Explore ‘n More Should Be At Canalside

When Chris Ostrander sharply criticizes the placemaking fraud that has has supplanted top-down planning with a bottom-up feelings-based lack of planning, he is exactly correct. Deck chairs, hot dog shacks, and happy feelings aren’t going to organically develop the inner harbor, and I’ve written before that all we’ve done is nominally exchange a political/business elite planning scheme for a cultural elite planning scheme. 

 I disagree, however, with Ostrander’s criticism of the proposed Children’s Museum. Such a museum will involve an outlay of public money for construction, and likely will be operated by a well-respected current operator of a children’s museum facility – Explore and More – that is in deep need of a new facility. Ostrander writes: 

I’m condemning the thought of trading the space previously reserved for Bass Pro for a children’s museum. My problem with Bass Pro was that the store wouldn’t capture an entire audience nor cohesively bring the neighborhood together. Now the approach is to use the plan with the least amount of risk. Literally. This plan is being adopted because there is little, to no risk involved. Instead of taking a major step and hitting a home run, Buffalo will be forced to accept a sacrifice bunt, just to advance the runners.

Ostrander misapprehends the size and scope of the Children’s Museum, and what is to happen with the Aud Block and the “space previously reserved for Bass Pro”. 

Regardless of the solar carousel vs. Bass Pro argument, Canalside needs to be a 4-seasons, all-ages place to go. I’m not a fan of the whole “story of Buffalo” programming BS that’s suffused the whole project, but Ostrander is misstating the extent of the Children’s Museum in his piece. 

The image above is a rendering of the current plan for the Aud Block; it isn’t going to be replaced with another huge building fitting its footprint.  What was once the Aud will be chopped up into smaller parcels, footpaths, and canal-shaped reflecting pools. The Children’s Museum – pretty much the only cultural programming at Canalside that I think isn’t a horrible joke – will only take up a small portion of that location, and that’s ok. 

Turning the “story of Buffalo” into a 4D motion ride and costumed people strolling around what should be a shopping & entertainment district is what deserves criticism. Moving Explore ‘n More to the Inner Harbor is one of the better ideas to have come from all of this idiotic turmoil. 




  • For god’s sake do something, I was in Erie PA last weekend and they are miles ahead of us.
    Buffalo can’t screw up an opportunity fast enough.

  • Oh Alan, how funny.

    Over February break I took my kids to both Explore and More, and Strong Museum of Play.

    At Explore and More, I contemplated that the Northtowns needed a facility like this, since EA is not centrally located. Oh and during vacation days, Explore and More gets upto 500 paying customers a day in EAST AURORA!!! At $10 a pop in a new location it would be a hell of a lot more than that.

    At Strong, sitting on the few other benches for other exhausted parents, chit-chat inevitably led to where are you from…. and the answer 7 out of 10 times was …. Buffalo.

    While we certainly can’t do anything on the scale of Strong, (and shouldn’t) we should do better than what is in E.A.– I mean WNY *is* the home of Fisher Price.

    Child family programming bring parents to places. It has to be good to be worth the hassle of the car seats, the strollers, the packed diaper, snack, boredom toy bag! Once you have parents and children in a place, you then have great spending opportunities, because throwing them in the car (again) is such a hassle, whereas walking from place to place can fill a day. A cool unique educational toy store, a fun child family restaurant, a child’s clothing store… just to start with.

    Yes, I know that children aren’t the only ones who will be at canalside, but bring down families, and you bring in money! Parents of young children are desperate for educational, fun, safe entertainment that doesn’t exhaust US!

  • I will hate to see E&M leave EA, if only because it’s just a few blocks from my house. Maybe they can support 2. Putting it downtown will make it more accessible to huge numbers of kids who really do need something good to do. Parents in EA will probably be fine (until gas hits $5).

    @JMM: Don’t forget, Fisher Price isn’t a WNY thing, it’s an East Aurora thing! Otherwise you’re spot on.

  • Fisher Price isn’t a WNY thing, it’s an East Aurora thing? What does that mean? Are the Buffalo Bills only an Orchard Park thing? Is Brennan’s only a Clarence thing? People from all over Western New York go to Explore and More now. People from all over Western New York go to the annual East Aurora Parade that features the toys.

    I agree with Alan. This is only one piece of a larger puzzle. I think Canalside needs to have a whole host of things that attract different niche audiences and age groups. Then we will have a really organic growth and a cultural hot spot. I also agree with Alan that theming the whole project is kind of dumb. Let it grow. Get that market built so that businesses can start to get in there. If you want to add themed and educational signage around the area that is OK. Trying to shoehorn in a bunch of attractions that are themed around Buffalo’s story, will make it seem more like Universal Studios.

  • Alan:

    I completely agree with you about the “story of Buffalo” criticism. I hate that approach. I think that the redevelopment of Canalside should respect some historic elements – the street grid, the historic canal alignments (and I agree I wish they were real canals that connected to the river) as well as the general scale and urban qualities of the built environment. That tells enough of the story there.

    We need to stop pretending that people are going to be drawn here to listen to Buffalo’s history. Certainly we should offer that to those who might be interested. But we need to give people a place that is active, vibrant and exciting today! People will want to come back because its a fun and exciting place to be. Chances are, they’ll pick up a little bit of buffalo’s history and importance along the way by visiting the canals, or niagara square or delaware avenue. But we need to stop living in the past. Create a Canalside that is exciting today! (though, Alan, I suspect that we differ on how that can or should be accomplished.)

    Great Post.

  • I was thinking yesterday… with all the mistakes that the City of Buffalo has made by way of urban planing in the past 40 years, what were the generations before us doing and saying? Maybe they didn’t have the forum or were too busy moving to the first rung of suburbs with their industrial paychecks. Or maybe no one had assholes back then, I mean opinions. No-one naysaid the placement of the Convention Center or construction of the Skyway?

  • “At Explore and More, I contemplated that the Northtowns needed a facility like this, since EA is not centrally located. Oh and during vacation days, Explore and More gets upto 500 paying customers a day in EAST AURORA!!! At $10 a pop in a new location it would be a hell of a lot more than that.”

    Why do you think being on the water front will attract more people to explore and more?

    If there was an increase of foot traffic would that increase offset the added cost of being on the water front? larger building means higher utlities, higher property taxes, etc…

  • Building on a theme turns it into a one visit destination. Unless we are going for a Six-Flags-Over-Canalside Deal. Otherwise it’s “We know the history of Buffalo so we don’t have to go there anymore” deal. Diversity. And for heavan’s sake, if you want return traffic, have something family oriented.

  • @Jesse… last time I checked EA was IN WNY! Don’t be selfish… share the good in the region! 😀

  • @Tony, being the lazy WNYer I am… I got to EA once every 6 months. I live in Amherst and I hate driving “way out there.”

    If it was in downtown, I would go probably once a month. And Ex & M is $5 now, so $10 would be a bump in price.

    Plus, if it were in a location that had (SHOCKING) public transportation, those people who don’t own cars could take advantage of it. So more centrally located means attracting more people. Unless of course you think city dwellers who don’t own cars aren’t people…..

  • Jesse…last time I checked EA was the only school district in the state that doesnt have full day kindergarten and where nothing ever gets done or built due to non stop infighting of its residents……

  • I lived in Bristol, UK for 4 years and their harbourside was redeveloped shortly before I arrived. When I’ve had visitors here from the UK and took them to canalside, each of them have made a comment about how much better it would be if we could do what Bristol did. Bristol’s harbourside used to be old rundown warehouses with nothing going on there. Now it’s full of activities and businesses including pubs, restaurants, ship tours (the SS Great Britain is docked there), theaters (both mainstream films and indie films are shown), as well as a media centre geared toward (gasp) children.
    The diversity of what was on offer made for foot traffic day or night (Most of the area is closed to traffic but that was more of the norm for these areas in my experience). Many of the places had indoor seating as well as patios for the nicer weather.
    I mention this because of many of the parallels that have been drawn by people I’ve encountered over the years who have been to both places. Particularly by those who lived in Bristol before the development had begun.
    It’s one example but I think it proves how diversity works in these situations.

  • We visit Wilmington NC every year while my kid is on spring break and let me tell you, for it being a small city on the water it has a great little waterfront going for it. They do this without beating you over the head with the city’s history. It’s still there and it’s palpable but the city moved on and is living in the 21st century, unlike Buffalo.

    There are independent boutiques, restaurants, bars, candy/ice cream shops, a children’s museum, and oh em gee… even a mall. Yes, a mall that used to be a factory or warehouse of some sort. The waterfront is lined by a boardwalk and biking trails, not cement monsters like the Skyway and 190. When we get to the city the first things we do is go to our favorite restaurant that is right on the water, seating is at the edge of the boardwalk. I’d love to be able to bring visitors to Buffalo’s waterfront to have a nice relaxing meal outside enjoying the view or to a museum to get lost in for a couple hours. Maybe before I die it will happen. Maybe.

  • Come to Buffalo South, aka Charlotte, NC and go to “Discovery Place”. IT WORKS.

    I found this quite profound, and oh so Buffalo.

    exchange a political/business elite planning scheme for a cultural elite planning scheme.

    And you still have shit on a wet rag. Fucking shame.

  • John, NO,, it is NOT the only district in the state (check youself there) and last time I checked EA was always in the top 3 school districts and a LOT gets done. Have you been here in the last few years? I doubt it. As for FP being a WNY thing. It’s NOT, it says right there on it’s signs and on the bottom of its toys, East Autora, NY. People beg to live here because it’s so nice and our schools are so amazing. Your Northtowns people are a bunch of snobs!

  • Oh, and full day Kindergarten starts next year so you can fully expect us to be #1 instead of #3 in those rankings really soon. I wonder many of the Bills players live here and not Orchard Park. Hmmm…..

  • Wow hank got his hamster to spin that wheel so fast he was able to post 3 comments.

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