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Tourism, environmental advocates excited about Outer Harbor funds

Gov. Hochul's plan for cruise ships to arrive, depart and dock in Buffalo lacks details, but tourism could benefit from the proposal says Visit Buffalo Niagara

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Gov. Kathy Hochul visited Buffalo on Monday with big announcements regarding Canalside and the Outer Harbor. 

$216.2 million worth of announcements. Millions for the development of the North Aud block at Canalside, as well as millions to restore over 200 acres of the Outer Harbor. 

It's a transformative investment. But one of the most talked about ideas from Gov. Hochul's announcement is the idea of bringing passenger ships to the Queen City. 

"We're going to be bringing more passenger freight, passenger cruise ships to Buffalo," Gov. Hochul said Monday. "What a radical idea, and we're going to get it done."

2 On Your Side reached out to Gov. Hochul's office Tuesday to ask the following questions:

  • Are there infrastructure changes that need to happen for ships to dock somewhere along the Buffalo waterfront? 
  • Is there a general idea of where a cruise ship would need to dock for this to work? 
  • Is the Buffalo river deep enough? 
  • Have there been any commitments by a cruise line to make Buffalo a stop?
  • Is there a timetable the governor would like to see this happen by?

The governor's office deferred our request to the remarks the governor made in her press conference and during the question and answer portion her media gaggle. None of those questions were asked or answered during the event. 

The only details made available by the governor were that the cruise ships would be similar to what you see in a European river cruise, not transport thousands of people, and some form of a welcome center would be needed. 

Patrick Kaler from Visit Buffalo Niagara has known about the successes of cruises along the great lakes and says it's big business. 

"Multimillion dollars, it has been around since the late 1990's," Kaler said. 

A press release issued by Cruise The Great Lakes in June suggests that the Great Lakes cruising industry collectively generated $120 million worth of economic impact for the cities in the U.S. and Canada that participate. 

Visit Buffalo Niagara recently became a member of Cruise The Great Lakes.

So why exactly has Buffalo missed this opportunity?

"My understanding is that it is the depth of [of the harbor] at this point," Kaler said. "Getting the boats into Buffalo itself right now would require tenders to bring passengers back and forth from the boat to the destination itself."

For Kaler though, the governor's promise to bring passenger ships to Buffalo is a tremendous opportunity for the Queen City.

"One of the great opportunities that I would like to see for Buffalo is that we would be one of those arrival or departure cities that would help us get overnight visitation, 'pre' or 'post' the actual cruise."

Hochul also announced that the state would close the funding gap that was required for Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper to complete a feasibility study focused on extending the Buffalo Riverwalk. 

"[We've] always envisioned a contiguous pathway connecting the inner and the outer harbors along the water," said Jill Jedlicka, executive director at Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper. "A lot of times some of these pathways and trails, jump back and forth between being in the water's edge to being streetside."

The study began in April and is expected to finish by the end of September. Part of the hope is that the study outlines ways to improve traffic flow in and out of the Outer Harbor while providing pedestrians and cyclists safer ways to bike through the region. 

"That will give us a preliminary assessment of is this concept even feasible, which we think it is," Jedlicka said. "Then the next phase is to then really start to drill down onto those concepts and the design and also negotiating and in talking with landowners about how to make this happen."

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