Tom Dee at Canalside, the heart of Buffalo’s waterfront
Thomas P. Dee (EMBA '96, BA '75) has big plans for his hometown
“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
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
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.