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Study looking at Great Lakes cruise ships coming to Buffalo expected to be approved

"We thought it was time to take an honest look at and study the possibility of bringing cruise ships," said the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation President.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation wants to learn whether Great Lakes cruise ships could feasibly and profitably drop anchor on Buffalo's waterfront one day.

The idea is the subject of a new feasibility study that's expected to be approved at a later date by Empire State Development, of which the Harbor Development Corporation is a subsidiary.

Citing the tourism and "exponential" growth along the city's waterfront Steven Ranalli, President of the ECHDC said the corporation felt "it was time to take an honest look" at bringing the industry to Queen City.

"The cruise industry has been growing in the Great Lakes itself. There is talk of bringing significantly larger ships into the Great Lakes so overall we think it's a positive thing to take a look at," Ranalli said.

Boat cruises on the Great Lakes have passed by Western New York for a number of years, traveling from Toronto to Milwaukee with stops in Detroit, Southern Ontario, and Mackinac Island. 

The feasibility study would determine if and how the Buffalo waterfront would have to change to make it a destination and if there is any interest in doing so. Four companies submitted proposals to oversee the study. M&N Engineering, DPC received the highest ranking of the potential candidates and happens to have offices in Rochester.

Credit: Viking Cruises

Ranalli said the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation has not had any direct conversations with cruise companies like Viking Cruises, Great Lakes Cruising, American Queen Voyages, or Cruise the Great Lakes. Outreach would be a part of the study.

In recent years, Viking Cruises has added several new routes cruising throughout the Great Lakes, further evidence Ranalli said that this could be a worthwhile investment for Buffalo.

At a total cost of $217,387, the study would consider the cost of repurposing existing structures for use by cruise ships, such as the DL&W rail station at the end of Main Street versus building a new facility located on the Michigan Pier at the Outer Harbor. 

Credit: Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation

"We thought we would at least study an Outer Harbor location to give us some sense of the differences in scale and cost and return on that," Ranalli said, adding that a purpose for the DL&W has long been sought.

Monday's announcement comes months after Governor Hochul dropped the idea during a press event in Buffalo last August. The study would take one year.

More information about the proposal can be found here. The cruise ship study is Item 4 on the agenda.

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