Waterfront – Everyone Relax

16 Nov

Norstar Rendering of the Outer Harbor: 2005

WestEnd (Jerde/Ciminelli) Plan for the Outer Harbor

Buffalo Lakefront Development

While Mark Goldman and the “Canal Side Community Alliance” call for a four month “pause” in the Canal Side development project, I thought it a perfect time to revisit Buffalo’s other waterfront – the outer harbor.

Back in 2005, when the concept of “New Buffalo” had caused otherwise perfectly normal, Buffalonians to temporarily replace cynicism with “hope”, the NFTA solicited bids from three development groups to answer the question, “what the hell do we do with the outer harbor?”

At the time, the NFTA was in its fifth decade of controlling (read: neglecting) the windswept ruins of Buffalo’s Lake Erie waterfront.  Shown above are the three forgotten, scrubbed-from-the-website proposals for the NFTA’s outer harbor.  This was a time when the last half-assed proposal had been Joel Giambra’s “E-Zone” tented amusement park nonsense.

The images above represent – from top to bottom – the three plans. Norstar’s emphasis was on green space;  the WestEnd proposal was a reasonable mixed use development; and then there was the Buffalo Lakefront Development plan, which I derisively termed the “everything but an elevator to the moon” plan.  It included a 3,500 room convention hotel, a 300,000 SF convention center,  (the current one has only 110,000 SF), a 500,000 SF “festival pavilion,” 200,000 SF of Class A office space, and a 215,000 SF sports center.  Just what a shrinking city with dysfunctional state authorities, a horribly ineffective city government, and fights to the death over the smallest development plan needs.

Seriously, you have to see the whole thing in detail to believe it. Click below.

Click to enlarge

What we’ve got on the waterfront now are mistakes that can’t be undone, and I think people want to be exquisitely careful to not make the next 100-year screw-up.  So, while we can’t do anything beyond cosmetic with the Marine Drive blight, we have some plots of shovel-ready (or soon-to-be-shovel-ready) land that were all set for a bait shop that isn’t coming.

On the one hand, we have an ECHDC that has a plan that is missing a huge puzzle piece. On the other hand, we have the “Community Alliance,” which is railing against “faux canals” and underground parking.

Well, maybe we don’t need faux canals anymore.  But I’ll tell you that no matter what ends up down at Canal Side, it’ll need some parking.  And if it’s going to need some parking, might as well do it underground.  And if you’re going to do underground parking, might as well do it now, before you figure out what will go above it.

Five years after the NFTA decided that it absolutely lurved the elevator-to-the-moon plan, and subsequently did nothing about it, the only thing that’s happened out there has been improvements to the waterfront, a walkway, and the much-improved Fuhrmann Boulevard, and access to it from Route 5.  There is no plan, no developer for the outer harbor.  There isn’t even so much as a street grid, zoning, or utility service there.  Because that’s what government ought to do – ready the area for future growth, not create artificial “growth” out of whole cloth.

Likewise, the inner harbor is in a state of flux now that the anchor tenant idea seems stalled.  Bass Pro is gone, and there’s no one lined up to replace it.  I don’t think there’s an anchor tenant worth pursuing for that spot.  Without the anchor tenant, the Benderson mixed-use plan is probably due for a re-think.  So, ECHDC should plan to re-create the street grid that existed before the Aud and the Donovan.  It should pave them, zone the resulting lots, add utility service, and let people put in whatever they want.  Let people buy the property and build on it.  Set up very stringent design criteria for any buildings so we don’t have a waterfront packed with beige Dollar Generals and TJ Maxxes.

I think everyone can get on board with that.

Finally, the issue is – without the anchor tenant, how do you draw people to the waterfront?  How do you get businesses to build? Why would tenants open there? Why would people from the city come down there on a snowy day?  How do you get suburbanites or Canadians to take a detour downtown as opposed to the Niagara Outlets or the Walden Galleria?

You turn the downtown area under the jurisdiction of the ECHDC into a sales-tax-free zone.  That 8.75% discount on almost everything would be a big draw.  ECHDC ought do an RFP for property maintenance and security services to ensure an appealing and safe day or night out.

This stuff isn’t all that complicated, and it doesn’t need to be ridiculously expensive for taxpayers.  The last thing the waterfronts need is more decades-long delays because everyone wants to turn what should be reasonable discussions into Albanian mountain blood feuds.

17 Responses to “Waterfront – Everyone Relax”

  1. Christopher Smith November 16, 2010 at 1:39 am #

    We’ll call this the “fill the hole, plant some grass and cobble the streets” plan for the future. All done.

  2. Michael November 16, 2010 at 7:38 am #

    There you go, bringing the common sense again. You’ve seen where that has gotten us before

  3. BobbyCat November 16, 2010 at 8:47 am #

    I’ve noticed that most everyone is an expert in waterfront planning. I know nothing about waterfront planning.

    But I know plenty of amateurs who have said ‘this stuff isn’t complicated” and then proceeded to design/build their home without help from contractors,architect or engineer. They’re easy to spot on the road; They look like a disaster.

    The idea that anybody can design the waterfront is the reason nothing is there, IMO.
    The original plan fell through because it wasn’t thought-through. It was a failure of imagination. Nobody could answere the question :Why would any sportsman drive 50 or 100 miles to buy gear that he can buy in his own backyard?” The answer is, of course, they wouldn’t.

    Could it be that the ECHDC consists of well-meaning members who have not developed a waterfront before but believe that anybody can do it? So far, their failed plan was to build a “Bass Pro and they will come”.

    Shouldn’t the parking plan be proportionate to the use of the site? That is, how can you plan for parking when you don’t know what will be built? If the idea is that ‘every use will need more parking”, maybe… but maybe not. Somebody commented that the area regularly accommodates thousands of HSBC patrons for hockey games and other events. How many more parking spaces will be needed? Can anyone say with certainty? I’m not advocating stalling. I’m saying that not everybody can do this. The harbor needs a plan, and any plan should emanate from successful harbor planners. Where are they? Let’s look at their resumes.

    Note: I had to google the abbreviation “SF”. It means ‘San Francisco’. “Square foot” is abbreviated “sq.ft.”, always in lower case.

  4. Jack Ryan November 16, 2010 at 9:15 am #

    Actually, BobbyCat, the waterfront needs the antithesis of a “plan”. We’ve been “planning” for decades without any increment of success.

    Pave the streets, run commercial utilities and sewers, plant grass, drop in some benches for people to sit on, zone it with the upcoming Buffalo Green Code (which is form-based) and offer development incentives.

    After all these decades, let’s try and see what the market deems appropriate for the waterfront.

  5. BuffaloBuffaloBuffalo November 16, 2010 at 9:53 am #

    The people must have a voice in development on the waterfront, we deserve a world class destination space devoid of parking and big boxes. There’s a train for chrissakes that lets you off right there, also a garage attached to HSBC Center and two huge surface lots. We need MORE parking? Public markets, farmers markets, sculpture, historically sensitive buildings, cobblestone streets, gas lights, a real ACTUAL place that people want to be. Not an underground parking garage and the wet spot of the last failed ECHDC devised plan.

    • Alan Bedenko November 16, 2010 at 10:11 am #

      The people must have a voice in development on the waterfront, we deserve a world class destination space devoid of parking and big boxes.

      The people do and will have a voice in development on the waterfront. Has Mark Goldman or any of his supporters attended an ECHDC meeting? If the ECHDC plan is shite, what is the competing plan? Where is the alternative plan? To what are we to compare ECHDC’s plan? All of ECHDC’s meetings are open to the public. The people on the board are appointed by elected officials, who are elected by the people. They are to hold, and have held, hearings and meetings. The people on the ECHDC have publicly available phone numbers and email addresses. To say that “people must have a voice” presupposes that they don’t. But they do.

      I don’t necessarily know why we “deserve a world class destination space” of any kind. At this point, something that isn’t a surface parking lot or a crumbling structure that has sat unused for 15 years is an improvement.

      There’s a train for chrissakes that lets you off right there, also a garage attached to HSBC Center and two huge surface lots.

      The train – how do you propose suggesting to a Canadian visitor that they use the train? What highway is the train near that would make it easy for a prospective visitor to park and then ride the train? Shall they drive halfway towards Canisius and park at the LaSalle lot? And those garages by HSBC and the surface lots you mention – certainly they can be used during off-hours. But what about during regular business hours, when they’re filled with workers and monthlies? What about during Sabres games? The fact that people will be visiting with their cars is a reality. Why you would want to make it less convenient for them is beyond me. Furthermore, the much-touted 2004 Tielman-approved Master Plan calls for a parking ramp smack dab next to Marine Drive. Are you against it? Is Mark Goldman against it? I realize you are all dead-set against the construction of invisible, unobstrusive underground parking under where the Aud used to be, so do you think that the Tielman-approved above-ground parking ramp next to Marine Drive – something those residents have gone so far as to retain the services of a disgraced former judge to represent them about – is better? Is it ok? Does it meet with everyone’s approval? Why is it so cut and dry that the inclusion of a parking structure (whether above-ground or, preferably underground), is such a deal-breaker for you? That’s a serious question. If you don’t want or need to use it, that’s fine – but why would you hamstring the project from having on-site parking for people who do want (or need) to use it?

      We need MORE parking? Public markets, farmers markets, sculpture, historically sensitive buildings, cobblestone streets, gas lights, a real ACTUAL place that people want to be. Not an underground parking garage and the wet spot of the last failed ECHDC devised plan.

      Can you explain to me how all of the wonderful things you suggest, right down to the gas lights, is rendered less of a “place that people want to be” by the presence of a parking ramp 50 feet underground? Is Boston Common less authentic or desirable because of the parking ramp beneath it? Has Faneuil Hall suffered thanks to the 6-level parking structure immediately next to it?

      These are not meant to be snarky questions – I am absolutely serious. I want to understand.

  6. BobbyCat November 16, 2010 at 11:43 am #

    As I read the ECHDC web site (below) I can’t find anything that describes what is being built or envisioned.


    They have a name, “Canal Side” but nothing else. It says “…Canal Side” project, which focuses on developing 23 acres of Buffalo’s inner harbor lands for public, commercial, residential and other mixed-uses.” And that’s about it.

    What is their vision? The people of Buffalo deserve to know. If the ECHDC doesn’t know what their ‘vision’ is, if its undecided, in flux, that’s understandable, that’s ok, but they should say so.

    Some say, we don’t need no stinkin plan, just build infrastructure – roads etc and the rest will take care of itself. But I’m not so sure about that. Planning gets a bad name in Buffalo because I think the ‘blue ribbon” panels often consist of people unfamiliar with urban or waterfront planning. For example, If you put me in charge of the plumbing, the plumbing would be a disaster because I’m not a plumber. Duh.

    My basic question is, Are the ECHDC Board of Directors experienced at waterfront planning or not? The web site does not give a bio for it’s Board. Can someone help me out? The names are Jordan Levy, Lawrence Quinn, David J.Colligan,Maureen O.Hurley, Michael DiVirgilio, Dennis Mullen, Julie M. Barrett-O’Neill, Mindy Rich, The Mayor and County Exec.

    Do we have a Board of inexperienced non-planners trying to plan Canal Side?

  7. Hank November 16, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    I sure don’t see any snark in your comment Alan. Just questions that any citizen who is aware of what is going on around them might ask. And they deserve answers. I know you’re a big Toronto visitor, look at all the underground in Montreal!!. It’s not hurting that city any.
    You’re in the same situation in Buffalo that I am in NC. I’m “Not from around here” originally, BUT I SURE AM NOW!!! You deal with locals in your vocation, and socially as well, but you may never fathom the mindset of the average WNY’er in the street. Even some of the comments here show how folks from Buffalo and WNY are some of the most bullheaded SOB’s on the planet, and how that mindset creates barriers to getting anything done.

  8. BobbyCat November 16, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    Hank, there are hordes of people on the Web with chips on their shoulders trying to pick a fight with someone….anyone…who dares to disagree with them. How dare they disagree with ME???? They must be bullheaded, those SOB’s. Why don’t they share my (infallible) opinions? Don’t they know how wrong they are, THOSE STUPID LOCALS? Don’t they know I’m never wrong?

    And don’t you know how you sound?

  9. Andrew Kulyk November 16, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Fascinating how the BRO crowd of BANANAs, macadamias and freaks are always pontificating about “building to the curb”, and “put parking underground”, but when an actual plan to position underground parking is put forth, these same people convulse in violent hysterics. Hilarious!

    The problem here is that the Goldman/Fisher crowd and their so called coalition of 40 faith based community groups are winning the PR ground war. Their plan is “do nothing”. Sprinkle grass seed, throw out a few benches and call it a day. Build nothing because it is not “sustainable”. Add Donny Osmonde’s nonsense and the public is buying it. The ECHDC and those of us who want to see something other than nothing happen down there need to push back. And not with a Bass Pro or it’s replacement anchor retailer.

  10. BobbyCat November 16, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    Andrew, your impulsive “BUILD SOMETHING!” mantra is the same compulsive blunder that has made Buffalo the mecca of bad planning. It reminds me of Robert Moses who’s motto was “…the important thing is to get things done” So he blocked-off Buffalo from its waterfront with a Thruway. That hastyness built a campus in an Amherst swamp and cut the heart out of a community with an Expressway. I won’t continue.

    I’m wondering if there is no thoughtful plan because there are no planners on board. Or can anybody sketch out the future of downtown on the back of a napkin?
    Maybe underground parking is a fabulous idea but shouldn’t it be part of a larger plan? Or is a plan too much to ask for?

  11. Mike In WNY November 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    Jack’s plan sounds good if u leave out the Commie Buffalo Green Code & incentives. Identify some public ground and put for sale signs on the rest.

  12. Brian November 17, 2010 at 5:46 am #

    I’m astonished that waterfronts in cities all over the world developed without any plans whatsoever. What planner planned Paris along the Seine, or London along the Thames, or San Francisco along the bay, or Hong Kong along….

  13. peteherr November 17, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    There needs to be a timeline. Collect ideas until a certain date. Develop a new plan or tweek an existing plan until a certain date. Put shovels in the ground on a certain date. We don’t need a huge anchor to make it go. I agree that we need to make the land accessible to businesses that want to locate there. Whether it is for sale, or for lease in a build to suit fashion, something needs to happen, or I will start to support a casino……whatever happens, please allow mobil ice cream men and tacos on wheels to be apart of the final plan.

  14. BobbyCat November 17, 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    Taco carts? Sure, as long as the meat comes from free-range Brazilian or Pantagonian beef. Otherwise it’s a non-starter.

  15. Peter A Reese November 17, 2010 at 7:54 pm #

    Alan: The plan you now espouse seems an awful lot like the 2004 plan hammered out to settle the exploding rock lawsuit. I think its great. Make land available for use and see what happens. If nothing, then it wasn’t meant to be. The most successful waterfronts feature small lot development, not big box gambles.

    But before we all get giddy about the current state of affairs, take a look at the NYPA purchase across the river from Canalside. NYPA really needs a marina doesn’t it? This is just another authority power grab. Maybe they should have used the money to lower my power bill.

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