Repurposing New York’s historic canal system as engine of economic revitalization

On October 3, 2018 the two winning proposals from New York State‘s Reimagine the Canals Competition were announced. The winning ideas included a proposal to build new neighborhoods along the Erie Canal, as well as a multi-day festival that would highlight the Canal and New York’s booming craft-beverage industry.

The competition—announced in 2017—was sponsored by the New York Power Authority and New York State Canal Corporation, and sought unique ideas to continue to repurpose, renew and reconnect (the 3Re Strategy) the New York State Canal System, transforming it into an engine of economic revitalization, and a magnet for tourism and recreation.

With the winners of the Reimagine the Canals competition now selected, we can continue to tap into one of New York’s most underutilized assets and help this statewide resource reach its full potential,” New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said.

There is no doubt these winning ideas will continue to inspire new, creative ideas that will invigorate the canals and draw visitors to one of our most iconic assets for years to come,” he continued.

In all, the competition drew 145 entries from nine states and seven nations, with an international panel of judges—including some of the world’s leading canal experts—narrowing the field to seven finalists. The winners were announced during a ceremony at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester with Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.

As an upstate New Yorker who lives near the Erie Canal and is a frequent visitor to canal communities, I know how this competition can unlock even more potential to make this a major tourism magnet,” said Hochul. “The canals have played a crucial role in New York’s history and growth, and with the implementation of these new exciting projects, the canals will remain a vital force and make a positive contribution to the economic well-being and quality of life in the 225 communities they travel through.

The winning proposals include:

Pocket Neighborhoods:

The first winning entry seeks to build pocket neighborhoods along the Erie Canal and Erie Canalway Trail. Homes would surround a common greenspace and have direct access to the Canal to respond to the growing preference of millennials, families, and seniors to live in a place that is walkable to shopping, restaurants and other amenities.

A pilot project would be built in the Village of Canastota, Madison County, about 25 miles east of Syracuse. The expectation is this project—which would involve a public-private partnership—could be replicated in other communities.

The team, which will receive $1.5 million to further develop its plan, includes the Madison County Planning Department, STREAM Collaborative, an Ithaca architecture and design firm, and Camoin Associates, an economic development consultancy based in Saratoga Springs. The judges cited the project as a model for how land use could be shifted away from the canals’ industrial past to residential and mixed uses.

Erie Armada:

The second winner seeks to create Erie Armada, a multi-day festival and boat race centered on breweries creating human-powered boats that could be made from items common to the industry, such as barrels and beer cans. The race would include parties at the start and end of each 15-mile race that would feature music, local food offerings and craft beverages, including beers created specifically for the armada. The first armada is planned to go between Baldwinsville and Phoenix, but other locations are being considered for the future.

The jury commented that the proposal would support new recreation and tourism in the canal corridor and bring a younger audience to the region, while also supporting the local heritage of the canal system. New York was once a leading grower of hops, which were shipped across the nation and abroad via the Erie Canal. The Erie Armada team, led by Parks & Trails New York, event-planning firm Area4 based in New York City and advisor Joe Gustainis of Caledonia, will receive $500,000 to implement their proposal.

New York is home to 400 breweries, up from 95 just six years ago, as a result of Governor Cuomo’s rural revitalization program that eliminated many regulatory and licensing burdens for breweries, as well as for the growing number of wineries, distilleries and cideries in the state.

Madison County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Becker explained, “The Reimagine the Canals Competition is an imaginative way to bring the very best ideas together to transform our canals and reinvigorate local economies. With the winners now selected, it is exciting to know that underutilized canalside spaces will get new life with these innovative proposals. I thank Governor Cuomo for providing the funding to get these projects jump-started, and for prioritizing New York’s iconic canal system as we work to boost our economy and create sustainable attractions to be enjoyed by generations to come.”

The competition was held as New York celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Barge Canal—now known as the New York State Canal System–which includes the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Champlain and Oswego canals.

The State also continues to mark the bicentennial of the Erie Canal, construction on which began 201 years ago. Next year, will mark the 200th anniversary of the first boat trip taken on the Erie Canal, from Rome to Utica.

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney concluded, “Our state’s canal system is a vital part of our infrastructure and economic development opportunities. With these new, innovative ideas, we can transform our canals so they can once again become an engine for economic growth for the entire state. Congratulations to both winners, whose creative ideas will bring our canal system into the future.

Photos of Erie Canal courtesy of Parks & Trails New York.

See the Reimagine the Canals Competition website.

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