The Next Chapter

Hayes Hall, UB South Campus. School of Architecture and Planning

I am now officially a Buffalo city resident! That move represents a the first sentence in the next chapter of my life: Buffalo. For those of you who don’t know, I have been accepted to and will be attended the University at Buffalo to pursue a masters of urban planning in the fall of 2019 – a big change for a kid who grew up on a hay farm in Florence, New York.

For those of you who have eagerly awaited the next update of our crazy road trip, I ask that you extend your patience a bit further. There will be several more posts about that trip (I could write a whole book about it!), but that is not the subject of today’s post.

I am excited to finally be a resident of Buffalo. Long time readers will know I spent a lot of time last summer in the city, but actually lived in the suburb of Amherst. There is so much to explore and experience in Buffalo and I look forward to doing most of that exploration by foot, bike, train, or bus. Although I love my second Saturn SL2, I feel bad driving it over the rough city roads. Besides, observations are more thorough at slower speeds and with the ability to stop suddenly or travel to areas not fit for automobiles. There are still residents of this city alive today who can remember a time where owning a car wasn’t a necessity because the street car system was so efficient and widespread. Sadly, that is not the case any more.

Although I haven’t been back in Buffalo for long, I have already discovered things I have yet to see including this new seating area at Canalside and the concrete tower at the end of the pier.

A change in education and career vector also contribute to the beginning of this next chapter. I spent the last two nights facilitating small group discussion at community meetings regarding what to do with the Erie Canal throughout New York State going forward into its third century of existence – a task I was paid $100 (before gas and with no travel stipend) per meeting for – my first gig as an urban planning consultant.

The topic of discussion at my table both nights, first in Lockport then in Brockport, was “local business and events.” The goal was to get people talking about ideas and challenges for promoting business and generating events in canal towns across New York State. Many great ideas and concerns were shared by dozens of community member; that feedback will be shared with the “Reimagine the Canal” task force who will write a report summarizing that information and make recommendations which will be passed on to Governor Cuomo’s team and they will decide what projects or initiatives get funded.

This is a continuation of last years “Reimagine the Canal” competition from which seven finalists were selected and given some funding to pursue their ideas. Definitely check out the video!

Ill be sure to go to the Erie Armada in September and you should too!

Participating in these meetings has exposed me to the momentum of development and interest in Canal towns. People are biking, walking, boating, and kayaking all along the canal. Towns that sprung up because of commercial shipping 200 years ago are being revitalized by recreation and tourism. However, a growing number of people are deciding to take up permanent residence in a canal town and many of those towns lack amenities, housing options, and have outdated infrastructure. I predict that the “creative class” (read more about them here or in Richard Florida’s book ”Rise of the Creative Class” – artistic and entrepreneurial young professionals who choose where to work based on where they want to live rather than where big companies are headquartered – will fuel the long term, stable economic base on New York’s many canal towns.

I spent some time walking around Lockport after Monday nights meeting. These pieces of chalk art from the “Chalkfest” event are just one cool thing I discovered during my short time exploring Lockport. I also learned that after the Apollo crash, many “Challenger” learning centers were set up across the country, including Lockport, to promote space education and curiosity, hence the space references.

I was also shocked to hear then observe the lack of downtown apartments in Lockport. But, there is hope because the former Harrison Radiator plant (a division of General Motors) has already been converted to business incubation space and there is a plan to add housing units to the massive complex now known as “Harrison Place.” This innovative, mixed use, adaptive reuse project is the work of Brian Smith – CEO of the Greater Lockport Development Corporation and 2014 UB MUP alumni – and a group of urban planning students at UB during the spring 2018 semester that created the vision for this site. You can read more about that project here.

The building is so big, I couldn’t even fit it all in one frame!
This is the long list of businesses residing in Harrison Place today.

Brian was also one of the participants at my table during Monday’s nights meeting as was a member of the Empire State Development Corporation both of which were very interesting and insightful.

And I discovered this thing…

What I figured was an old church is actually the former Lockport Train Station! And it’s for sale! Although the roof, all the windows, the floors and some of the walls are gone, what is left of the structure could make a for a very interesting “adaptive reuse” project. Perhaps an art and artisan live/work mixed use building would be appropriate there? If any investors are reading this and are interested, contact me.

This photo is from Howard Hanna’s listing of 95 Union, Lockport New York

Here is the listing: 95 Union St. Lockport, New York

From the listing: “VR pricing. Sellers will consider offers between $300,000 and $500,000. Looking for a unique piece of Commercial property? Look no farther! Check out this rare find in the City of Lockport. An amazing opportunity to purchase a piece of history, bring this historic Lockport Train Station back to life. Union Station was built in 1889 in the Romanesque style and is one of the oldest train stations in WNY . It was deactivated as a Train Station in the 1940’s and was renovated into a restaurant in 1967. The restaurant suffered fire damage in 1978. It was listed on the National Register of historic places in 1977. The possibilities are endless. Private financing available.”

Given the condition of the building and the distress of the realtors sign, I estimate that the building has been for sale for a while, the building unusable even longer, and the parcel is worth about one quarter of the asking price. But this is the kind of three dimensional real estate challenge that fascinates me. The buildings historic register status concerns me. If SHPO guidelines mandate that it must be restored to its original condition than I’m not interested, but if a new building could be constructed in and around the old structure, then I’d like to be involved.

95 Union contains all the parking adjacent to the building and the lawn to the west up to Washburn Street. All of the big grassy field north of the railroad tracks belongs to the city of Lockport and could function as an art part/sculpture garden to complement the new use at the former train station. Zoned as B-2 Central Business District, almost any reasonable commercial use is allowed for the site with a height limit of 120’. 12 stories is very tall for Lockport, but a slight increase in height and variation in massing compared to the original building could greatly improve viability for development.

The educational experience didn’t stop in Lockport. I met the woman who owns Tinsel Ice Cream and the Lockstone events venue in Albion, New York. The name Tinsel is a reference to the towns Christmas theme. The Charles W. Howard Santa school has operated there since 1937! An odd fact that I never would have known without going to the meeting in Brockport. Now that I am aware Albion even exists, I’m much more likely to visit and spend money there, which is perfectly alright with me.

2 thoughts on “The Next Chapter

  1. Jay Johnson says:

    Congrats Chris on your new educational opportunity and exciting new location! I look forward to hearing more about your projects and the architecture and urban planning projects you observe in Buffalo. Happy for you that you’re soo happy with where you’ve landed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *