The Big Picture: A Plan for Buffalo
April 11, 2021
The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture is calling on the NY State Department of Transportation, with other state agencies, to restore reclaimed land from Skyway removal to conditions established by founder Joseph Ellicott in 1800 and Erie Canal builder DeWitt Clinton in 1825. The aim is to reclaim Buffalo's heritage, economic advancement, and a measure of social equity.
That includes restoration of Buffalo's first public park—The Terrace— as well as the run of the original Erie Canal between Pearl Street and Erie Street and the parallel famed Canal Street, and the Prime Slip, another historic canal which is possibly an archaeological motherlode.The Campaign is urging DOT to embrace the Big Picture—and to fund it with money from the Skyway project—to repair the damage caused to Buffalo's historic core by highway construction. Indeed, The Campaign is calling its proposal just that: The Big Picture Download Big Picture folio 1
The DOT is currently working on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Skyway removal.
The Big Picture incorporates a number of opportunities that could change the prospects of the city. Canyon Research Southwest, a real estate analytics firm, estimates that development on the reclaimed land as proposed (mostly 3-4 story residential) in the Big Picture would yield over $82,630,000 in real estate and sales taxes over a 20-year period. Spin-off benefits beyond the Skyway reclamation area were not calculated. This suggests the enormous lost opportunity cost since the Skyway opened in 1955, and the ongoing lost revenues if the Skyway is not removed.
Among the infrastructure and rehabilitation works proposed:
• The long-overdue reconstruction of the Union Block, site of Dug's Dive, the documented stop on the Underground Railroad once operated by William "Uncle Dug" Douglass. The Union Block in its last days was also an Italian tenement (so called on maps of the day).
• The systematic archaeological excavation, preservation, and rewatering of the main section of the Prime Slip, a private canal filled in by the Civil War and in which sits a pier of the Skyway.
• The restoration of the Canal District streets to their exact historic locations, with historically accurate paving.
• The restoration of Canal Street and the Erie Canal between Pearl and Erie Streets.
• The retention and adaptation of all of the Skyway from the north bank of the Buffalo River to Tifft Street as the Cloudwalk (detailed in an earlier proposal of February)
• The restoration of the DL&W train shed and a multi-use viaduct to connect it with the Cloudwalk ,Central Wharf, and the Cobblestone Historic District (also detailed in February)
• The reconstruction of Terrace Park, including Terrace Station.
• Construction of a local bus hub on The Terrace and under the Thruway viaduct between Pearl and Washington streets
• Re-platting all state lands into much smaller lots than typically planned in Urban Renewal projects and closer in spirit to those of Joseph Ellicott’s survey of 1803-4, with a goal of individual ownership.
The scope of the Big Picture may seem vast, but it is small compared to what Buffalo lost in the 1950s and 1960s," says Tim Tielman, Executive Director of the Campaign.
“The Big Picture plan would reclaim 12 acres of the 292 acres that were totally destroyed in combined highway and urban renewal projects along the waterfront. Buffalo has been in an induced coma since. We now have the knowledge, means, and motivation to correct this massive historic, social, and economic injustice. We cannot defer justice any longer. The times call upon us to act.”
Richard Berger, a Campaign boardmember and lead attorney in the federal case which resulted in the 2000 lawsuit that reversed an earlier state project and a later attempt to put a Bass Pro megastore, says “We must restore our heritage sites to restore our economy and social equity. That begins with insuring that the Environmental Impact Statement is thorough and unbiased.”