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Thomas P. Dee (EMBA '96, BA '75) has big plans for his hometown waterfront.
“We’re still in our infancy,” says Dee, rapidly sketching his thoughts on paper. When talking about Buffalo’s sparkling new waterfront, he often loses himself in excitement, his pen barely keeping up with his words.
A South Buffalo kid from a blue-collar family, Dee watched his beloved city struggle for decades. Recently, however, he has also witnessed its rapid turnaround, noting the influx of younger residents and new businesses to the downtown core.
Dee is president of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC), the state-run agency managing the rehabilitation of Buffalo’s waterfront and, at its center, the popular Canalside district at the mouth of the Buffalo River.
“Buffalo deserves this. Buffalonians deserve it,” Dee says of the re-envisioned Erie Canal Harbor, whose turn-of-the-century nickname as the western terminus of the Erie Canal was America’s “Gateway to the West.”
The first in his family to attend college, Dee worked in construction before heading to community college to further his prospects. Eventually he transferred to UB to study business.
After graduating, he landed a job as project manager at CannonDesign, a Buffalo-based global architecture firm, and traveled across the country for several high-profile projects. In 2009, he was tapped to lead the ECHDC, which was beginning to tackle the mammoth job of transforming a former industrial wasteland into what he calls “a world-class tourist destination.”
With a small staff, Dee oversees all design, engineering and construction for what has become one of Buffalo’s largest urban redevelopment undertakings. The projects—which must follow the ECHDC’s guiding principles to provide public access and activities, four-season friendliness and partnerships with private development—include historically correct canals that extend the waterway into the heart of the larger $249 million Canalside entertainment district project.
What used to be only sketches of a prosperous future for Buffalo are now becoming reality, Dee adds. “People are already saying they’ve never seen anything like this in their lifetimes.”
The going hasn’t always been easy, he admits, but building such large-scale infrastructure for the future is incredibly fulfilling. “This is my legacy,” he says proudly.