My Last Word on Bass Pro

30 Jul

Let me start with a self congratulation. I was right. Bass Pro has not been coming for some time. They simply made it official today.

But Congressman Brian Higgins was wrong, when he says they never were coming. He’s wrong because we’ll never know, because CBA peddlers, lawsuit artists, professional obstructionists and Buffalo Common Council gave them an out. Buffalo never had the chance to call their bluff, and we let them off the hook. We’ll never know how long its been since we were in the running.

The post-mortem on Bass Pro will predictably combine several relevant questions into one Pacific gasp: “Who’s fault is it?” That question is obvious, but your answer to it probably reveals more about your political bent and general snootiness than yields a constructive answer. So let me parse it further.

The immediate question is: “What killed Bass Pro?” Or, to put it another way, “What killed Bass Pro today?” It has been mentioned today ad nauseum that Bass Pro has been toying with Buffalo for nine years. Implicit in that critique is the fact that Bass Pro could have pulled out of this deal any time in the last nine years, but didn’t. They made (weak) positive noises through environmental reviews, Tim Tielman grandstanding, endless redesigns, a Great Recession, the Aud being knocked down, Marine Drive parking ramp NIMBYism, and a funding juggling act. They could not survive a late stage living wage monkey wrench to the head, the Common Council balking at a “drop the CBA” bribe funding plan and a lawsuit who’s hypocrisy is only matched by its irony. Some may try to blame Congressman’s Higgin’s ultimatum for today’s announcement. With all due respect to the Congressman, he holds none of the cards in a lease negotiation between a private company and a New York State authority. He could bluster and cajole, but Bass Pro was free to ignore his deadline as well. In the end, it provided some drama to the timing, but little else.

Note that the “What killed Bass Pro?” question is very different from the other questions being asked (and jumbled together) today: “Who’s to blame for this not working?” or “Was Bass Pro a good idea in the first place?” or “Should $35 million be given to retail?” or “What should happen now?” or “Why does Buffalo suck at doing anything?”

Let me take those one at a time. The answers are professional obstructionists, yes, no, shrug, and small mindedness, petty rivalries, and general incompetence, in that order. I am generally sympathetic to Jordan Levy and Larry Quinn, who are at least in the arena battling, rather than cowardly chirping critiques from the side, taking no risk and choosing the status quo FAIL over any plan not perfectly in line with their insulated self-important ideals. The CBA pushers got their wish: non-existent theoretical jobs that will pay no one any wage, rather than actual jobs that will pay someone a lesser wage. The few successfully ruined it for the many. As Alan would say, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Bass Pro was never a perfect fit, and the deal did seem to be getting worse as the bloom came off the “destination retailer” rose. That being said, I was looking forward to trying out a canoe or kayak on the water downtown before I bought one, and the idea of putting a boat/fishing store on the Great Lake that has some of the best bass fishing in the world does seem to make some intuitive sense. I know rednecks don’t get a vote on the intertube commentary to complain, and I’m sure Hamburg would be happy to host a store like this instead (oh the BRO wailing and gnashing of teeth – the only thing worse than a Bass Pro downtown is one in the SUBURBS!).  

So what happens next? My first prediction in March, that Canalside will remain a vacant concrete hole for years, may be too close to the mark. Jordan Levy acknowledged today that the quotes currently out for construction have plenty of work that no longer needs to be done, and the ECHDC may have to go back and reopen the environmental review process because the removal of Bass Pro constitutes a major change. Expect every Tim Tielman, Donn Esmonde and other self-appointed spokesman of the people to have their own opinion about what cultural/retailer/restaurant should occupy that space, and what portion of the $35 million their pet project should get. This process will drag on years, and the Peace Bridge may be built before its sorted out. That $35 million is too big of a prize to not be fought over. Consider this suggestion from the CBA-leading Bass Pro slayers:

Micaela Shapiro-Shellaby of the Coalition for Economic Justice said she hopes the $35 million in subsidies that were earmarked for Bass Pro could be spent in ways that have broad long-term benefits for the region.

“[The money] could be put toward some of the things that we would like to see in a Community Benefits Agreement, such as promoting local entrepreneurship,” she said.

She added that the latest twist in the Canal Side saga might be opportunity to promote greater public input.

Yes, because all those small business incubators, job programs and training sites (read: patronage pits) have done wonders to turn Buffalo around and build a thriving middle class and small business culture in this city. And CLEARLY what this project has lacked the last nine years is sufficient community input.

6 Responses to “My Last Word on Bass Pro”

  1. mark July 31, 2010 at 12:37 am #

    wonderfully put. from 08-09 i was sure the only thing holding back bass pro was the lease being put on their desk and for any remaining red tape to be cleared. as soon as the CBA issue came up i became skeptical and as soon as the lawsuit came out i knew it was dead.

    its good news and its bad news in different ways. i’m glad its over…until the next anchor tenant recruit leads to the same community issues again.

  2. BuffaloExpat July 31, 2010 at 8:36 am #

    Wow, how incredibly negative you are. It was an ill fated plan to begin with, and a short sighted/small-minded one at that. Thank God for people like Tim Tielman, who stand up (against the grain) and truly understand our history, and what we should leverage for the future. I think you are confusing “obstructionist” with someone who has “common sense” and some “taste.”

    • Brian Castner July 31, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

      I’m negative because yesterday’s news was negative. Unless you believe a concrete hole is better than a store you would not personally wish to shop at. It is perhaps not fair to mention Tim Tielman yesterday – after all, Bass Pro survived his stall tactics. He is a professional critic, one step above the professional obstructionists that actually killed this project.

  3. Peter A Reese July 31, 2010 at 9:05 am #

    This project was crap from the start. Now its time to force the Harbor Development Corp to comply with the 2004 plan agreed to to settle the Commercial Slip lawsuit. It calls for small scale, historically compliant development. We don’t need a megamagnet anchor or any of the self serving buffoons on the current board of directors. They should all take a walk into the lake.


  1. The Arena of Risk and Responsibility | - August 2, 2010

    […] vowed that my last column would be just that on the subject of Bass Pro. And so it will be. This column is not about Bass […]

  2. The Arena of Risk and Responsibility | - August 2, 2010

    […] vowed that my last column would be just that on the subject of Bass Pro. And so it will be. This column is not about Bass […]

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