While visiting family back East I was pleasantly reminded that Granville Island isn’t the only waterfront area trying to redefine itself (full disclosure: I work for Bunt & Associates, the transportation engineering firm who provided the travel analysis for Granville 2040; although I did not work on that project.).

For several years I had heard of serious efforts underway to develop areas along the Buffalo River for recreation and legitimate (or at least taxable) non-industrial commercial activities. An area of the city that was formerly dominated by industry now shares some of this space with kayakers, river tours, residents, and lots of hockey players (getting to that).

As a quick primer, the Buffalo River is located southeast of downtown and meanders in a south-then-easterly direction for about 13 kilometres, starting from its mouth at the far eastern end of Lake Erie. The more well-known Niagara River that separates Buffalo from Fort Erie, Ontario and eventually leads to the Falls, starts about 2km to the north.

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The Buffalo River in lower third of image

Like the Chicago River, much of the Buffalo River is still a working waterfront. On most days it still smells like Cheerios, which are made there. But unlike Chicago, the Buffalo River has never been on any tourist checklist. There were no tour franchises, no fun opening shots of the river on TV sitcoms; none of that nonsense.

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It all smells like Cheerios.

Though Buffalo has long been big with architecture geeks, there has never been much focus on the river itself as a destination. Until as recently as five years ago, if you had told friends you were hanging out by the Buffalo River, they’d have logically concluded you were either trying to find work with General Mills or hustling.

Of course you’re still free to do either of those things down there but now there are also alternatives. Buffalo Riverworks is one prime example of development helping to achieve critical mass of interest and activity in this ‘new’ area of the city. It opened in 2015, and is a year-round and very flexible 5,000-capacity venue for arts, sports, entertainment, and casual – well, let’s be honest – drinking.

 

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World’s largest Labatt Blue cans

These pictures, taken on a random Thursday morning, show a versatile indoor and outdoor destination of a type that would be well-suited to a revamped Granville Island. Of course there’s more industrial room to play with in Buffalo, but it’s a good example of new and established land uses co-tolerating one another.

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Outdoor Beer Garden

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The river, facing northwest towards downtown

Off the main dining room, the main indoor floor serves multiple duties: spillover area for large events, dance floor for concerts (main stage off left of photo), and main floor for Buffalo’s roller derby team, the Queen City Roller Girls.

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Main dance floor for concerts and roller-derby arena

Outdoor areas include covered soccer/lacrosse field and field/ice hockey rinks that host adult and kids’ leagues year-round; including the annual Labatt Blue Pond Hockey tournament, the TCS Hockey League, and the Cup North American Championship. Each of these events brings in thousands of spectators, families, and participants all year long.

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Covered outdoor lacrosse and soccer field

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Floor and ice hockey arena (left) with soccer field (right)

Whether hockey or roller derby or modest-sized concerts are your thing or not, the point is that this space is a successful draw and it works. It’s an interesting example of the type of flexible venue that should make its way into the conversation about the future of Granville Island – a year-round place for both locals and tourists.