Missed Marketing Opportunities

30 Nov

Buffalo is the Beirut of New York State – even hapless Governor Paterson thinks we fight too much over ever-smaller crumbs. Or perhaps Buffalo is the Palestine of New York State: to paraphrase the famous quote, we never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Exhibit A is the obvious opportunity unrealized. Professional busybodies and baby-boomer obstructionists, reliving their protesting youth by finding a new Man to rail against (read: ECHDC board), are currently impeding the Canal Side construction and have won yet another “pause” in waterfront development, the latest in a fifty year string of pauses.  The plan is already significantly behind schedule, the latest published date (now 18 months old) for life at the water being May 2011. I trust the pause seekers are vindictive enough to realize that ECHDC board member, Buffalo Sabres Managing Partner, and regular foil Larry Quinn is actually planning two events on the waterfront – one the construction at Canal Side, the other the World Junior Hockey Tournament in December and January. The irony that may be lost on the true believing obstructiontariant, however, is that while they are blunting the potential impact of a $100 million international event, they are selling their soul for their own $2.5 million preservation conference in October. How does someone walk out of a Save the Statler event, that offered a Faustian bargain simply to make the landmark look good for a week long convention, and (metaphorically) walk to a protest by a movement that has ensured a giant hole in the ground when the hockey world and international spotlight comes to Buffalo. Never let this group claim the city love high moral ground again – if boosting Buffalo was the goal, we’d have more than lame catering at 95 Perry Street for the crowds that will fill our city for five weeks. As it is, Swedes, Germans, Slovakians, Canadians and tens of thousands of others will navigate around the giant rusting concrete holes, on their way to the arena and back to Pearl Street and the hopping, expansive, dense Cobblestone District. . . of 2 bars.

Image courtesy Buffalo News

Exhibit B is more insidious, and, to me, more frustrating – the potential opportunity required imagination. Last Thursday morning I stood on Delaware Avenue surrounded by more significantly more people than attend the Darwin Martin House yearly. 12,500 people paid over thirty bucks each to run five miles in the cold and rain.

We must be on to something. Which made me wonder, why hasn’t Buffalo cornered the market on Thanksgiving?

In the 21st Century, and our increasingly mobile culture grasping for entertainment and authenticity, Thanksgiving has come to be defined by three (oft-competing) themes: Home, Partying, and Shopping. The last is obvious, ubiquitous, well planned to attract Canadians, and receives so much attention it probably doesn’t need any help. So instead let’s look at the first two.

Everyone wants to go Home on Thanksgiving, but many would probably not prefer their actual abode. Its the ideal nostalgic Home they want to travel to, not Scottsdale or Tampa Bay. Buffalo has the river and woods to go over and through, the potential for snow, the old world charm, and the ethnic background. Germany’s Christmas Markets attract tourists from all over Europe and North America – we have the legitimate immigrants, neighborhoods, history and cultural roots to pull off the same thing here. You can already get some of the best German, Polish and Eastern European food in the country here – marry it with the right space, artists, and knick knacks. And for those still seeking traditional turkey, our restaurants do a fine job Thanksgiving day. This is not a trifle to be overlooked. I was once stuck in Birmingham, Alabama on Thanksgiving, and tried to take my new wife out for a nice dinner. After driving around the city for hours, simply looking for an open restaurant, we settled at Piccadilly’s Cafeteria for cubed lunchmeat in safety yellow gravy.

The second, growing theme of Thanksgiving is the four and a half day Party. The biggest bar night of the year nationally is the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving, and it’s my bet college students and young adults would travel to a great party if they knew one was being thrown. Here Buffalo could win hand over fist, as the events are already in place, and little salesmanship is all that’s needed. We have a lot of strengths that line up in our favor if we mentally package them: a large expat population already coming up over the long weekend, 4 am bar times, party and entertainment districts, two professional sports teams, the Turkey Trot, and the World’s Largest Disco.  It’s like all the fun of Buffalo Homecoming on the weekend it already happens anyway and without the career fairs.

Imagine this weekend that was just possible in Buffalo: Sabres game versus the Pens Wednesday night, hit the bar til four, three hours sleep, then run the Turkey Trot where free beer awaits you at the finish line. Grab a good meal Thursday night, then Sabres/Maple Leafs Friday, World’s Largest Disco Saturday, and the Bills game (complete with the best tailgating in the league) on Sunday. The Sabres and Bills can work to ensure home game Thanksgiving weekend, and the other events are already traditions.  If we want to attract tourists and their outside dollars, I like the disposal income and reckless spending habits of young adults most of all. And as we have been saying at WNYMedia, we’d be happy if Buffalo was known nationally as just a fun place to be. Why go home to your boring parent’s house – Thanksgiving is the new spring break, and Buffalo has the new Mardi Gras. It starts with expat college kids bringing their friends, and it grows from there.  

Buffalo needs to sell itself on Thanksgiving a la another commandeered holiday. Everyone’s Irish on St. Patty’s Day, and in Buffalo, everyone is Home on Thanksgiving.

24 Responses to “Missed Marketing Opportunities”

  1. BobbyCat November 30, 2010 at 9:01 am #

    “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it”, said Santayana. When I was 18 I thought it knew it all, but each succeeding year I discovered that I knew less and less about the world. In other words, the older I got , the more I discovered how little I knew.

    Bloggers on WNYMedia seem to think that institutional knowledge is worthless. Babyboomers are demonized as ‘obstructionist’ or ‘hippies’. Their motives are questioned. I’m a baby boomer and I’m not trying to obstruct anything. I’m urging the Canal Board not to repeat the planning blunders of the past. Don’t settle for another ‘average’ project. Aim high. Have the courage to demand greatness.

    The problem in Buffalo NY is that we routinely accept ‘average’ as normal. We don’t demand greatness. We accept average or below average leaders who give us below average ideas and below average blue ribbon panels. There is a reason that this area has produced bad planning. Don’t build something just to get something done. Don’t build another old bridge, build a great bridge; Don’t build another retail Canal strip, build something thoughtful and great.

    But there is a catch. Public input is fine as far as it goes. But it’s an egalitarian myth to expect great ideas to flow from the populace. Great ideas usually flow from great, expansive, imaginative minds. The greatest buildings in the world are designed, not by your mailman or barber, but by the most celebrated architects in the world. If you want a great Canal Side project look for great ideas from great minds. And be patient. Don’t expect that great idea to float to the surface like cream. Sometimes you have to dig for it.
    And often, you need to pay for it.

    George Will said “Men [and women] of good will, can and do disagree”.

    There are no bogymen in this Canal debate. There’s no need for name-calling, be it ‘

  2. RaChaCha November 30, 2010 at 9:49 am #

    I like your point about the Christmas markets — if we did something like that, kicking off on Thanksgiving weekend, it could be big. And we have nowhere else to go but up in this regard. All day Saturday (from 6AM) I visited every market I could find that was open (farmers’ markets, indie market, etc.) and was absolutely underwhelmed by the turnout. In fact, the only thing that kept it from being a total bummer was that my delightful girlfriend from RaChaCha was along — the sparse crowds meant we got the VIP treatment wherever we went (like the first ride in the horsedrawn carriage that brought Santa to the Broadway Market).

  3. Brian Castner November 30, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    @ BobbyCat – If such pablum is so enlightenting to you, here is another quote: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Here’s another: “Shit or get off the pot.” “Average” is “normal,” by definition. We could plan this thing to death, and are, by constantly digging for your hidden cream. I’m ready to put a shovel in the ground and make something better than what’s there.

  4. AL November 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    Fortunately for us, Grand Island doesn’t get a say.

  5. Brian Castner November 30, 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    Why not, Answer Lady? There is not a dime of “Buffalo” money in the game. Its New York State and NYPA $$$, and as far as I know, we all pay into that. But thanks for continuing the misinformation campaign and personifying every urb vs suburb tribalism stereotype.

  6. AL November 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

    As a “Rockefeller Republican” you as well as anyone know that property rules. The is City of Buffalo property and Buffalo will get the predominant say in what happens there. Maybe we could look at what Grand Island has done to its waterfront for some ideas on what not to do.

    Do you ever get tired of being such a weenie?

    • Alan Bedenko November 30, 2010 at 2:44 pm #

      I think Beaver Island State Park is quite nice, and I also think that enabling people to build homes along the south and east shores of Grand Island, and for there to be mostly parkland along the west side of Grand Island, are all good ideas for a waterfront island suburb.

      But the ECHDC owns the Canal Side property, and it is a construct of the state, to which we all contribute. The properties down there will doubtfully pay any sort of property taxes to the city or state, instead most likely obtaining some form of PILOT. The only tax revenue the city will see will be from its share of sales tax revenues.

      In any event, I like the idea of Thanksgiving as a Buffalo mardi gras, but like the Christkindlmarkt idea even more. Seriously, we talk so much about what ya oughta do, but how hard could it be to basically hold a weekly Christmas-themed food & tchotchke market, perhaps at Canal Side, perhaps at Niagara Square, perhaps along Main Street or something. I realize that this would involve loads of planning and probably untold reams of red tape, but it’s something that really ought to happen. Also, it’s done constantly in cold-weather climates.

  7. STEEL November 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    What about the plan they are proceeding with now? Is there something wrong with it?

    • Christopher Smith November 30, 2010 at 2:36 pm #

      There is nothing materially different with this plan from the original plan. The garage will still be built, two concrete blocks were pulled out of the canals, and the space that the tent will go on was already designated as a public market. Jordan Levy was very crafty and allowed everyone to walk out of the room thinking they won.

  8. Brian Castner November 30, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    @ STEEL: The only problem I have with the current plan is the delayed timeline. I think the new plan is great. I think the old plan was pretty good too. The one with Bass Pro as well. And the one from 2004. Maybe the plan that comes from the subcomittees will be even better. Is our goal to have a perfect plan or a good realized product? Eventually, you have to put a shovel in the ground. I think you know that as an architect as well as anyone.

    @ AL: I was just called a weenie by someone who refers to herself as The Answer Lady.

    I’m not even sure where to start – the lazy name calling or incorrect facts? First, the City of Buffalo owns a small portion of the land. A majority is owned by New York State Authorities, and as a thinking person, I know that the property owner has control and “predominant say”, not the jurisdiction it lies within. So, it is NY state land and NY state money. Ergo, we all get a say.

    Second, I live on Grand Island, but do not own, and did not design, any of its river front. Therefore, I take no responisbility for whether it is good or bad. That being said, it seems if we must compare, that few places in the world have a worse designed waterfront than Buffalo, and the obstructiontariat is seeking a waterfront more like Grand Island’s (lots of public land and access, swimming beaches, boardwalks, bike paths, public performance space, state parks, cleaned up water and soil).

  9. Brian Castner November 30, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    Thanks, Alan, for commenting on the meat of my article. I was hoping to have a talk about marketing today.

    The attraction for me of the Christmas Market is that 1) its already successful in countries that shipped us lots of immigrants, and 2) those countries are cold. The Broadway Market is trying to build its Christmas business. Elmwood-Bidwell is trying to stick it out longer, as RaChaCha mentions. But I think the Powder Keg Festival last year proves people will go outside in the cold. Magical outdoor Christmas Market in a town square would be pretty popular, IMHO. If I was Newell Nussbaumer for a day, I’d organize it myself. But I am not. Maybe he’ll read this. Please comment away BRO-ers.

  10. AL November 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

    But there nothing to do there, isn’t that the usual cry? I seem to remember a lot of nastly blogging going on when the Common Council asserted its claim to the 13 acres in the heart of the area and demanded a community benefits agreement.

    Its absolutely wonderful to see Buffalo’s progressive community get a foot in the door. The plan looks better for it already.

    • Alan Bedenko November 30, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

      Grand Island has exactly one more amusement parks than Buffalo, and is otherwise a bedroom community. Buffalo is the city around which all of these other communities, and there isn’t a damn thing to do on its Main Street or on its waterfront on most given days. It’s apples and oranges.

      Also, the progressive community didn’t get a foot in any door with respect to Canal Side. It only thinks it did. The plan has not changed as dramatically as you think.

  11. Al November 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm #

    Then there was a lot more nastly blogging when Buffalo/Common Council refused to hand the land over to Jordan or HSBC would leave like yesterday. Whatever happened to that?

    You guys are expending a lot of effort trying to convince yourselves that nothing changed. The “plan” might not have changed much, although without the big box anchor plan it looks like it has changed significantly, but the balance of power certainly has.

    Instead of hippie punching, why don’t you guys do something useful for a change, like asking why the ECHDC still is existence? It was only created to bring in Bass Pro. Isn’t that a big enough FAIL to get you going?

    • Alan Bedenko November 30, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

      My understanding is that HSBC staying-in-Buffalo negotiations are ongoing.

      There was no big box plan on Monday, nor is there one today. So, I fail to see what the big deal is. They just said they’re going to wait to do the parking.

      The ECHDC exists as a public corporation to help wrangle the cats necessary to put together a comprehensive, unified waterfront plan for downtown Buffalo. It is well-funded by NYPA to do so, and no one misses Bass Pro.

  12. Brian Castner November 30, 2010 at 5:03 pm #

    @ Alan – Shhhhh. Let the “Progressives Against Progress” think they won a round. It’ll make them less likely to sue to stop it later.

  13. BobbyCat November 30, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    Jordan Levy admitted that his Board failed to create public excitement. We’ll see.

    I remember lots and lots of failed plans, from the stadium in OP to the Campus in an Amherst swamp. (Everyone were afraid that the rioting negros (sic) would burn down the Main Street campus, so the new campus must flee the City) and the subway to nowhere that bankrupted most of Main Street, which never recovered, to the new Convention Center that had no street face and no character. We recently heard that we can’t build a fabulous looking Peach Bridge. Again, we’ll settle for average. Each time, the failures were predicted yet each time the warnings were ignored. I think Buffalonians are programed to declare victory and cheer when some pedestrian project is started or completed. We settle for average. Or failure. This ECHDC Board failed in its mission. But we’re afraid to admit to failure. Not yet. It’s too early. Besides, These are nice people and we wouldn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, or reputation.

    But I’d show up at the ribbon cutting. I’ll take a look at the Canal and maybe skip a stone, browse around and take a picture. Now tell me why I should come back.

  14. The Answer Lady November 30, 2010 at 5:41 pm #

    Well pundit – at least you and “The Tielman “, “Tony Goldman”, the old white people, toddlers, hippie obstructionists, baby boomer obstructionists, extremists like libertarians and pro-Union, living wage activists agree, it supposed to be a plan FOR Buffalo.

    The EDHDC IS Bass Pro. Its also convention centers, basketball stadiums, dome amusement parks, high rise condo, hotels of course hotels and virtually no pubic access on the outer harbor. None of which are ever going to happen. Now that’s the definition of Fail-a-palooza if I ever head one. The ECHDC needs to be dis-incorporated or filled with new members, starting with Quinn and Jordan.

    • Christopher Smith December 1, 2010 at 1:58 am #

      I’m glad that The Answer Lady is reasonable and open to debate on issues regarding the ECHDC.

  15. peteherr December 1, 2010 at 7:19 am #

    Brian – Love the idea of a Thanksgiving Weekend Bash. And the Christmas Market is a cool idea too. Hell, it works in Bryant Park and in neighborhoods all over Manhattan. Just saw a tented shopping village being installed in a church yard when I was there the weekend before Thanksgiving. Turn one of the canals into a skating attraction and put the little heated huts in around it, like at Bryant Park. Very nice idea. If we started now, and designed historically correct heated huts and made sure it was a real faux canal instead of a faux faux canal, and arranged for everyone to park at UB and ride the faux train downtown we could open in 2018.

  16. Brian Castner December 1, 2010 at 7:41 am #

    “If we started now, and designed historically correct heated huts and made sure it was a real faux canal instead of a faux faux canal, and arranged for everyone to park at UB and ride the faux train downtown we could open in 2018.”
    Good to see Pete that you are getting into the proper spirit of this thing.

  17. peteherr December 1, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    Brian, politically we don’t agree on many things (read: anything) but we agree on this. At some point the planning has to end and the progress has to begin. Quite honestly, I don’t care if the canals are fake. It would be nice if they were navigable for small craft. I care that the whole place is fun to go to. I say lets ask Disney for an RFP on developing the whole area. I would love a historic feel, I like the idea of water in canals that can be turned to skating, but first and foremost I want things to do year round, and I want it to be convenient, meaning that I can drive down, park my car, and then do the rest of the stuff. There is nice waterfront views down there now. The last phase was nice with the boardwalk area next to the Naval Park. It would be great to have a public bandshelly thing….and dare I utter the blasphemy….we have a company here in Buffalo that manufactures the very asthetically pleasing, modern looking, canvas outdoor structures….let’s hire them and mix historically accurate with modern and good looking. Lots of successful waterfronts/cities are built around that mix, because mixing new and modern with old and revitalized appeals to lots of people, not just people who like old stuff.

  18. peteherr December 1, 2010 at 10:36 am #

    BTW, just kidding about not agreeing on anything. I agree with you on lots.

  19. Gabe December 3, 2010 at 11:53 am #

    Seneca huts and longhouses for a real, historic, authentic waterfront village…now there’s an idea! We could definitely implement that way under-budget. I’m sure Buffalo ReUse could supply most of the necessary materials.

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