Ohio Street project leads to economic opportunity and investments in new businesses

Spring may seem far off, but thanks to work completed along a stretch of the Buffalo waterfront last fall, outdoor enthusiasts will have something to look forward to when the snow finally melts.

A project led by Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper and funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative finished in October, improving fishing and boating access to the Buffalo River at the Ohio Street boat launch, while also making the open area near it more accessible to cyclists, walkers, and picnickers.

The investment also came with improvements to the surrounding wildlife habitat, including the planting of trees and plants, along with pollinator-friendly flowers.

It’s all part of a greater investment along the Ohio Street corridor and Buffalo River that spans nearly a decade. Residential living, mixed-use and business facilities have replaced the crumbling infrastructure and roadways that hindered the neighborhood’s growth.

Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper Senior Program Manager Katherine Winkler said an ecosystem that was once an empty, industrial landscape now sees thousands of walkers, cyclists, and paddlers when the weather is nice. And while most of the landscaping accomplished in the fall is currently covered in hay and snow, this spring, the investment’s benefits will be on full display.

“I remember when we first started going down there, Ohio Street was just a vacant, desolate area … It’s amazing to see the transformation of that area and this habitat project will do nothing but enhance it,” Winkler said.

In the fall, U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins visited the project site, which Winkler said finished in about a month and a half.

In 2013, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper and GLCI partnered to restore wildlife habitats at eight project sites along a two-mile stretch of the Buffalo River shoreline.

“Ohio Street is a national example of the economic opportunities that come with federal investments in infrastructure and clean water. Just a few short years ago, there was very little activity on this section of the Buffalo River,” Higgins said during that visit. “Today, thanks to Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper's leadership in river restoration, and an $11 million investment that transformed Ohio Street from a crumbling industrial roadway into a beautiful riverfront parkway, we have new restaurants, residential living, and public parks and paths up and down Ohio Street. This project continues investments in natural resources, driving private sector investment and public enthusiasm along Ohio Street."

Winkler added that condo complexes are already fully rented out, and improvements to paving and lighting have made it a usable area for recreationalists and cycling commuters.

New residents means opportunities for new restaurants, shopping, entertainment, and jobs. “It’s a snowball effect,” Winkler said, adding that Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper credits the hard work of the organizations contracted to complete the restoration so quickly.

“Going back five or 10 years ago, people didn’t even know where the Buffalo River was. Today, you can see thousands of kayakers. It’s incredible,” she added.

Read more articles by Joel Lehman.

After spending 15 years in northern Vermont where he worked as managing editor for a daily publication, Western New York native Joel Lehman returned to Buffalo this summer to be part of the city’s renaissance. He lives with his girlfriend and his goldendoodle, Wilson, and he enjoys running, skiing and cooking for his family.
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