"City of Lights" project needs significant federal funds

An in-depth look at the winning Skyway design

Mike Baggerman
September 17, 2019 - 7:00 pm

Artist renderings of the "New Silos" as part of the City of Lights Proposal.

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - SWBR Architects successfully pitched their "City of Lights" design to a group of professionals in urban planning by touting its "world class user experience" that could start immediately and provides alternatives to driving on the Skyway. The group was the winner in the seven-month Skyway design ideas competition.

In an interview with the news media, Landscape Architect Bill Price said their design will break down the barriers that separate the waterfront from the community.

"We want people to be able to take advantage of this waterfront that is being developed and has been developed by ECHDC," Price said. "This is really something that's going to let people view the skyline of the City of Buffalo in a way they've never been able to see it before. It will make you appreciate being at the end of Lake Erie, where we have not had that experience in the past."

SWBR Architect's design would remove both ends of the Skyway and use the remaining portion of the road as the "Skyway Park", which would provide panoramic views for pedestrians and cyclists along a one-mile stretch of the former Skyway. It would add 12 acres for development between the Outer Harbor and Canalside.

The Canalside end of the Skyway would include a vase-shaped bridge deck that includes an art gallery, greenhouse, plus retail, restaurants, and event spaces. The opposite end would create the "new silos", a mixed-use building with an amphitheater and food bazaar on the ground floor, a cultural and technology center on the second floor, and a boutique hotel with a green roof and observation deck on top.

There would be additional road improvements in the Skyway corridor, including streetscape projects on Louisiana Street and Hamburg Street. SWBR also designed new lift bridges and other amenities, including the "Tifft Street Extension" that could help get cars down to the waterfront.

"There's a lot of traffic," Price said. "We analyzed the total volumes as well as the peak hour volumes. We know that we can distribute all of what is currently there. We also think that over the next 20 to 30 years, that kind of commuter traffic is going to wane and dissipate. It won't be as much as people start to live in more concentrated areas of downtown, Canalside, and some of the hamlets that we're designing."

All told, SWBR's design is an estimated $330-$340 million project that estimates a five-phase construction that would end in 2032.

Governor Cuomo announced $10 million to begin studies on the environmental impact.

Paying for a massive Project

Empire State Development Chairman Howard Zemsky is extremely optimistic about the project. "We've never had an opportunity like this before, in the almost 40 years that I've lived here." He said Governor Cuomo is commited to getting it done in under five years. "The time to do it is now."

Zemsky said that 80 percent of the cost of a project on the Skyway will be provided by the federal government while the remaining 20 percent will be taken care of using state tax dollars.

"The end result could cost as much as $600 million," Zemsky said.

Congressman Brian Higgins, who was in attendance at Tuesday's announcement, is optimistic that the funding can be secured for a massive project such as this.

"This is a major, major push forward and it's been a long time coming," Higgins said. "When you do waterfront development, I think the most important thing is to stick with it. Sometimes there's not going to be immediate gratification. Sometime it's going to take decades. I think this city is worth the investment."

Higgins said he will work with state officials and transportation officials to ensure the funding is secured.

"In the last ten years, we've invested more in rebuilding the bridges in Iraq and Afghanistan than we have in rebuilding America," Higgins said. "That is unacceptable. We're denying economic growth that would occur with brand new infrastructure. We should not have to settle with $30 million to rehabilitate the Skyway. That's a complete waste of money. But if you don't have a new source of funding, you're stuck with no option but to continue to invest in a troubled and dangerous structure...We will find a better way."

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