ECHDC should work with General Mills on children’s museum concept

For years the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) has intended to construct a vaguely defined “children’s museum” concept on a prime parcel along the newly constructed canal-scape that now comprises the former Aud block. Explore & More, an East Aurora based firm, is designated to operate the venue.

The concept is a less-than-inspired effort to attract families to Downtown Buffalo, mainly from within a day’s drive. It hasn’t been sufficiently evolved and could be better sited. The Canalside district should be more focused on building out entertainment and dinning venues.

A better location would be just behind the First Niagara Center, where the NFTA-owns a structure that was formerly part of the DL&W Terminal. Developers and preservations have long pointed to the Terminal, which sits tightly along the Buffalo River in the Cobblestone District, as a prime redevelopment opportunity slightly removed from the former Aud block.

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Planners and activists have been demanding a better concept that would serve as a more effective anchor-attraction. This publication is advancing the concept of a public-private partnership with General Mills, which sits directly across the river. The plant produces the firm’s iconic Cheerios cereal.

In broad strokes, the business concept is in three parts:

  1. Amusement exhibits built around General Mills’ brands
  2. Interactive programing and tours of the production plant and grain elevators
  3. Retail and site exclusive merchandizing

Imagine traveling from a Lucky Charms’ amusement space to a Fruit Loops world, while passing by characters like Count Chocula, Captain Crunch, Tony the Tiger, and the Pillsbury Doughboy.

The Cheerios Children’s Museum could also tell the history of cereal — which is the history of the grain industry, and therefore the history of Buffalo and our striking grain elevators.

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Of course, General Mills would have to consent to allowing its brands to be used to theme the children’s museum — but if state funds construct the visitors center at the DL&W Terminal or on the General Mills complex, then a public private partnership could be possible. With property, plant, and equipment costs absorbed by the state, the visitors center could easily generate a (potentially lucrative) operative profit.

The DL&W Terminal’s second level (which is empty) is 80,000 square feet and the first level (which is currently used as an NFTA train shed) is over 100,000 square feet. The Terminal also has an outdoor train lot at the crux of Michigan Street and the Buffalo River, which could accommodate additional development or active public space.

The planned structure for the children’s museum is being planned, but that 30,000 sq ft space can easily house restaurants, entertainment, or retail establishments — which are far more suitable for such a central pedestrian oriented streetscape.

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3 comments

  1. Why would Explore and More Museum abandon their educational approach of play and learning to Disney-fy their message with General Mills corporate cartoons? Have you ever been to Explore and More – they feature a small “Around The World” play space for children, which will grow with their new location. No offense, but kids should not be introduced to the Irish culture and history by the Lucky Charms Leprechaun. Corporations should donate to have their good names associated with supporting local charitable foundations, not to influence or dictate the message being directed in an educational setting.

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  2. I do think the idea of tours of the General Mills facility is a great one. I know they are very secretive and guarded about their plant, but imagine a tour like AB does in St. Louis. That tour draws thousands of tourists from around the world. I have to think that the experience of watching Cheerios get made and learning about the history associated would be a tourist draw in its own right. It is a win win if the DLW was used for the visitor center and the visitors were transported to the production facility by tram or bus.

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  3. The whole idea reeks of never having been thought through. Why in the world are we even going here? A world class children’s museum already exists in Rochester, so is there a compelling reason to have one here, other than not having to do anything other than copy? A safe bet is that unless you have small children, the whole thing will be underused at best, and completely empty from November to May. In the meantime, prime real estate that could be used for used for something amenable to all age groups is gone. I’d like to know who the prime mover on this whole project is; it might be an eye opener.

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