About 200 residents showed up Tuesday in the cafeteria at Waterfront Elementary School to get updated on the latest plans for the conversion of LaSalle Park into Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park.
After some visual representations of a new pedestrian bridge and interactive recreation spaces that have been designed as part of the $110 million project, Jana Eisenberg, who lives in the city’s Elmwood Village neighborhood, remarked on plans to improve the park’s accessibility.
Construction crews will begin mobilizing on-site for the conversion of LaSalle Park into the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park within the next 60 days, with a goal of starting actual work by late June.
“What I’m seeing is, it looks like they’re trying really hard to be inclusive and to allow people to see what their plans are. I like that,” said Eisenberg, who attended with a friend and her friend’s young son.
“For my young friend over there,” she said, referring to the boy, “I’m just hoping there’s plenty of playgrounds and fun spaces to run and maybe a treehouse. We were fantasizing.”
Tuesday’s event was the first community meeting held by the Ralph Wilson Park Conservancy, a nonprofit formed in 2021 to operate and maintain the park in partnership with the City of Buffalo once construction is complete in 2025.
A groundbreaking ceremony at Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park on Buffalo’s waterfront heralded big things to come. The former LaSalle Park will be transformed in phases over the next several years at an estimated cost of $110 million in public and private dollars.
“The purpose of today is to share how we got here,” said Katie Campos, executive director of the conservancy.
The design of the park has been a community driven process since 2018 through Imagine LaSalle, which was run by the University at Buffalo Regional Institute and brought together 1,200 stakeholders and partners who created the vision for Ralph Wilson Park, Campos added.
“They had a focus group of about 20 people who really got their hands dirty designing the park,” she said. “They went to Cincinnati, New York City and Chicago to gain inspiration.”
The focus group also selected the landscape architect for the project, Michael Van Valkenburgh & Associates, and worked with them over a period of about four years on the design of the park. Campos said that among the main pillars of the park are plans for improved community access, mobility, an improved shoreline, and active and passive recreation.
“This park will continue to be a City of Buffalo Park. It will continue to be free,” Campos said.
Contractors have begun clearing the land for the project’s first phase, which includes a new pedestrian bridge from the park to the adjacent neighborhood over the Niagara Thruway.
Among the new features will be a bridge connecting Fourth Street to what is designed to be a welcoming spot or front door to the park, featuring a playground, new landscaping and trees.
Mayor Byron W. Brown. who also attended the community meeting, noted that the city and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Park Conservancy last week signed an agreement formalizing the public-private partnership for the management of the park.
“The city will still do the day-to-day maintenance, grass cutting, all the work of maintaining the park, but it’ll be a partnership that will bring a additional resources into the park that will work closely with the community on programming for the park,” Brown said.
Andrew Raab, deputy commissioner of Parks and Recreation, said environmental sustainability is also set to be a big part of the project, including the addition of a great lawn. Currently flat, the park will boast a new sledding hill for winter recreation.
“This park is not going to be flat,” Raab said. “You’re not going to be able to stand at one end and look down toward the other end of the park.”
Terrance Ferguson, an Allentown resident, expressed excitement about the changes.
“I take my dog there daily,” he said. “We don’t go in the dog park. We just walk around the park, and I always thought it could be improved so much with the location being on the water and the skyline behind the park with City Hall and everything. It’s such a great location.”
The #BNdrone takes you on a flight along the shoreline of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park, Buffalo’s premier waterfront park.
The park is slated for a massive makeover, funded in part by a donation from the estate of the late Buffalo Bills founder.
The Army Corps of Engineers has begun a seawall restoration of more than 1,300 feet of seawall, which has deteriorated over time due to Lake Erie ice and wave action.
Derek Gee/Buffalo News
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