Heavier, Slower, Pricier

27 Nov

In an editorial today, the Buffalo News’ editorial board calls for a “pause” in the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation’s vote on the Modified General Project Plan.  That editorial is a shoddily informed, sloppy, and harmful disgrace.  Filled with assumptions and half-truths, it is a fundamentally unfair call for a ridiculous delay in an already delayed process.

The scope of the MGPP covers one level of underground parking under the Aud block (where Bass Pro was supposed to go), and the creation of waterways that track the path of the Canal before its infill many years ago.

An ad hoc group led by Mark Goldman had demanded that the ECHDC extend its public comment period on the MGPP – which it did.  Over the course of the last two weeks – over 6 days, the ECHDC held 12 hours’ worth of public comment at times that would accommodate any concerned citizen to come down and express themselves.  The hearings were well-publicized, well-attended, constructive, and respectful.  Those 6 sessions took place after a hearing had already been scheduled and conducted at the central library on November 3rd at 7pm.

I’ll note that at least one – sometimes two – representative of WNYMedia.net was present for all but the first 5pm open house. As far as I can tell, no one from the Buffalo News attended any of them, and they were not reported on.  (To double-check, I completed a search for “ECHDC” and “Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation” and “MGPP” at the News’ site). No one from the editorial board showed up to listen to the people, Donn Esmonde was absent, and there were no reporters, either.

That means that the Buffalo News has absolutely no first-hand knowledge of what transpired at any of those hearings.  It has never reported on the presentation with which ECHDC opened each session, where Tom Dee would go through the MGPP in great detail.

Most of the speakers that I heard advocated for their pet project’s inclusion in the Canal Side project, writ-large – well outside the scope of the MGPP.  Some speakers merely parroted the “faux canal” and “parking is bad” mantra that they had been fed by Goldman and his presenters.  Yet many people at those open houses asked for underground parking to accommodate families with strollers, or the disabled and elderly.  Not to mention, underground parking is easy to build on an excavated lot and is better when out-of-sight.  The parking under the Boston Common doesn’t bother anyone, and is punctuated only by a few entry kiosks in the park:

That parking brings in $20 for every 12 hours of parking for the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.  (Perhaps it’s time to consider abolishing the hacked-out BCAR and instead let the CVB operate the publicly owned parking facilities in the area, so that they may be modern, well-maintained, and not 60s throwbacks. Also, it would be another source of revenue.)

In addition to parking, the other issue covered by the MGPP is the extension of some waterways out towards the Aud Block.  It exactly tracks the angles of the former Erie Canal, which has since been replaced by the Hamburg Drain.  Back during the exploding rocks “debate” of a decade ago, it was ultimately decided that it was too expensive to redirect the Hamburg Drain – instead, a filtering system was installed.

But uncovering the Commercial Slip left a problem of what to do about the Hamburg Drain. Moving it was rejected for the expense and because it would interfere with the historical excavation.

The answer is a $3.5 million system that will mechanically filter floating debris. It includes a pump station that will send Buffalo River water through the slip to keep it from becoming stagnant.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the project or a black eye,” said Tim Tielman, the preservationist who helped lead the effort to make sure the real Commercial Slip was uncovered, “and it really will help focus people’s attention, which is good.”

According to that same article, the Hamburg Drain sees 306 million gallons of sewage and storm water flow through the Commercial Slip each year. The cost to restore that small section of the Erie Canal terminus cost $47 million half a decade ago.

The Goldman group is using the same argument as 1999’s Tielman group made – that the “faux” canals are dishonest and not authentic enough.  They insist that the Hamburg Drain be damned, the rewatered parts of the canal, so far as they are to exist, should be navigable.  This despite the fact that the canal goes nowhere from Canal Side.

Perhaps incredibly, the mantra of those who support the Goldman group’s proposals is “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper”.  That was the point of the presentation that Fred Kent of the Partnership for Public Spaces made at Goldman’s assembly two weeks ago.

Yet moving the Hamburg Drain so that a waterway to nowhere might be navigable is not “lighter”, is not “quicker”, and most certainly is not “cheaper”.  Remember – the MGPP is not about the entirety of the Canal Side project, or whether we put galleries or shops there.  It is only about parking and the recreation of canals in the middle of the project.  The cries of “faux” are disingenuous, since everything there is fundamentally a replica – a reinterpretation of what was there long ago.  Replicas of an artificial river, to boot.

The Buffalo News’ editorial – (one of two in as many days that calls for someone to slow something down) – is an embarrassment.  For it it, for the city, for this process, and for the region as a whole.

We’ve said it before. Lighter, quicker and cheaper is what Buffalo needs in waterfront development and now that Bass Pro is out of the picture, it’s time for fresh ideas on how to develop an asset that belongs to the people and whose rebirth is being funded by large amounts of public dollars.

In that cooperative spirit, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. should delay its scheduled Monday vote on modified waterfront plans, at least until it can come to some compromise between what it wants to do and the good, workable ideas of a group of well-meaning and informed citizens.

A groundswell for more public input is building. The Partnership for the Public Good and the Canal Side Community Alliance has called for extending the deadline four weeks, and Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, in a letter to the corporation, asked for a two-week extension. To ignore that fact really would prove the case of those who believe the process to be closed and exclusive, especially since there is no downside to putting off the vote.

The ECHDC has already been cooperative – not just in fact, but in spirit.  You can assail the ECHDC for many things – but a lack of inclusion, a lack of cooperation, and a failure to listen to or incorporate the input of the public is not among them.  This is a project that is already less than halfway completed after ten years of bickering and lawsuits.  When stuff is finally allowed to happen there, it comes quick and good.

Granted, the corporation has already extended the deadline on the vote, but the $39 million plan on which it is scheduled to vote — for a parking garage and canal slips — is tethered to the abandoned Bass Pro project. What will develop on the waterfront instead is not known. The vote is premature.

A couple of weeks ago, when the canal corporation said it would give the process time, it gave the public an opportunity to advance ideas. Now, it’s time to consider the best of those ideas.

The alliance has valid concerns about such issues as what they’re calling faux canals and underground parking in an area where parking appears plentiful. The corporation is making every effort to make the canals authentic and considers parking a key piece in building infrastructure necessary to attract businesses, but why not wait until a firmer plan is in place? We want to see progress, but progress as part of vision with community support.

That’s the big lie.  It doesn’t matter whether there’s a Bass Pro or not.  Is the Buffalo News – which literally sits across the street from Canal Side – suggesting that this project for the public good needs to be halted until there’s a new and revised, comprehensive, top-down plan in effect?  What, precisely, does the Buffalo News (or anyone, for that matter), think is going to get accomplished if the MGPP vote for parking and canals is delayed an additional four weeks?

Here is a map from the MGPP document that shows the three areas under consideration.  This MGPP process is not an opportunity to impose an arbitrary halt to a lengthy process at its very conclusion.

Click to enlarge

The editorial continues:

There is no money problem. The New York State Power Authority settlement provides for $105 million of bonding capacity, and there is no risk of loss. We have the resources to produce a rich and rewarding waterfront.

The corporation wants to move forward so that construction can begin in the spring and, truth be told, you can’t please everyone in a project of this magnitude. After all, it’s been nine years of wishing on a Bass Pro star. But there should be room for compromise. That will be harder to achieve if the corporation approves this premature construction project.

Informed citizens such as Mark Goldman, a well respected businessman, have advocated for an Ohio Street corridor. It would link Canal Side to the just-completed parkway at the outer harbor via a series of pedestrian accesses that would include aesthetic improvements and parks. It’s an idea that deserves consideration.

Not every idea should be embraced — a costly community benefits agreement is one — but by delaying this vote, the entire community will have the chance to move forward in creating the beautiful waterfront everyone wants.

Calling this – one level of underground parking and the re-watering of a replica of a long-gone artificial river – premature is ridiculous.  The problem with Buffalo isn’t our bad decisions like UB to Amherst, it’s our failure to make a decision.  Don’t believe me?  Just take a look at Buffalo’s skyline from the elevated I-190 one day.  Take a look at how little it’s changed in the last 40 years, then compare it to just about any other city in the country.  We can’t just pull the trigger on decisions, because we’re so dependent on public money, we crowdsource every minuscule thing, we agonize over past mistakes (i.e., nostalgia), all of which results in no change – positive or negative.

Assuming you think Goldman’s Ohio Street corridor is a great idea – and I’m not saying it’s not – what does that have to do with building one level of underground parking and carving out some more places for water in the Canal Side area?  What does that have to do with the strict design guidelines (here and here) that have been laid out?  The bit of water just south of the Aud block is to be used for skating in winter, and a focal point of the project in general.  Moving the Hamburg Drain (or installing the filtering system) further southwest would increase the cost of the project and result in higher liability costs, and the potential prevalence of “floaters” and other lake water pollution.

I know that ECHDC invited Mark Goldman and his brother for a meeting (because I saw them depart before last Monday’s public meeting).  I also know from a source that Goldman is not willing to compromise on his no parking/no “faux canal” demands.  So, Buffalo News, who is it who needs to be cooperative and inclusive?  I was given six 2-hour opportunities to come and address the ECHDC on this project – at what point did Mark Goldman and his crew afford me a similar opportunity? (Incidentally, I have emailed Goldman with my questions about this, and never heard back).

The Buffalo News is buying into a false argument made by people who are operating without any transparency or accountability – by people who purport to speak for the community at large when, in fact, they speak only for a small subset of part of a community.

Had the Buffalo News bothered to show up for the open houses, listen to what the MGPP is about, seen the plans, listened to the people who spoke, then it might be better informed.  Instead, it basically chooses to parrot what a well-connected but tiny group of people have told it.

When it comes to the discussion over a regional treasure like Buffalo’s inner and outer harbors, and their revitalization and reconstruction, the people of this region deserve much, much better.

(Note – I spoke with Micaela Shapiro-Shellaby from the Coalition for Economic Justice at the last Canal Side open house, who informed me that the Canal Side Community Alliance is not “led” by Mark Goldman. Chris has reached out to the CCA to find out what their position is on the called-for delay).

9 Responses to “Heavier, Slower, Pricier”

  1. BobbyCat November 27, 2010 at 7:08 pm #

    I agree with the News Editorial and the delay. Why put the cart before the horse? Decide on some kind of plan then determine if parking is needed and where. Douglas Turner called the ECHDC ‘amateur hour’ because they have little if any expertise. I agree. Nine years wasted waiting for Bass Pro to come to the altar,. And now we should jump at the chance to make a parking lot? What’s the rush? This has been a failure of imagination because the Board didn’t have enough thinkers or dreamers. Better to wait for the right idea. If it didn’t pop-out in the past month, so what? Wait some more. I’ll bet some prominent architects would have some great ideas. Here are four of the world greatest discussing their ideas and projects.

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/27/arts/design/museums.html?scp=7&sq=im%20pei&st=cse

  2. PJ November 28, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    If I am understatnding this correctly one of the proposa;s on the table is is to build an underground parking ramp to fill in the “Aud hole”. If I understand the opposition they are saying don’t build it. Is that right? I am on honestly confused about why they would oppose it. If this area is supposed to be a public space that is going to attract… let me see… um… PEOPLE, they will A) need a way to get there. There is rapid transit down there but that isn’t going to be the main means of getting people there. Therefore most people are going to bring their cars unless some other plan is hatched (I don’t mean to open a whole ‘nother can of worms). If that is the case, people are going to B) need to store their vehicles somewhere. Do we really want them parking on the streets? Should we really wait until there is developement down there and then think about parking. What better than to have underground parking. Other SUCESSFUL cities do it. Much of the waterfront in the heart of Chicago is an underground garage. It is called Grant Park. I just don’t understand why this simple piece does not have the consensus support of everyone. It seems that regardless of what plan is used, ultimately the underground ramp is the one thing that must, must be built. Why can’t it move forward now? The hole is there. Somebody please explain it to me why it can’t in simple terms.

  3. Ward November 28, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    This town may not do many things better than other places, but it is absolutely without peer in bitching and obstructing.

  4. Becky November 28, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    Go hang out in the caverns beneath Main Place Mall in the middle of the day and see how safe you feel.  I’ve worked downtown for over 30 years, and even back at the beginning when I worked in the Mall itself I wouldn’t park down in the bottom 2 floors, much less now (when workers are coming and going before 9am and after say 4pm, slightly different).  

    At hockey games people would rather park anywhere but somewhere they have to pay, even $5, so what makes you think an underground ramp would be different?  Not the best use of money, in my opinion.

  5. BobbyCat November 28, 2010 at 7:44 pm #

    You could fill-in the Aud hole by erecting The Buffalo International Monument of Bad Planning and Bas-Ackwards Design Institute. The logistics are perfect – building the parking before knowing what will be needed. It is not ‘bitching’ to demand an intelligent and thoughtful plan. Just because Buffalo has an embarrassing history of bad planning doesn’t mean it must be perpetuated. Let’s do it right this time.

  6. The Point Is November 29, 2010 at 7:23 am #

    @BobbyCat…….Ditto

  7. Gabe November 29, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    Man, you sure love your parking.

  8. PJ December 1, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    Okay, screw the parking.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 2010: This Year in Fail « WNYMedia.net - December 27, 2010

    […] recommendations, and we attended the open houses. We saw the videos, and commented on them. “Lighter, Faster, Cheaper” was the mantra being thrown around, and became moot when the Erie Canal Harbor Development […]

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