The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is considering two alternatives in its planning of an extension of the light rail system to the the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino and the future site of an anticipated Buffalo Bills Stadium.
The first — and far more sensible — alternative would align the light rail along South Park Avenue. That would cost more than $10 million less than Alternative B, which would align the light rail inside the old DL&W Terminal along the Buffalo River.
Activists and planners are worried that Alternative B would prevent future development opportunities along the river’s edge, which some see as an emerging ‘riverwalk.’
Executive Director Kimberly Minkel would be wise to select Alternative A, and to begin keeping urban planners with design sensibilities as personal advisors.
The DL&W Terminal is located between Canalside and Riverfest Park in the heart of the Cobblestone District. Planners say that the riverwalk corridor could become a central pedestrian thoroughfare that links the Erie Basin Marina to Silo City.
The DL&W Terminal’s second level is a cavernous 80,000 square foot floor plate that has urbanists titillated with adaptive reuse concepts. The first floor is larger and includes a more recently built annex that serves as a train shed. Planners want that annex demolished to give the cobblestone district better access to the riverfront.
Many adaptive reuse concepts have been floated in local digital publications and in social media, including repurposing both levels as a flagship Wegmans store, a major sporting goods retailer, a public marketplace, or as an annex to the Albright Knox’s sprawling collection.
The NFTA must do a better job emphasizing high quality urban design in its transit projects. If done right, transit development can spawn the type of urban reinvestment that will fix the city’s fiscal predicament and wholly change the public perception of the city.
The authority should view its role more broadly: not simply as a transportation agency, but as a facilitator of economic development opportunities and as a catalyst for urban reinvention.
Minkle is a cautious and reserved manager. As the old adage goes: being a good manager means doing something right; but being a good leader means doing the right thing. In a culture like Buffalo’s — where rocking the proverbial boat is seen as blasphemy — it’s understandable why MInkle is hesitant to be too bold.
Serving as Executive Director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is to serve at the crux of regional leadership — in a position that demands an articulation of what the future can be, and a plan that lays out how to get there.
“Of course, planning has to be practical — but it also has to be out there on the edge, imagining a future and articulating what can be,” says Matthew Ricchiazzi, a graduate of Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art & Planning.
“Planning, in my view, has an obligation to be visionary,” he says.
In a region yearning for leadership and thirsting for change, when it comes to advancing the region’s economic and development interests, Minkel is obligated to an aggressively forward posture.