Buffalo Beat: Common Council suggests change in Canalside concert series venue

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By CJ Gates
Editor-in-Chief

Despite widespread speculation to the contrary, the Canalside concert series will not be leaving it’s current location for at least the 2016 concert season.

However, while the Buffalo Common Council isn’t forcing the summer concert series to move, they did approve a nonbinding resolution that asks the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation to consider moving future concerts from their current Canalside location. The resolution cited concerns mainly about traffic congestion and the rowdiness of the crowd along with noise complaints from residents of the Marine Drive apartments located nearby.

It was Councilman David Franczyk that initially brought up the issue, as the Marine Drive apartments are located inside the Fillmore District that Franczyk represents. The debate, which began on 13 Oct., was met with a litany of complaints which led to the Common Council explaining their position at the most recent council meeting on 27 Oct.

“We have not decided to move the concert series,” said Councilmember David Rivera at the session, clarifying that the board’s resolution was merely a suggestion and nothing was set in stone.

Thomas Dee, president of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC), released a statement following the Common Council’s initial decision that read in part, “With the potential for additional development at Canalside, we realize that the size and location of our concert series might have to change in the future. Next season, however, we plan on continuing our concert series at Canalside.”

And that’s just it. It’s the size of the Canalside concerts that have led to the need for a change in venue and that’s not a bad thing. Both Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Dee have stated in the past that the location of the current concerts could be used for other developments with Dee specifically saying back in 2013, “I think we have a lot of finessing to do. Eventually we want these stalls to be buildings.”

And that brings up another issue raised by some of the business owners located in the HARBORCENTER shops, nothing about the concert series is permanent. Sure, the crowds are drawn in on Thursdays, but the rest of the week? Not so much. And once the series concludes for the summer at the end of August, foot traffic in the area is significantly drops off and doesn’t start picking up again until mid-November when the outdoor rinks open.

By moving the concerts to a more permanent location, it frees up the land where the concerts are currently and allow for more shops, restaurants and attractions that would drive foot traffic to the area on a more consistent basis.

Currently, three locations have been proposed as a new venue for the concert series: LaSalle Park, the Outer Harbor and Broderick Park.

Broderick Park is likely the longest shot of the three, given it’s location north of the Peace Bridge on Unity Island (formerly known as Squaw Island). Broderick Park does have an existing amphitheater already, but it would likely be too small for the crowds that concert series has been drawing. Not only is there a lack of space in the park, there is only one bridge that allows for access onto and off of the island which would likely create a traffic nightmare for concertgoers.

The Outer Harbor has hosted concerts in the past, but also raises a number of concerns. In the past, traffic has been also concern with one concert in 2013 forcing cars to a stop on the Skyway that extended all the way back into the city. However, since then event promoters have claimed that they have worked out solutions to the traffic issues.

In addition to that, the proximity to the Times Beach Nature Preserve has drawn the attention of environmental activists. Jay Burney, Chair of the Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve and Western New York Environmental Alliance Board Member, was displeased with the lack of transparency from the ECHDC with regards to the planning process at the Outer Harbor.

“The ECHDC does not transparently engage in a lot of their decision making,” Burney told The Griffin. “If we are going to move concerts to the Outer Harbor we need to have community investment by those that currently are invested in Outer Harbor business and recreational activities. Simply put the ECHDC needs to fully vet the issues and interact with those that rely on the Outer Harbor for their livelihood and recreational experiences.”

Of the three potential locations, LaSalle Park is likely the best. Not only is the park currently underutilized, but it’s also in desperate need of a facelift (one that would need to come before the series moved there). The roads in the park are crumbling, the restrooms are boarded up and graffiti covers picnic tables.

Despite all that, the park is located in one of the most appealing spots in the city. Located just north of the Erie Basin Marina between the I-90 and the Black Rock Channel, the park has a picturesque view of Lake Erie. The City of Buffalo approved a $1.2 million plan over the summer that would rebuild and repave the 1.65-mile road around the park, add more parking along with room for bike lanes and pedestrians as well as improve playground facilities, replace picnic shelters and plant a hedgerow to provide privacy for residents of nearby Lakefront Commons.

Even with those improvements, more would have to be done to accommodate for the concert series, but it would be a worthwhile investment and yet another step in the right direction for the city as a whole.

The one drawback that can be applied to all three potential locations is the lack of access via public transportation. Canalside sits at the end of the Metro Rail line and is easy to navigate to and from. For those who choose to consume alcohol while at the concerts, the Metro Rail offered a safe alternative to driving.

With no plan yet set in stone, the future of the series past this upcoming year remains unknown. Canalside’s momentum is headed in the right direction and while it may not seem like relocating the concert series would make sense, spreading the wealth to other underutilized areas in the city, would only help the city to continue its renaissance.

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