The Search for a Canal Side Anchor Tenant

August 10, 2010 Updated Aug 11, 2010 at 10:16 AM EDT

By John Borsa

August 10, 2010 Updated Aug 11, 2010 at 10:16 AM EDT

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) -- Paul and Mary Beth Demeter of Orchard Park wanted to show their out-of-town guests the best that their hometown has to offer.

They brought them to Canal Side and took a stroll along the Commercial Slip and Buffalo River.

"It's beautiful down by the lake," Paul Demeter said, looking at the cool water on a very hot August day.

Then he glanced over at the giant hole in the ground where the Memorial Auditorium once stood.

"What are we doing? What are we waiting for?" he asked.

"I think the people in charge of the project, the politicians and the general public need to start moving," said Paul Demeter.

There is movement on the waterfront. Construction continues on the re-creation of the original cobblestone streets that once cut through the Central Wharf.

And crews are busy with a $17 million underground parking ramp on the Aud site where Bass Pro was planning to build its downtown mega store.

Bass Pro officials announced it was not going to build a Buffalo store almost two weeks ago.

The Springfield, Missouri-based retailer made the announcement after it was given a deadline by Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) to sign a lease or pull out of the project.

Bass Pro pulled out, leaving harbor development officials scrambling to find a replacement.

"We still strongly believe that an anchor tenant is important to the success of Canal Side," said Jordan Levy, chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation.

"It is our objective to go out and hopefully find an appropriate anchor tenant that will be an iconic member of the community," Levy said.

After nine years of waiting for Bass Pro to commit to the project, some Western New Yorkers believe officials should change their focus.

"The attraction is the water," said preservationist Tim Tielman of Campaign for Greater Buffalo.

"Think about the success people can see in their own neighborhoods everyday -- it's your Elmwood Avenues, it's your Allen Streets, it's your Hertel Avenues," Tielman said.

"None of those have an anchor," he added.

On Monday, officials confirmed that IKEA, the Swedish furniture retailer was one of the possible choices to replace Bass Pro on the waterfront.

But company officials said IKEA is not intersted in Buffalo.

We're too small.

"While we're flattered and humbled by all the attention we currently have no plans for a store in the Buffalo area," said IKEA's public affairs director, Joseph Roth.

As Paul and Mary Beth Demeter finished their tour of Canal Side, they wondered if the project was doomed to fail - just as waterfront development has in Buffalo for the past 50 years.

"I think it's going to be a big box store that's going to be out of businesses in three years and then we're going to have a big building down here with nothing in it," Paul Demeter said.

"We already have the anchor," said Mary Beth.

"It's called Lake Erie," she said.

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