Progress on the waterfront. Is it a dream of the past, a faint hope for the future or today's reality?

And will the recent appointment of M&T Bank Chairman Robert Wilmers to the state's lead economic development agency give Buffalo's waterfront the boost it needs?

Jordan Levy, who as chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. is the man in charge of overseeing the waterfront, was able to stand up recently and point to progress. During a Business First "Power Breakfast" that focused on waterfront development, Levy pushed back his chair from the head table inside HSBC Arena's Harbour Club, and walked over to a floor-to-ceiling window.

In full Phil Donahue fashion - his right hand holding the microphone, his left hand pointing to the outside - he looked at the crowd of 200-plus and pointed to signs of progress: The still-in-progress Canal Side development, located just outside the arena, is already open to the the public. The Memorial Auditorium and Donovan State Office Building will be torn down within a year.

Levy pointed out key components of the $53 million Canal Side project and, later, attendees had the chance to take a guided tour. There is a large boardwalk and a commercial slip infused with the history of the canal, an expansive time line and a three-story "ghosted facade" with nine images depicting key events in the canal's history. There is also 600 feet of floating docks.

The Canal Side project has the support of key politicians. So do projects that will follow, from development of a Bass Pro Shops store to a series of mixed-use developments that likely will include retail and a hotel.
Rep. Brian Higgins, who has adopted waterfront development as one of his office's key issues, calls once a week to check in and say, "What do you need?"

Levy told the crowd: "But the fact of the matter is all we need you (politicians) to do is get the heck out of our way. Because if government gets in the way, we'll never get this project done."^1649292