Reimagined Erie Canal includes beer armada and pocket neighborhoods

Photos by Tom Rivers: Madison County Assistant Planning Director Jamie Kowalczk accepts the $1.5 million first place prize in the Reimagine the Canals competition. Madison County proposed the development of “Pocket Neighborhoods” which would be attractive to millennials, families and seniors who want to live in places that are walkable to shopping, restaurants and other amenities. Kowalczk is joined on stage by Gil C. Quiniones (left), who is president and CEO of the New York Power Authority. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul also celebrated the winning proposals today.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 3 October 2018 at 10:25 pm

State announces winners of Reimagine the Canals contest

ROCHESTER – A reimagined Erie Canal includes an armada of boats passing along the canal carrying people tasting craft beers. The future also will see some of the open spaces and former industrial areas along the canal turned into “pocket neighborhoods,” which are within walking distance to shopping and amenities.

The State Canal Corp. and New York Power Authority today announced the winners of a Reimagine the Canals competition. The two winners were picked from seven finalists and 145 initial entries.

The $2.5 million competition shows the state isn’t content to have the canal be a historical piece, said Gil C. Quiniones, New York Power Authority president and CEO.

“The message from the governor is clear: the canals still matter,” Quiniones said at today’s announcement.

The second-place winners of the Reimagine the Canals competition walk across the stage at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester to accept their award. The Erie Armada team, led by Parks & Trails New York and the event-planning firm Area4 based in New York City will receive $500,000 to implement their proposal. Rory McEvoy, left, is co-founder of Area4 and James Meerdink is project director for Parks & Trails.

The Imagine the Canals competition surpassed its goal of drawing out ideas to better capitalize on the canal system, which Quiniones said is an important asset for economic development, tourism and to support agriculture.

The canal system now falls under the domain of the Power Authority. Quiniones embraced the reimagine competition. NYPA and the Canal Corp. are working on the long-term strategy for the canal, and Quiniones said many of the proposals in the competition may be included in the long-term plan.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is greet by Brian Stratton, director of the State Canal Corp.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said she is optimistic the state will continue to make funding available to help finance some of the initiatives in the Reimagine competition.

The canal, which opened in 1825, was critical in the development of the state and nation. Hochul said the canal did more than move goods.

“It is the flow of ideas,” she said.

Many of the human rights movements, including abolition and women’s suffrage, gained momentum because the canal allowed leaders and residents to promote those ideas.

“It’s the Equal Rights Inspiration Corridor,” she said.

The canal competition put “actionable” ideas for review. The following were the winners:

• Pocket Neighborhoods: The first place 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 pocket neighborhoods project will remind people that the canals are not only a great place to visit but a great place to live,” Quiniones said.

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 in Central New York, but other locations are being considered for the future.

Brian Stratton, Canal Corp. director, said the canal is an important asset for the state for tourism, recreation, economic development and agriculture.

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 well as for the growing number of wineries, distilleries and cideries in the state.

“The canals have long been a source of inspiration and wonder,” said Brian U. Stratton, New York State Canal Corporation director. “The projects that were announced today are poised to make a real difference in how people use and interact with our canals.”

The state announced the Reimagine competition last year. It sought unique ideas to continue to transform the New York State Canal System into an engine of economic activity 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,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “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.”

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 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.

John Kast, an Albion fruit and vegetable farmer, was featured in a video promoting using the canal to help irrigate farms. That project was a finalist but wasn’t picked for financing.

Other finalists included:

• Go the Distance: this initiative will look to develop overnight accommodations for recreational users of the canal system. The team includes the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor from Waterford, NY; Gray Slate Partners from Troy, NY; 2K Design from Clifton Park, NY and Dorgan Architecture & Planning from Storrs, Conn.

• Canal Winterlocks: seeks to develop winter-time uses for the Erie Canal, potentially including skating, hockey, winter festivals and cross-country skiing. The team includes Clare Lyster Urbanism and Architecture and John Ronan Architects, both from Chicago and Urban Engineers from Philadelphia.

• Intra-Works: installations of art and sculpture to forge a cultural identity that links up the Canal System. The team includes the architecture and planning firms Collective Studio from New York City and WRT and Interface, both from Philadelphia.

• Western New York Irrigation: this plan will build off the canal’s water infrastructure to expand its irrigation capabilities. The team includes SUNY ESF Professor Stephen Shaw, C&S Companies of Syracuse and the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

• Upstate Archipelago: this team is developing designs for resilient water landscapes that also provide public recreation space and wildlife habitat. The team includes Cornell Design, Ithaca; Cornell Cooperative Extension and H+N+S, a landscape architecture firm based in the Netherlands.

For more information about the competition and to watch videos about each project, visit

You’re here checking the site, so you know: Orleans Hub is a vital resource for our community. Day in and day out, we share information and insights that matter to those who live and work in the towns, villages and hamlets of our county. Local advertisers help make the Hub possible, and so can you.

Donate today to keep Orleans Hub healthy and accessible to all. Thank you!

Return to top