Bass Pro and Buffalo’s Courtship Ends

31 Jul

While Brian and Chris congratulate themselves for having accurately predicted the fact that Bass Pro was not coming to Buffalo, ever, I’ll restrict my comments to a different emotion: relief.

It’s finally over. No more feigned “excitement”. No more breathless “imminent deal”. Bass Pro is finished with Buffalo, and Buffalo with it.

Here’s exclusive audio of the final phone call where Buffalo told Bass Pro that it’s over (NB: this is a joke, and the audio is NSFW).

I have been paying attention to this Bass Pro thing since Masiello and Pataki donned flannel to make the big announce six years ago. We’ve lived through an MOU, debates about the subsidy, Joel Giambra refusing to sign the Bass Pro MOU, then changing his mind, tobacco money, the WNY Coalition for Progress, sales tax hikes, the creation of ECHDC by Pataki at Higgins’ urging, the creation of Canal Side, the first 30-day deadline, which turned into a 60-day deadline, which turned into no deadline, , the NYPA reauthorization, Bass Pro’s perpetual excitement, and the perpetual imminence of the deal being done.

Momentum! Eventually, my support for the project turned into indifference. We decided finally to get rid of the useless Aud. Bass Pro and ECHDC turned their attention in early 2007 to the Central Wharf, right down to the imminent deal and flyover animation. Suddenly the professional obstructionists blew their collective gasket. Lawsuits! To his credit, Larry Quinn took the opposition on. The usual suspects came out with the usual lies – in this case, “big box” was the condescending buzzword du jour. Every false claim had to be rebutted.

In 2007, produced the “Bass Pros and Cons” video, and held a panel discussion at Canisius College’s Montante Center featuring Jim Ostrowski, Larry Quinn, Carl Paladino, and Scot Fisher. Donn Esmonde did Esmondey things. The professional obstructionists held a circle-jerk panel discussion a month later to “debate” whether it was proper for public money to be spent on a public-private project. The irony of the discussion being held at the Hallwalls facility, which is a private recipient of public money, was generally missed.

We had reasonable and unreasonable discussions galore about this downtown shopping mall. In any event, the Bass Pro on the Central Wharf idea was dead before it was ever born, a victim of dumb demagoguery in the first degree.

Might I propose that somewhere on the property be erected a statue of Tim Tielman with the engraving, “Walden Galleria: 10 Miles”.

But by October 2007, we were on to plan C; Bass Pro would start again with a new-build on the Aud site. We had the “Waterfront Coalition” created, which took the demagoguery ball and ran with it to the Outer Harbor. We responded with the “Coalition of Enough, Already“.

By 2008, Bass Pro was pleading with Buffalo to hurry it up, already. The project was up for public comment and was going to cost $500 million. Suddenly we had a “pre-development agreement”, which roughly translates as “nothing”. And more nothing. And more nothing. And angry nothing.

But nothing was suddenly replaced with … more animations!

But while 2009 was quiet, 2010 saw the issue of Bass Pro coming to a head. The problem was that no one cared anymore. Building crap worth going to on the water in other cities is no-brainer stuff. In Buffalo, it was like a painful 10-year long surgery with no anesthetic costing millions.

It ended with a final ultimatum, a lawsuit from the professional obstructionists, and the ultimate conclusion of this epic drama.

The whole, long drama was bookended by Masiello and Pataki donning flannel on the one hand, and Carl Paladino invoking Marx and ACORN on the other. In-between was the typical contemporary trajectory of Buffalo Fail.

I’m happy that was at the forefront of discussing this project in a way that cut through the bullshit and the lies and the demagoguery. We didn’t report the news – we hosted the public discussion and commentary in a way that no other local media was able to accomplish. We were reasonable when necessary, snarky when not. We were hopeful, skeptical, informed, cynical, interested, and offered the community a forum to debate the whole thing.


The conclusion? When it comes to discussion of development in Buffalo, don’t bet against the cynics.

40 Responses to “Bass Pro and Buffalo’s Courtship Ends”

  1. Christopher Smith July 31, 2010 at 10:11 am #

    Also, we were the first to report yesterday’s news and were scolded for doing so by Mark Sommers at the press conference. Which was awesome.

  2. Mark July 31, 2010 at 10:33 am #

    this blog post=anchor tenant for canal side’s history.

  3. Buffalo Girl July 31, 2010 at 10:40 am #


  4. Peter A Reese July 31, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    Wow, what an overwhelming flurry of self congratulations! But wait a minutre. Seems to me you guys sided with the big business/politician class much more than you did the citizens of Western New York. Populists you ain’t. If this fiasco had ever gone to a vote it would have lost 4 to 1.

    • Alan Bedenko July 31, 2010 at 11:07 am #

      Incorrect. We sided with “successful project”.

      • Peter A Reese July 31, 2010 at 11:08 am #

        Please define your terms. Does this mean you wanted to ride with the winner?

      • Jesse August 2, 2010 at 7:26 am #

        Yeah Alan, how DARE you want something successful in WNY, regardless of source?? How dare you side with *gasp* businessmen????

        Though come one, be honest, a Super Vidlers? Rock on!

    • Adam K. July 31, 2010 at 11:11 am #

      Sadly, that’s probably true. Without an enthusiastic anchor tenant, how fantastic this project actually is was never well explained to the public.

      But anyone whose been to Baltimore (Harbor) or Columbus (Arena District) or Indianapolis (Circle Centre) or any number of other cities knows what One great downtown development can do for a city.

    • Christopher Smith July 31, 2010 at 11:37 am #

      If we don’t congratulate ourselves, we’d disappoint the audience. We are incessant self back-patters. We’re also pretty good at predicting/summarizing failure. You might remember this guy and this story.

      Also, I sided with “cool place for people to hang out and where tourists can buy shit”. As opposed to empty parking lots and a chill wind of failure. What we’ll now get is park space and a big hole in the ground. Progress? Sure.

      Also, also…the next person that proposes an Ikea should be kicked in the crotchal region. The square footage required for an Ikea and associated parking is HUGE (~500,000SF, Bass Pro was proposed at ~200,000SF with parking) and our regional economic demographics don’t mesh with their standards. If there weren’t already two stores in the Toronto region (which would’ve made us mildly attractive), they told us they might have considered opening a store in Clarence. We’ve called and asked IKEA numerous times about this, Buffalo has never been, is not currently, nor do they envision ever being a location for an Ikea. They are not interested in urban locations unless the benefit is overwhelming, like in NYC. We need to give up the dream, seriously. It’s the white whale for Buffalonians who love cheap furniture but hate crossing the border to buy it.

      • Brian Castner July 31, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

        Buffalo is so backward, that an empty hole is progress compared to something not exactly as you would like it. “Preservation” in this town is bordering on nihilism.

      • Jeremy July 31, 2010 at 2:26 pm #

        There’s a difference between wanting an Ikea to be here – knowing it would fit well given the value-consciousness of Buffalonians and at least some residents’ desire for better design – and thinking that it would actually happen. Apart from the prospect of a significant financial incentive to the company, the economic realities of the immediate customer base and the workforce would make it unlikely. That said, a kick in the junk for daring to want (or conceive of incentivizing) them here is essentially a suggestion that we shouldn’t even hope for great things here. We should. But we should be prepared to make them happen and stop those who would impede them, rather than just daydreaming for six or more years.

      • Christopher Smith July 31, 2010 at 4:51 pm #

        That said, a kick in the junk for daring to want (or conceive of incentivizing) them here is essentially a suggestion that we shouldn’t even hope for great things here.

        I know that you’ve only recently moved back to Buffalo, so you’re not as tuned into how we’ve been hearing disaffected hipsters and DINKs in the Elmwood Village tell us for years how Ikea should and would be here if we only asked or dared to dream bigger than a “bait shop”. It’s grown increasingly tedious and the ignorance around why Ikea is a bad fit for the waterfront illustrates a deliberate disdain for basic economic development and retail methodology as well as commercial real estate strategy. Would I like an Ikea somewhere in the region? Yes. We have three of them, right up in Canada. A 500,000 SF development with required parking and loading docks would span the entirety of the Canalside development area. From the 190 to the front door of HSBC Arena. Now, THAT is big box development. It would be filled with cheap, disposable furniture from one of the least environmentally friendly corporations in the world. Ironic how those who clamor for “sensitive” development and sustainable design seem to love this horrible company. The power of cool Swedish names for a side table, eh?

        So, forgive us if I’m overly dismissive or crude on this particular topic. I’ve just been hearing it ever since we started this site six years ago.

      • Mark July 31, 2010 at 5:37 pm #

        the clamoring for ikea (even after IKEA has basically said “stop telling us to come there, we’re not interested”) is proof that a certain segment of opposition to bass pro was really only about classless, suburban, palin-loving rednecks coming into our city and desecrating our vibrant canal district with their red-state rubbish. site plan? store configuration? over saturation of furniture retail market? too many ikeas nearby? urban planning? psssh i only care about image, bitch. 

      • Peter A Reese August 1, 2010 at 7:52 am #

        Why don’t we just seize IKEA and force it to relocate to Canalside? Last century, the Fenians tried to seize all of Canada. Maybe they had the right idea. After all, look how badly the Canucks have screwed up Toronto,

      • Peter-usrt August 2, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

        Dingdingdingding! We have a winner!

      • Peter-usrt August 2, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

        umm, i was trying to reply to mark’s comment above….don’t know why that happened.

      • Peter A Reese July 31, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

        @Brian: Please pardon us for not falling into a drooling stupor over every idiotic scam the local politico-business bozos shovel out. We will try to be better in the future. Can you get us some bibs? BTW, where do you buy your toadie outfits?

      • Brian Castner July 31, 2010 at 6:08 pm #

        I guess I won’t be buying them at Bass Pro. And to your first point, what makes you think the “citizens of Western New York” didn’t want a Bass Pro? Time to leave whatever sheltered life you lead, and talk to someone outside of your echo chamber. As Chris says, I’m pretty most of Western New York is in the “just build the fucking thing already” camp of every development project: Bass Pro, Canalside, Peace Bridge, etc. Don’t confuse these polarized intertubes postings with the real world. As far as I could tell, the politicians you hate split on the issue (Brown/Collins on one side, Common Council on the other), and the insulated activists lined up against the “big business” types (do we even have any of those in Buffalo?). Where the “citizens of WNY” are in any of that mix I have no idea.

      • Peter A Reese August 1, 2010 at 7:42 am #

        @Brian: Why don’t we have Steve Pigeon run a poll to see if people want a Bass Pro? Or Maybe Kevin Gaughn could circulate petitions to downsize Bass Pro. Maybe Lenihan could have all his unemployed friends study the issue on a grant from the UB Foundation?

  5. al l July 31, 2010 at 11:39 am #

    laughed out loud at that image.

  6. Jon Splett July 31, 2010 at 12:19 pm #

    Now that the Bass Pro ridiculousness is over, how about the city focuses on the one business that people do actually care about being around…the NFL.

    The Bills lease is up real soon…

  7. joe schmidbauer July 31, 2010 at 12:38 pm #

    Come now Chris and Alan! Congrats for what? For years you guys were boosters for this development. You attacked Alt press and me when I called the Bass Pro deal a fraud from day one. You guys even published a BS economic study on the positive impact of Bass Pro on local economies unlike the the recent study by Kevin Connor and friends which put a hole the Bass Pro fantasy. You guys are pretty late to the party.
    The last couple years it was clear the deal was dead. Now Levy and friends are pointing their fingers at members of the Buffalo community that asked questions. But a more important question is what great deal does Levy, Qunin, Rich and friends has in story for us next?
    A white elephant museum for stupid economic development ideas. First floor the Buffalo exhibit.

    p.s. Altpress published critical ten articles on Bass Pro from Feb 2004 to Dec. 2005 they can be found at Alt search Bass pro.

    joe s

    • Peter A Reese July 31, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

      @Joe: You keep talking like this we will shut down Alt Press. Why can’t you be more positive, optimistic and giggly cheerleaderish about the projects that our local cognoscenti are dishing out to us nosepickers?

      • joe schmidbauer July 31, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

        Dear Pete

        Altpress is just a bad memory for our local cognoscenti. But the fight goes on,

  8. joker July 31, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    “I’m happy that was at the forefront of discussing this project in a way that cut through the bullshit and the lies and the demagoguery.”

    And still the point is missed. There wasn’t any project.

  9. Jeremy July 31, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    I’d typed out something longer, but instead, a few quick points.

    1) I realize that there is a reflexive fiefdom-like tendency around here to hate on things that are backed by groups one doesn’t like or respect. Hipsters and dinks may be wrong about a lot of things, but broad-based support from those groups and others shouldn’t be frowned upon – it should be welcomed. Remember, having people join together to support things is the goal here.

    2) The furniture is cheap, but not disposable. We have a bunch of their stuff and have loved it for years. They make better products than many, many other companies we’ve bought stuff from over the years, and have certain sections where their products (kitchen in particular) are actually considered to be awesome values for the price on design and quality. Environmental concerns? This area is miserably behind the times in all things environmental, and given the state of manufacturing in China now, I can’t fathom that whatever Ikea is doing is any worse than its peers, only more heavily reported.

    3) You’re right that Ikea has absolutely no need to be by the waterfront. It mightn’t even fit, and in our experience doesn’t tend to build within malls – it becomes a mini-mall in and of itself. And it is no better suited as a tenant for this particular project than a Costco (or other reseller of common products), except that it would fill a need that the City has in spades – affordable furniture and home products.

  10. Jeremy July 31, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    No one wants to have to drive into Canada to buy furniture. It’s not easy; I know because we’ve done it. Also, the new ‘if it’s in Canada already, it doesn’t need to come here’ mentality may represent the shallowest pool of thought I’ve heard around WNY in years. I’m no fan of Tim Horton’s, but it is merely one completely easy and lame example of how a commodity-class business with mediocre products has become indispensable locally to tens of thousands of people on a daily basis. Let’s close all of them up in WNY because you can easily find them across the border, and there are plenty of places to get better coffee and donuts. I bet people here would be thrilled, and that some awesome local entrepreneur would create something better to fill the gap immediately. Right? Right?

  11. Saltecks July 31, 2010 at 6:58 pm #

    I think it would be worth a few grins to watch Tim T, and his preservationist gaggle shit a brick if Ikea built its big Blue and Yellow store on Canal Side.

  12. Mark Poloncarz July 31, 2010 at 8:09 pm #

    For what its worth, the waterfront is a nice local destination now with the reconstructed commercial slip, veterans park, Erie Basin Marina and HSBC Arena. The goal of Canalside should be a nice place for people to stay for a few more hours (tourists and local day-trippers), and retail and restaurants fits that bill.

    The problem now is we are still is a very deep recession with retailers all across the country pulling back on new builds and buying less for existing stores, This is the worst possible time to try and create a new retail based attraction. It didn’t take a genius to determine that Bass Pro would be cutting bait on this one regardless of whatever happened on the local front. Bass Pro is privately owned, so sales data is unavailable. However, publicly owned retailers have been posting not-so-good to poor numbers for some time now, and there is no reason to believe it will be getting better soon.

    The original stimulus program worked: it kept the country from falling into a depression, the auto industry was rescued and now its posting profits, and the country was given a chance to rebound. Unfortunately the economy is just sputtering along, and with it goes a Canalside based on a destination retail establishment. In other words, I am not optimistic that we will see any destination retailer announce a Canalside location anytime soon.

    • MillardFilmore August 2, 2010 at 4:56 pm #

      It’s actually not the worst possible time to try and create a retail based attraction. A year ago would have been worse. And the year before that even worse.  And, frankly, 2005 and 2006 and 2007 were all terrible years to start retail destinations as many were started only to implode shortly after launch with the great recession.  

      Frankly, it makes more sense to try to launch a retail destination now than any time in the past 5 years.  Of course, it would be marginally harder to finance as banks are balance sheet constrained – but that’s not an issue since most of the financing is coming from taxpayers.  So while it sounds all informed and glib to say – this is the worst possible time to try to do X – usually when bureaucrats are saying that, it means it’s a damn good time to do X.  

  13. peteherr August 1, 2010 at 12:50 pm #

    Taking over IKEA with pitch forks and hoes sounds like an idea we can all get behind.

  14. Kathy Lenihan August 1, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

    I think they should consider Wegman’s- with a bit smaller grocery section and larger area to eat in and an out door cafe.

  15. Jesse August 2, 2010 at 7:32 am #

    I can’t believe people are clamoring for an Ikea. Horrific, horrific company. If you want to bring one in, there are a few vacant ex-malls that could handle it. Don’t stick it in what will be the most desirable real estate downtown…

    • Jeremy August 2, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

      I’m putting out a challenge to those who claim there’s something horrific about Ikea. Here are two pages summarizing the company’s environmental credentials and the chief criticisms levied at it by meatheads, namely that it is (a) a successful business, (b) consequently generates traffic and profits, and (c) takes the name of Danish cities in vain. Unless someone can provide evidence that it is more of a negative influence than, say, Walmart (of which we have many locally), seriously, STFU already.* Thanks.

      * = Not directed at those who merely think Ikea is ill-suited to waterfront, which it may well be, but rather the ZOMG evil Ikea crowd.

      • Jesse August 3, 2010 at 8:06 am #

        Horrific: Have you ever BEEN in one? It’s a nightmare. You can’t just go to the department you want, you have to follow the path. You can maybe sneak thru a side somewhere, but it’s a nightmare. It’s hundreds of thousands of sq ft of junk surrounded by an even larger useless parking area.

        And the absolute shit they peddle as furniture? GARBAGE.

        Ikea sucks balls, and I’m not even touching the environmental nonsense.

      • Jeremy August 3, 2010 at 8:24 am #

        You, sir, are the reason Buffalo can’t have good things.

      • Jon Splett August 3, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

        Forget environmental issues. IKEA is a scam to avoid taxes.

  16. lulu August 3, 2010 at 11:12 am #

    No big box large scale retail will work here or should be built here, period.


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