Identity issue clouds Canalside

June 12, 2013 Updated Jun 12, 2013 at 3:51 PM EDT

By James Fink, Business First

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Identity issue clouds Canalside

June 12, 2013 Updated Jun 12, 2013 at 3:51 PM EDT

Despite its early success, representatives from the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. got a harsh dose of reality during a recent stop at the Eastern Hills Mall.

ECHDC staff members polled those walking the corridors of the Clarence shopping center to see if they knew or were aware of downtown Buffalo’s Canalside District. They expected a strong response given the growing number of visitors to Canalside each year since it opened in 2008.

What they got was just the opposite.

“Only 10 percent knew what Canalside was,” admitted Tom Dee, Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. president.

This despite hosting more than 500 events including live concerts and cultural attractions and with more than 800 events on the books for this year.

“We are having trouble with the identity of who we are,” Dee said. “Branding is very important to us. We’ve got to get an identity.”

Against that backdrop, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. directors, earlier this spring issued an RFP for branding, public relations and minority outreach, with 11 firms responding. From that pool and a short list of four finalists, the ECHDC directors, Wednesday morning awarded a three-year contract to Eric Mower & Associates to handle those services. EMA will be paid $317,900, based on a $289,000 contract plus a 10 percent contingency of $28,900. The contract will start next month and run through July 2016, with the funds coming from New York Power Authority dollars allocated to the ECHDC.

The EMA team includes Jackson Parker Communications, a firm headed by Buffalo civic leader Jennifer Parker.

Besides EMA, the three other finalists were Travers Collins, J. Fitzgerald and Rochester’s Dixon Schwabl.

“If this is successful, we could change the perception of Canalside,” said Gary Ginsburg, an ECHDC director.

Canalside, a 20-acre area along the lower Main Street area of downtown Buffalo, is home to the Central Wharf site that hosts the Buffalo Place Inc. weekly summertime concert series plus the Buffalo Sabres’ HarborCenter project, Benderson Development’s One Canalside Building, a series of replica Erie Canal waterways due to open next spring and the Liberty Hound restaurant.

This summer, Canalside will host a multitude of special events ranging from classic car shows to “food wars” between area food trucks.

“We want to be regarded as one of the top waterfront destinations in the country,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, an ECHDC director. “This could really move Canalside in the direction that we want to see.”