Canal Side: Please Read the MGPP

29 Nov

On Saturday, a group of very cold people gathered at Canal Side to protest things.

Among them, a demand that the “lighter, quicker, cheaper” waterfront plan include an artificial corridor down Ohio Street for artists and artisans, culminating in light shows and murals on the grain elevators down near the cement plants and General Mills facility, as well as the rewatering of more of the Erie Canal so as to make it navigable thus requiring moving the Hamburg Drain at a cost estimated to be a few hundred million dollars.  All for what?  So that there might be something nice at the waterfront.

It’s quite evident that the “lighter, quicker, cheaper” mantra is simply Newspeak, and that the vast majority of the people complaining haven’t read, and don’t know what is covered by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation’s Modified General Project Plan.

Humorously, and perhaps ironically, a similar protest held Saturday had to end early.  As an organizer wrote in an email, “To those that came down after it ended early, we apologize. It was just a tad on the chilly side.”

Maybe if there was something built on the water so as to block out the vicious winds off Lake Erie… but I digress.  At this point, the protesters cite their desire for a nice mixed-use area to grow out of Canal Side.  Interesting, since the MGPP says,

The following specific components of this MGPP will be constructed in Phase 1 of the development by ECHDC with reference to the parcel numbers provided in Exhibit A. Prior to construction of anticipated future phases of the Project as referenced below, the Corporation will amend this MGPP as may be needed to reflect such proposed developments.

Aud Block Parking Structure

On the Aud Block (Parcel A1), bounded by Lower Terrace, Pearl Street, Main Street, and Marine Drive, ECHDC will initially construct an underground one-level, approximately 177 space parking structure, that will be constructed in a manner that will allow for vertical expansion at a later date to increase capacity to accommodate additional cars and/or to support future developments to be located directly above.

Street-level Canal System

Public canal features will be constructed by ECHDC on the Aud and Donovan Blocks. On the Aud Block will be street-level water features interpreting the alignment of the Erie Canal and Commercial Slip, which once crossed the Aud Block. The water features will be constructed to avoid impacting operation and maintenance of the Hamburg Drain.

The street-level canal system west of Main Street will consist of narrow water bodies that will emulate the original Erie Canal system. Several “barges” will be “anchored” in the canals. ECHDC consulted with the Buffalo Maritime Center on the design and historical accuracy of the anchored barges. Anticipated summertime uses will include paddle boats and/or row boats for rent. During winter months, the water features will be drained out and ice skating rinks will be set up lining the Canal. Water depth for the canals will range from 18 inches to three feet. Finishes will be dark to enhance the appearance of depth and provide greater reflectivity at the water surface.

South of the remodeled Donovan Building will be a “dry” canal bed, interpreting the former Hamburg Canal serving as the focal point of the Entertainment District, where waterfront restaurants and nightlife will be located. This section will evoke the feeling of an old canal where the water was drained out and barges settled to the bottom. It is anticipated that the dry canal will be designed as a sustainable garden and beach environment. Surrounding the East Canal on this block will be wide boardwalks for pedestrian and commercial use.

That’s all that’s being discussed right now in this MGPP: one level of underground parking for the benefit of whatever ends up at Canal Side, and  a recreational waterway that tracks the path of the old Erie Canal, which has since been replaced in utility by the Hamburg Drain, which is the fourth largest sewer outflow in the City and is activated every few days. Urbanists tend to prefer underground parking over garages or surface lots, so this is a good thing.  To reconfigure the drain to enable the waterways in question to be navigable would cost millions, and ultimately it would be “navigable” to exactly nowhere.

This seems more and more to be the protestations of people who are either (a) protesting for protesting’s sake; and/or (b) largely uninformed about what’s involved in the MGPP.

Even more devastating to the entire process, the paper of record – which sits just across the street from Canal Side – is taking the side of Mark Goldman and his supporters.

Like I said before, Buffalo doesn’t suffer from bad development decisions as much as it suffers from a complete absence of development decisions.

9 Responses to “Canal Side: Please Read the MGPP”

  1. BobbyCat November 29, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    A few suggestions:

    If you want to stimulate interest in this (or any project) skip the techno-speak, can the jargon, don’t speak in code-words, forget the acronyms and cryptic abbreviations. Your headline speaks volumes: “Please Read the MGPP”. Not one Buffalonian in 1000 knows what that means. Instead you could say: “Please Read the Canal Side Plan”. Canal Side and the Obama Medical Plan have something in common: Nobody understood what was in them. Throw the tech-talk out the window and use simple English. Your audience may or may not agree with you but at least they will understand what you are saying.

    The Canal Side Plan – The Erie County Canal Side Development Corporation Modified General Project Plan (if you must) , hereafter called the “Plan”, reads like a Greek Novel. It’s great reading for the handful of planners and other technocrats who love to delve into that kind of obtuse reading but for the rest of us, its dryer than a popcorn fart. If the Harbor Boards wants to inject some excitement into Canal Side, then they must write something readable, interesting and engaging. Better yet, a professionally produced video could generate some excitement on YouTube.

    The Plan itself is long on parking details and short on everything else. Fake canals, 3 feet deep, that convert into skating rinks; An emptied (de-watered) canal with sunken barges that acts as a “sustainable garden” (?) and a “beach environment” (?) will be the focal point of the entertainment district. WTF does that mean?

    Do the people of Buffalo understand that this new Canal Side project will be built under the existing Skyway and calls the area underneath the Skyway as the “Skyway Plaza” that will be used for “seasonable events, artistic expression and seasonal retail kiosks”.
    Would you want to shop at kiosks under the Skyway?

    For god’s sake, tear-down the freakin Skyway, don’t plan around it.

    I won’t continue. The Governor should appoint a new Board with seasoned planners and creative thinkers. Start from scratch. I don’t see much in that Plan worth saving. Put a hold on all the parking infrastructure that serves only the Buffalo Sabres, HSBC and some others.

    On second thought, perhaps we could leave the Skyway intact, as another giant monument to bad planning.

    • Alan Bedenko November 29, 2010 at 11:35 am #

      @BobbyCat: You are impossible to please. I have deliberately written posts over the last few days where I go out of my way to type out acronyms that any informed reader of the blog would either already know, or readily be able to Google. ECHDC, MGPP, et cetera – I’ve spelled them all out. My most recent post before this one went into great detail about the MGPP and what it entails. I write a headline because the post needs a headline – not to “stimulate interest”. And incidentally, wouldn’t you agree that your interest was stimulated given your lengthy comment, which you presumably wrote after reading the post? So it would appear to me as if your point is thusly mooted.

      Furthermore, you suggest that I should have titled this post “Please Read the Canal Side Plan”. No, it should not have been titled that. The reason why is that the MGPP is only one small, specific portion of the Canal Side Plan. It deals specifically with the allegedly “faux” canals and placing 177 parking spots underground for future use. It is the MGPP about which Goldman and his crew are complaining. It is the MGPP that is up for a vote before the ECHDC board today at 2pm. Not the “Canal Side Plan” – not in its entirety.

      So, it’s not “tech talk” or “techno-speak”, it’s an acronym that I’ve spelled out several times and has been the subject of two weeks’ worth of my posts and Tweets. I also link to the thing in the body of my post, so it’s there for you to read.

      Your comment proceeds under the assumption that the MGPP represents the entire plan. It doesn’t read “like a Greek novel”, but like a technical document outlining a prospective construction project. Perhaps it’s “dryer than a popcorn fart”, but reading it helps you be informed about what’s being discussed. The ECHDC isn’t trying to “inject some excitement”, it’s trying to move its project forward in a legal manner.

      The Plan itself is long on parking details and short on everything else. Fake canals, 3 feet deep, that convert into skating rinks; An emptied (de-watered) canal with sunken barges that acts as a “sustainable garden” (?) and a “beach environment” (?) will be the focal point of the entertainment district. WTF does that mean?

      “Fake canals”? By definition, canals are fake – fake rivers. The ones at issue here cannot be rendered “real” because they were filled in long ago, replaced by a very large storm outflow drain. They are gone. They’ve been “de-watered” for what, 100 years? So, the ECHDC proposes to “re-water” them up to 3 feet with clean water that doesn’t reek of feces and garbage, suitable for people walking its perimeter and for skaters. We could, of course, move the Hamburg Drain at tremendous excavation & construction cost and then re-water a “navigable” re-creation of the Erie Canal, which would end abruptly at Washington Street. The cost of money and time is prohibitive – wasteful of time and money. Hardly “quicker”, “lighter”, or “cheaper”. A sustainable garden is self-defining, and a “beach environment” would mean people having a nice area to sun themselves in nice weather. Being the focal point of an entertainment district is also self-defining. It means “WTF” it says it means.

      The Skyway isn’t going anywhere, so to plan around its supposed, remote demolition is the foolish course of action. Plan for what you’ve got – not what you wish to have. If someday we get rid of the Skyway, great. If not, let’s make the most of it. People in London shop kiosks under the Westway on Portobello Road every week.

      The parking infrastructure is badly needed if for no other reason than to accommodate the elderly and infirm. It’s 177 spots, for God’s sake.

  2. Brian Castner November 29, 2010 at 10:59 am #

    When some people retire, they take up golf. Others take up travel. Obviously a sizable portion of the Baby Boomer crowd has taken up protesting, as in their youth. Obamacare, Tea Parties, and in our little corner of the world, Canal Side. Mark Goldman must be revelling in his turn as Abbie Hoffman. Vietnam! Medicare! Faux canals! Technocrats!

  3. Jesse November 29, 2010 at 11:10 am #

    Bobbycat, trying to pull in removal of the skyway just adds a whole bunch of stupid to your argument.

    Exactly WHY THE HELL NOT shop under the skyway? Seems like mixed use to me: shopping + transportation!

    The canals are going to be fake NO MATTER WHAT gets built. The one that’s there now, while beautiful, is essentially fake – it goes nowhere, it does nothing but sit there collecting driftwood.

    The MGPP is a fine plan. Shove the whiners out of the way and make shit happen. All you obstructionists love the old tymey stuff (so do I) but you know you’d have protested the shit out of Buffalo’s history: there’s NO WAY you’d have ‘allowed’ steel mills to be built, the old canal district to exist, or even the Pan-Am Expo to actually happen.

  4. BobbyCat November 29, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    If Buffalo builds something under the Skyway, then the Skyway will never come down. It becomes a self-sustaining prophecy/eyesore. We don’t need more backwards planning.

    Let’s try my logic. First, raise the Skyway and replace it – with a link between inner and outer harbors. Then build whatever suits your fancy. Parking needs will flow from whatever plan is adopted. Right now spending millions on parking for Larry Quinn and the Sabres is a bad idea, not to mention a huge conflict.

    The Plan is a legal framework, true. And you would agree that it does not spark public interest. Maybe its time to reach out to the public – not with legal jargon, but with some simple questions and answers, like ” Do you want to build something under the Skyway or should we knock it down and replace it with something that connects the inner and outer harbors?” Saying that the Skyway can’t come down and won’t come down is the kind of can’t-do thinking that has kept Buffalo stuck in the past. If a second stimulus plan come out of Washington, do we have a “shovel-ready plan” to replace the Skyway? We should.

    As to techno-speak and foggy writing, do as you will. Writing 101 deals with that subject definitively. If I still have my old textbook I could loan it to you.

  5. JohnnyWalker November 29, 2010 at 3:23 pm #

    Forget the ‘second stimulus plan’ out of Washington.

  6. pirate's code November 29, 2010 at 4:19 pm #

    So, bobbycat, you’re suggesting that a plan that has been developed, vetted, argued about, hashed around, twisted, disassembled and reassembled should be put on hold in the hope that…maybe, someday…Washington will shit out some money to tear down a highway for which a replacement has not yet been planned?  I’m not sure that’s progress.

  7. BobbyCat November 29, 2010 at 8:50 pm #

    I am saying that this Canal Side project is following an all too familiar trajectory – the failure of planning. It failed because its not an inventive idea. It’s not inventive because the Board is not qualified to plan such things. They depended on the expertise of Benderson which is builds retail. This entire area looks like a Benderson model. The same plazas exist every few miles. It’s crushingly boring. The Board lacks imagination in spades. And even though nobody seems to be excited about Canal Side, the Board will build something – a parking facility – so not to be accused of failing to do anything. But after 9 years, nothing much has been done. That is failure by any measure. But no one is big enough to admit it and therefore no one resigns.

    I trust that the incoming Governor will shake things up. And this Board wants to get something started so they can’t be turned back. When the public reaches critical mass – and understands that their money is being used to build parking for the Buffalo Sabres and HSBC, IMHO, they will demand changes, resignations, maybe an investigation.

    There is a reason that the Plan is not well publicized. It’s lousy. Its more bad planning.


  1. 2010: This Year in Fail « - December 28, 2010

    […] 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 Corporation called […]

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