Canal Side : A Cool Half-Billion

29 Feb

Sharon Linstedt has an update on the Canal Side project in today’s News. It isn’t pretty, and it pays to keep scrolling to this:

The public’s first opportunity to weigh in on Canal Side will come during the “scoping” phase of the environmental review, which will define the issues to be studied. There will also be a series of public presentations to detail what will be one of the city’s largest development efforts.

The entire public review process will take six to nine months and must be concluded before full-blown construction begins.

This, my friends, will be a clusterexpletive of titanic proportions. Every obstructionist with an ability to do a press release will be bemoaning the cost, the scope, the identity of the developer, whether things are built to the curb or not, parking, malls, retail, the suburbs, sunshine, wind, rain, and maybe even baby Jesus.

While the harbor agency, working in conjunction with Benderson Development Corp. and Bass Pro, is hitting the milestones of the predevelopment agreement which governs the project, they are also considering a few modifications. Among the changes are development of a museum that would not only house Great Lakes and Erie Canal exhibits, but would also give shelter to the currently homeless Niagara Aerospace Museum.

The agency also is in talks with the City of Buffalo regarding a lead role in construction of a long-planned, 850-vehicle parking ramp to be located in front of Marine Drive Apartments. The harbor development agency proposes to pay the city’s $3 million share of the $18 million project and provide parking to apartment residents, while expanding the number of spaces available to Canal Side visitors and downtown commuters.

Parking ramp? It’s sorely needed, because, well, people drive places. It would be a little nuts to build an outdoor shopping mall with cobble lanes and not factor in parking. But this is red meat fresh tofu to Buffalo’s loudest.

The planners have also raised the estimated price tag for all the development from an original $275 million to more than $500 million. Levy said the upward adjustment reflects refined abatement, demolition and construction costs, but will not boost Bass Pro’s $35 million incentive, or the $4 million Benderson will get to lure additional retail tenants.

Half a billion public dollars to build a new shopping district in downtown Buffalo. Under the Skyway. I still think it’s a good project, in spite of the silliness of the past, but that’s a lot of scratch for a shiny new toy.

UPDATE / EDIT: Commenter “Matt” offers:

The half a billion dollars is the overall cost of the development NOT the public money. If you read the entire paragraph it says “Levy said the upward adjustment reflects refined abatement, demolition and construction costs, but will not boost Bass Pro’s $35 million incentive, or the $4 million Benderson will get to lure additional retail tenants.”

Lets stick with the facts

Photo by MJ Worthington via FixBuffalo @ Flickr

11 Responses to “Canal Side : A Cool Half-Billion”

  1. Matt February 29, 2008 at 10:15 am #

    The half a billion dollars is the overall cost of the development NOT the public money. If you read the entire paragraph it says “Levy said the upward adjustment reflects refined abatement, demolition and construction costs, but will not boost Bass Pro’s $35 million incentive, or the $4 million Benderson will get to lure additional retail tenants.”

    Lets stick with the facts

  2. Mike from Grand Island February 29, 2008 at 10:34 am #

    God I hope this doesn’t end up as a deserted wasteland that looks like AM&As, bergers, the courtyard mall, the main place mall, etc… on Main St.
    I wish we would take the less risky, and cheaper, route of tearing down the aud and making the area there a park to enhance the existing development.

    I just don’t see the retail demand down there without the housing. First housing, then retail. If the retailers thought there was demand no government money would be needed.

    If anything build more housing. Build me a nice three bedroom condo with a reasonable price tag and I’ll get my butt off of Grand Island. That reminds me, how’s Issa doing…I’m still waiting for my brochure. But I digress.

    Poor Buffalo. I love you but you just keep hurting yourself. Governments role for this kind of development should be to support business planning – not gov’t driving and pulling the business along. It’s not a natural market.

  3. Stan P February 29, 2008 at 12:42 pm #

    Bravo Mike

    I am a die-hard Buffalo supporter who happens to live in the suburbs.

    I may go to Bass Pro or a museum once or twice, but most of the time I’ll go to Dicks or Walmart to pick up my fishing stuff.

    Retail follows residents, not the other way around.

  4. Good ol' BUF February 29, 2008 at 1:13 pm #

    I don’t think anyone lives that close to Faneuil Hall in Boston but it’s a retail mecca. Granted, Buffalo is not Boston (unfortunately) but if the skyway were removed – I could see this area take off.

    I do think they need to modernize the Marine Drive Apartments AND the Buffalo News needs to dress up its HQ. That place is fugly. Then the 190 needs to disappear – ala the Big Dig!

  5. Tbone February 29, 2008 at 1:24 pm #

    I took a trip down to the site last weekend, truth be told I had to see the interpretive billboard for myself. I think things looked great other than the billboard, which again made me ponder how hypocritical the anti-Bass Pro argument was- how on earth can we say that the hunk of steel that is there now is historic and worthy of being placed on “Buffalo’s sacred ground” when a replica of the building that stood there isnt. They are building the second best alternative.

  6. reflip February 29, 2008 at 1:28 pm #

    God, that picture is depressing.

    Good luck to Bass Pro. Unfortunately, I will never shop there. Not on principle, but rather because of the fact that they don’t sell anything I would ever want or use.

    Unless maybe one day, after having a few too many at a Sabres game, I stumble in and buy a boat.

  7. Denizen February 29, 2008 at 4:54 pm #

    I’m starting to think this “Canal Side” will never get built. When all is said and done (or not), it’ll probably be nothing beyond an excavated canal stub that maybe draws 100 “tourists” a year along with those non-draw museums that won’t generate much spinoff activity.

    Compact geographic synergy is what makes urban environments (no matter what degree of actual authenticity it might have or lack) work as their own attractions. Such a place must be a strong enough aggregate of many small attractions working in-tandem to form a unique place that doesn’t need contrived events like a music festival or craft fair to draw people to this specific place.

    A lifestyle-center type of project would be a great asset to Buffalo’s urban core and probably work if actually built and with a solid plan. Benderson has the industry clout to attract some prolific national retailers down there.

    I don’t think this is necessarily something that would require a lot of residents within walking distance. A retail attraction consisting of mall-type stores would be a regional attraction, much like a suburban shopping mall. The Walden Galleria is just as geographically central to shoppers in the Buffalo-Niagara MSA as downtown Buffalo. Suburban mall developers never take into account how many shoppers live within walking distance of their prospective developments.

    Canal Side could be a great regional retail attraction.. many people would shop there especially in the warmer months because it would be a more exciting and unique shopping experience than the suburban malls.

    The biggest problem is the multiple agendas and misguided visions that many of the preservationist/gadfly/urban knowitall types have about what the canal development should be. People who think it should be Elmwood boutiqeville dressed up a skin of Venice-meets-Colonial Williamsburg, will fight to keep an economically-viable Canal Side from happening. Also, the concern over how much retail WNY can actually support comes into question. If this ever gets built, it will come at the expense (might not necessarily be a bad thing) of another one of the region’s shopping malls.

    All in all, Buffalo has had an abysmal track record of actually getting big projects done right. I’m certainly not holding my breath on this one.

  8. Mike from Grand Island February 29, 2008 at 6:25 pm #

    Reflip: the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys a boat and the day he sells his boat.

    Better to buy a tank of gas for your buddy with a boat

  9. Stephen Nazwisko February 29, 2008 at 8:44 pm #

    Yay! Someone’s investing $500 Million dollars in Buffalo!
    If it succeeds, Great! if it fails, who cares, it’s 94% not my money!

    the appropriate reaction.

  10. wcp February 29, 2008 at 9:14 pm #

    With the development being pulled away from the ‘sacred’ waterside land, is a lawsuit inevitable? Perhaps the Main/Liberty Group will sue to protect their “mall” from competition. 🙂

  11. Jeff Brennan March 3, 2008 at 2:47 pm #

    Denizen (& BP) is right about the impossibility of this project being able to please everyone that has an opinion, but I highly doubt there will be lawsuits. Most people are getting enough of what they wanted to prevent that (including preservationists of all stripes, and believe me, as one of them, there is rarely agreement among us). Pundit, the only complaint from us urban snobs you will hear about parking ramps is their frequent ugliness or if they front an entire block of sidewalk space. Don’t do those easily avoided things and most of us are happy with them. This ramp will only get snide remarks from people who wish we were a subway city already but no real opposition.

    This will be a success if it develops slowly and flexibly – not grandiose-over-planned-silver-bullet-style with a lack of public consensus. Full build-out in advance of the marketplace will be a mistake. Ironically, this is what most people want since they have lost patience with the process and lack of instant results (an American problem that Buffalo has in spades due to most people’s belief we are falling further behind here and need to do everything now whether it prudent or not).

    So overall, while there will be plenty of contention, it will not be a big deal. Consensus might even make for a better project even if Pundit doesn’t think so.

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