Erie Canal’s $300 Million Reimagining Unveiled

Building off the innovative work of the Reimagine the Canals Task Force, wide-ranging plans will reimagine the iconic Erie Canal with future-oriented uses and development. Buro Happold supported this transformative initiative as lead consultant.

Governor Cuomo has announced an unprecedented initiative for the Erie Canal to reignite economic and environmental resiliency across New York State.

Buro Happold, a world-class global practice creating sustainable solutions for cities, infrastructure, buildings, campuses and cities, applauds the New York State Governor’s proposal to repurpose the Erie Canal to grow regional tourism, reduce flooding, improve irrigation, restore wetlands and support outdoor recreation such as fishing. The proposals unveiled in the Governor’s annual State of the State set the course for a 21st century New York State Canal System. Buro Happold was honored to serve as lead consultant to facilitate and support the Reimagine the Canals Task Force, which developed and evaluated many of the proposals within the Governor’s initiative. The Task Force issued its full set of findings to the Governor this week in the Reimagine the Canals Task Force Report released on January 6th.

Reimagining the Erie Canal
Interactive, hydro-powered illumination of Canal “movable dams” will celebrate the Canal’s heritage and its history as an engineering marvel. Image: Buro Happold, Office for Visual Interaction, Michael Van Valkenburg Associates

According to Buro Happold, the Erie Canal is the spine of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s broad-ranging initiative including economic development, resiliency, community revitalization, ecological restoration, and opportunities for new tourism and development. The Governor’s address recommended a $300 million investment over the next five years with a first phase of $165 million to begin this year.

This announcement represents an innovative vision for the enhancement of the 350-mile-long historic waterway into a 21st-century waterway and recreation corridor.

Alice Shay
Associate, Buro Happold

“As leader of the Task Force, Buro Happold helped shape the initiative’s guiding principles of increasing environmental resilience, restoring natural ecosystems, and sparking economic development for canalside communities across the state of New York,” says Shivam Jumani, a senior consultant in the Cities practice.

“When the Erie Canal was created in the 19th century it set the state and the nation on a path to prosperity, and this year we will repurpose the canal to fit our state’s 21st century needs,” said Governor Cuomo. “This bold and visionary plan to transform this historic waterway will build on the success of the Empire State Trail, grow tourism across Upstate New York, improve resilience of today’s Canal communities and ensure the economic sustainability of the waterway into the future.”

The Reimagine the Canals Task Force builds on the innovative ideas generated through the Reimagine the Canals competition that Buro Happold’s Cities group ran last year for NYPA and the Canal Corporation. The competition led to the implementation of Erie Armada, a three-day brewing industry festival and boat race, as well as Canalside Pocket Neighborhoods, a new model for waterfront living.

Erie Canal Pocketside Neighborhoods
Winner of the Reimagine the Canals competition, a canalside pocket neighborhood, will be developed by Madison County in Central New York at a former industrial property in Canastota along the Old Erie Canal – demonstrating a new model for 21st century canalside living. Image: Buro Happold, Michael Van Valkenburg Associates

BuroHappold’s Cities team is renowned for devising innovative new uses for large-scale public infrastructure and industrial districts, or “stranded assets,” such as canals, rail lines and port facilities. “Over the past two decades, Buro Happold has consulted with public authorities and private organizations across the country on projects that creatively reimagine underperforming infrastructure into people-friendly public spaces that generate jobs, improve the environment, provide recreation, and draw residents and visitors,” says Adam Friedberg, Associate Principal in the Cities team. Examples include Buro Happold’s strategic and technical advisory for the High Line, Jamaica Bay Gateway National Recreation Area, Fort Tilden Historic District, the Lower Manhattan streetscape, the Chicago Pedway, Richmond Bridge Park, and the Changing Course ideas competition. Buro Happold Cities has developed a suite of strategic approaches and analytic solutions for the adaptive reuse of infrastructure ripe for transformation. “As technology and the economy transforms, these assets present an opportunity to reinvest in public infrastructure to improve quality of life and enhance the vitality of communities,” says Alice Shay.

The development and investment work for the Erie Canal — and the 225 communities its waterways pass through — begin in 2020 with a $100 million economic development fund to invest in canalside districts and a separate $65 million investment in solutions to help prevent ice jams and related flooding in the Schenectady area. The remaining $135 million of the plan’s funding will subsequently be allocated to research recommended by the Reimagine Task Force, as well as to solutions related to flood mitigation, invasive species prevention and ecosystem restoration, according to state officials.

Erie Canal's historic Guy Park Manor
The historic Guy Park Manor, on the Mohawk River in Amsterdam, will be reborn as a hospitality destination and a pedestrian bridge constructed across the already-existing Canal lock will provide access to additional overnight accommodation along the Empire State Trail on the opposite side of the river. Image: Buro Happold, Michael Van Valkenburg Associates

The $100 million economic development fund will include projects that adaptively reuse canal infrastructure to enhance water recreation, tie the Canal’s new recreational improvements to the Governor’s Empire State Trail, celebrate historic canal structures, and develop unique canalside attractions and activities. The Buro Happold team consulted on the visioning for these iconic capital projects. Roughly $25 million of that will be allocated immediately to a set of initial projects including a pedestrian bridge, a hospitality destination, interactive cultural installations, a whitewater sports course, and the canalside pocket neighborhoods.

The Reimagine the Canals initiative is an unprecedented opportunity for economic revitalization and environmental restoration. The vision and implementation of this initiative will demonstrate a new paradigm for our adaptive reuse and management of large-scale public infrastructure.

Read the New York Governor’s announcement press release in the pressroom.

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