With more than 1,000 yearly events and one million annual visitors in 2014, Buffalo, New York’s Canalside is fast becoming the go-to place for visitors of all ages to learn, play and relax.

Canalside is at the heart of Buffalo’s waterfront revitalization initiative and incorporates many historic elements of the original Erie Canal while celebrating Buffalo’s role as the important western terminus of this modern engineering marvel. 

In August 2005, at the direction of Governor Cuomo, New York State established the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) as a subsidiary corporation to focus on redevelopment of Buffalo’s waterfront and restore economic growth to Buffalo. 

“Until five years ago, the land was barren and inaccessible, but today the growing regional destination and entertainment district, situated on 21 historic acres along downtown Buffalo’s emerging waterfront on the Buffalo River, has been reclaimed by the state’s Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation and developed with millions of dollars in public and private investment,” said Ryan Coate, general manager at Global Spectrum, a private venue management company that works with its client, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, to manage Canalside. Specifically, Global Spectrum oversees Canalside’s operations and maintenance, event and programming booking, sponsorship sales, and food and beverage for all four seasons.  In western New York, Global Spectrum also manages Conference Center Niagara Falls and Old Falls Street, USA in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Under the governor’s leadership, Canalside is driving daily progress along Buffalo’s waterfront and realizing a vision of renewed prosperity. 

Coate stresses that, thanks in part to Canalside, Buffalo is on the way back. “Newly developed waterfront access, as well as the creation of new opportunities and public activities where there were none, clearly demonstrates the city’s resurgence,” Coate said.

Meeting a Need

Open to the public since May 2008, Canalside features several fully restored facets of the original Erie Canal Harbor, including: the “Commercial Slip,” which served as the historic juncture between the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes; the wooden plank “Central Wharf;” the replica Coit-McCutcheon canal-era building; and the award-winning “Whipple Truss” footbridge, which accurately resembles other traditional canal spans and connects the “Central Wharf” to cobblestone “Commercial Street.”

Informational signage and various interpretive exhibits are located throughout the site to help educate and inform visitors about this important American landmark.

“New in 2014 was the opening of the historically aligned man-made canal, representing where the Erie Canal once existed,” Coate said.

“Canalside also features New York State’s largest outdoor ice skating rink from November through March and a canal filled with water from May through October. During the summer there will be miniature sailboats, children’s paddle boats, paddle board yoga and flat bottom boats to paddle around the newly designed canal.”

Celebrating Its Success

Canalside has created great synergy on western New York’s waterfront. According to Coate, through its current and future projects, Canalside continues to launch Buffalo into its bright future while serving as a catalyst for private investment and preserving public access to the waterfront. 

“Canalside has clearly become a center of energy and excitement, creating a resounding positive impact on the community,” Coate said.

During its first summer operating Canalside, Global Spectrum produced over 1,000 events, drawing more than one million visitors. What’s more, the inaugural season of the Ice at Canalside, presented by BlueCross BlueShield, was also a great success. 

“In three months, Canalside witnessed a spectacular turnout of more than 55,000 admissions to the ice rink,” Coate says. “This huge attendance number was noteworthy considering the fact that February 2014 was the coldest month in the history of Buffalo. Over 450 season passes were sold, 2,500 curling passes were sold and there were over 3,200 ice bike rentals.”

In addition to free scheduled events nearly every day from Memorial Day through Labor Day, Canalside offers plenty of everyday activities. In addition to kayaking, ping pong, waterfront dining, in 2015 there will be 12 free Thursday concerts with national recording artists making a very diverse lineup of free music at the waterfront. 

Also, charity walks, runs and celebrations for several of Buffalo’s nonprofits will return to Canalside. And a tremendous fitness program of Tai Chi, Yoga, Zumba, Pilates, boot camp, aerobics and soccer will launch the first week in June.

“Children’s activities will also take place daily at Canalside,” Coate said. Docents and historical interpretation of the Erie Canal and Buffalo’s waterfront will tell the story of Buffalo, while artisan markets and an urban farming project will also take center stage.

While Canalside continues to celebrate its success, other cities have established similar venues to boost their community’s appeal to both residents and visitors to the area. These include Bryant Park in Manhattan, Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Military Park in Newark, Hudson River Park in Manhattan and Old Falls Street USA in Niagara Falls, N.Y., all of which are programmed in a similar manner to Canalside.

So what does the future hold for Canalside? As Coate explained, at full buildout, the Canalside Project is expected to consist of over 1 million square feet of commercial (retail, lodging, and office), cultural, and residential space along the Buffalo waterfront that will be designed to emphasize downtown’s connection to Lake Erie through the construction of a network of interpretive water elements evoking the character and vibrancy of the historic canals that once crossed the area.

“Through an event-based strategy, Canalside will continue to attract families, concert-goers and new visitors to Buffalo’s revitalized waterfront,” Coate said. “The development of Canalside into a true entertainment district is upon the horizon. Global Spectrum and its clients continue to see these venues as unique management opportunities.”

Interviewed for this story: Ryan Coate, (716) 983-2579