Congressman Brian Higgins called Monday’s announcement of a proposal for Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) assume control of waterfront property owned by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) a turning point for Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.  The City of Buffalo and ECHDC, each previously expressed interest and today are moving forward with a plan that would have ECHDC acquire the property with the City of Buffalo playing a role in its future. 

With the question of ownership resolved, Congressman Higgins is calling on the NFTA to act on this item at their meeting in January to allow plans and progress to begin this spring.   
“The best news associated with this agreement is that NFTA’s 55-year hold on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor waterfront will finally, at long last, come to an end,” said Congressman Brian Higgins.  “With this agreement, we can continue to build upon what the public really wants at the water’s edge: an opening of the door for substantial capital investment at the Outer Harbor toward the goal of greater public access to our region’s most substantial natural resource.”
 
End of the 55-Year Hold On Buffalo’s Outer Harbor
On December 27, 1957 the City of Buffalo transferred all of the current NFTA Outer Harbor land to the Niagara Frontier Port Authority (NFPA), which was later incorporated into the NFTA, in two separate transactions for $1 each.  Because waterfront development has never been core to the NFTA’s mission, the property has received little to no attention or improvements.  December 17, 2012 marks the deadline for the third time in five years that the NFTA sought Request for Proposals (RFP) on the waterfront property. 
 
“This latest effort to get the NFTA to release their hold on the Outer Harbor certainly isn’t our first,” said Higgins, who has been leading the fight for the NFTA to turn over this property since 2002, “but sometimes good things don’t come easily, especially among bureaucratic agencies.  So we fight for change and we fight against inertia because this community is worth fighting for and we are optimistic that we have finally broken through on this one.  At long last, the residents are going to see a real focus and meaningful investment along this property that can represent the next renaissance of our waterfront.”
 
Turn it Over At a Nominal Cost
Higgins remained steadfast that the property should be turned over for no more than a nominal cost since any exchange of money only takes away the funding available for tangible waterfront projects. 
 
Higgins also noted that outside entities have invested more in the NFTA’s property in recent years than the NFTA itself has invested in the land for over five decades. 
 
Investment in NFTA property by outside entities
Greenbelt $12.1M NYS DEC (2008)
  $640K Federal Highway Administration (2008)
     
Gallagher Beach $4M Boardwalk  Project by then-Assemblyman Higgins (1998)
  $500K Federal Funding Gallagher Beach Pavilion Project (2011)
  $20K Sand Study (total amount for two sites is over $40K)
 
Note:  This doesn’t count construction of the Outer Harbor Parkway Project, a $60 million investment adjacent to NFTA property, which they have been a direct beneficiary of. 
 
TOTAL INVESTED IN NFTA PROPERTY BY OTHERS (1998-Present):   $17.26 Million
TOTAL INVESTED IN NFTA PROPERTY BY NFTA (1956-Present):       $13.18 Million
 
Invest a Minimum of $10 Million in Capital Improvements Upon Transfer
 
According their own report, the NFTA’s property is in need of a minimum of $30 million in improvements.  Congressman Higgins wants to see the next owner of the property invest a minimum of $10 million as soon as next year. 
 
“It was just 2005 when I stood on a patch of barren land, which is now Canalside, calling for creation of a locally controlled and singly focused waterfront development agency,” said Higgins.  “Since then we’ve made the infrastructure investments at the Inner Harbor that has driven annual visitors from just 35,000 in 2008 to over one-half million this year alone.  Now’s the time to take that experience and make the investments that create the same positive public excitement and economic opportunities at the Outer Harbor.” 
 
Continue to Improve Public Access To and Around the Water’s Edge
 
Congressman Higgins pushed for construction of a riverfront parkway at Ohio Street to connect the public spaces we’ve created along our waterfront, link existing neighborhoods to the water’s edge.  Approximately $11 million in funding is already in place, including $8.8 million in federal dollars.  Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, through an agreement with the NYS Department of Transportation, is authorized to begin engineering work on the project.  The Federal Highway Administration gave the green light to proceed on the project just last week.   Construction will begin next year. 
 
Since 2008 over $448.5 million in public and private investments have transformed Buffalo’s waterfront.  Along the Outer Harbor projects have included: construction of a new parkway along Fuhrmann Boulevard; new public access to Buffalo’s historic lighthouse; a pavilion at Gallagher Beach; a boardwalk at Times Beach; construction of piers at Tifft Street and Lake Kirsty; two parks at Union Ship canal; a demonstration project for sandy beaches and numerous trails.  A $3.3 million project is also underway by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation creating public access and park space on the parcel adjacent to Times Beach on a portion of the 21 acres of property comprised of land previously used by NYPA for storage of the ice boom and an additional property formerly owned by Cargill.