away, celebrating Buffalonian’s patriotism. A large “water wheel” will be constructed in the Canal in front of the Bass Pro Atrium turning with the falling water from the aquarium.

There is truly something at Canal Side for everyone. Whether young, old, traditional or eclectic, visitors will find that the journey through this district will immerse them with many stories and personal experiences worth sharing.