The Sausage-Making of a City’s Remaking

26 Oct

Do you think Mark Sommer even waited for the conference to happen to declare it a success? Or did he write the article weeks ago and just held off on plugging in quotes?

I tease, but only a little. By all accounts, pre-ordained or not, last week’s National Preservation Conference here in Buffalo was a great event that met its key objective: impress lovers of architecture who are in a position to influence other lovers of architecture. This makes me genuinely happy. I have heard about this conference nearly continuously since I moved back a couple years ago, and I hope it was everything its organizers wanted it to be.

But our community’s collective multi-year focus on the economic potential and saving grace of one conference still unsettles me. I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with Colin Dabkowski, the outspoken arts columnist at the Buffalo News. Dabkowski and I rarely see eye to eye – ten days ago he did all but declare the future of the local arts scene contingent upon this November’s County Executive race. (If our culturals are truly in existential jeopardy from a $500K cut and change in funding priority, then they can’t be near as robust as we’re led to believe. And while we’re at it, why only bash the county when the city is running a surplus too and has zero arts funding mechanism? But I digress.)

And yet, despite these past differences, Dabkowski hits the nail on the head in his latest column in this Sunday’s paper. Venting a bit of frustration that the current arts scene “floated under the radar” among conference attendees, he notes that without “Buffalo’s active culture” (emphasis his), then “our storied edifices would serve merely as pretty headstones.” Or to put it another way, we should invest “not only in what makes our city look good, but in what makes it breathe.”

Image courtesy bestsoylatte.blogspot.com

Dabkowski is an advocate for the arts, so he is standing up for the theaters, small galleries, and indie performers. But any active current culture could substitute – sports, business, entrepreneurial, outdoor, foodie – and his point would remain. I have argued for a while that what happens inside the buildings is at least as important as the buildings themselves, and it’s this matter of emphasis, brick vs blood, that has lain as a subtext of many Buffalo debates the last ten years.

Ironically, some architecture buffs agree – the pulled out, bolded quote from Sommer’s piece was from conference attendee Denis Superczynski, city planner from Frederick, Maryland: “I’ve lived in a lot of cities in the United States, and Buffalo is a special place. And it’s because of the people.” A throw away compliment is nice, but this wasn’t the National Trust for Special People coming to visit, and the Buffalo boosters aren’t selling cultural tourists on the opportunity to see a bunch of nice folks. The point is the pretty edifices, and Dabkowski is right to note that we should focus on what being is created here now, not just what is left for us as a legacy to enjoy. 

Dabkowski has an uphill battle, however, as do all not firmly (solely?) on the architecture bandwagon. In Sommer’s article, conference attendees noted that cab drivers and wait staff at local restaurants gave impromptu tours and history lessons. When did we become such an architecture-phile city that such a thing is possible? In stereotypical New York and LA, every waiter and waitress is an out of work actor looking for their next big break. Is Buffalo now a city of cornice buffs, where our equivalents are docents in waiting?

City’s have distinctive flavors and cultures, even our over-homogenized America, and I find watching Buffalo transform itself an endlessly fascinating exercise. It’s messy, it’s argumentative, and the process is without rules, standards or easily identifiable goal posts; perhaps a reason this conference, as a distinct measurable event, drew so much interest. How do you remake a city? Who gets to decide what a city becomes? Pittsburgh is regularly lauded for transforming from a steel town into the first Eds & Meds Rust Belt success. Who got to decide Pittsburgh was throwing in with its hospitals and universities, and not another industry? Who sets the agenda?

Image courtesy kitchenproject.com

Buffalo certainly used to be a hard working manufacturing mecca, and we still do make a lot of stuff.  But white collar jobs have out numbered blue collar ones around here for quite a while, and that self-image is hard to shake. As we wallow in past identities, former glories, and a wishy washy future, how did architecture stick all the way down to our cab drivers? There have been other efforts, other successes, that could have captured our imaginations. Dabkowski wants Buffalo to be known as a Rust Belt-chic funky arts town. We have our own constantly under-appreciated Eds & Meds effort, one that has generated far more economic development than architectural tourism, but is largely overlooked in plain sight. Newell Nussbaumer has tried to get the College Town label to stick on Buffalo, but some student housing ventures failed to take off, his estudentnetwork.com site morphed into Navigetter, and no matter how correct the statistics (70K+ total students), unfortunately the vibe never resonated.

A place as large as New York City can afford to claim a number of identities: cultural capital, Wall Street, immigrant melting pot of opportunity. A provincial city like Buffalo doesn’t have the resources to invest in a number of images. There is a finite supply of capital, our best and brightest only have so many hours in a day, and our collective imaginations have a short attenti0n span. If Architectural Queen is what we’re going with, there won’t be lot of room for other nuances. If tourists are going to come see our crumbling castles (read: grain elevators), then it’s good our cab drivers have been studying up.

Ultimately, given a certain level of economic freedom to be mobile, each individual needs to decide what kind of city they want to live in. Buffalo is becoming an architectural destination. Renovations and restorations are going to (have been, continue to) divert political and economic oxygen from other projects and initiatives. No matter the personal reality you create – your family, your house, your job, mite hockey games on the weekends and a show at Shea’s when “Wicked” comes to town – the public discourse in the Third Room is increasingly about architecture. If an entrepreneurial spirit and access to venture capital is most important to you, I am sorry to say Buffalo is not trying to transform into Silicon Valley. I wish we had a broader outdoor culture, we are making real important gains, and I try to do my small part to encourage it, but Buffalo’s isn’t becoming Boulder or Santa Fe any time soon. If you love progressive politics and electoral reform, may I introduce you to Seattle. The bike rack bound for Portland is on your left.

Buffalo is morphing before our eyes, and while the messy sausage making in the middle is not complete, it is becoming clear to me that our community is on board with the final destination.

57 Responses to “The Sausage-Making of a City’s Remaking”

  1. Derek J. Punaro October 26, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    Good post, and more eloquently written than my own. I’m not convinced however that everyone is on board with Buffalo being an architectural destination. We certainly have the bones to be, but the broader heritage moniker is better encompassing, because it appeals to more than just building buffs. Sure, Forest Lawn has a [posthumously built] Frank Lloyd Wright mausoleum, but there are a ton of far more important historical artifacts there. Yes, we have the definitive H.H. Richardson work, but putting something in it that can generate revenue will be the real accomplishment. I got the distinct feeling that the “preservation” movement is [finally?] morphing to the historic rehabilitation and adaptive reuse movement, which should give people less of a reason to complain that all preservation is obstructionism.

    A successful preservation movement doesn’t have to result in a Mumford-like time capsule. It should look more like this: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3481/5765963663_11ee6e4480.jpg

  2. Jesse October 26, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    Pretty insightful, Brian.  I wonder if “Buffalo is becoming an architectural destination” will have anywhere near enough economic benefit to support a region.  I doubt it personally – like you say it’s the folks inside that make any difference.  I’d rather focus on Torbuffchester.

  3. Mark October 26, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    Unfortunately we have been churning out visual duds since our economic peak. A lot of that is $$ but a lot of it is also the obsessions with our history. Most of the same people who obsess over our FLW and Sullivan gems don’t realize that those things were way ahead of their time and easily offensive in either aesthetic or scale to whatever preservationists existed back then. We’ve had 100 years to normalize and then idolize these structures. Now we settle for forms of cheap postmodernism that never escaped the mid 90s in more progressive regions.

    Calling out shitty and lazy contemporary design in Buffalo (not just architecture but all design) gets responded to as if you’re an asshole but if having standards for contemporary visual culture is being an asshole then maybe that’s why Buffalo has such friendly folk. Hopefully the creative incubators on the 500 block form a new design culture that rejects local norms instead of becoming a “yay Buffalo!” circle jerk.

  4. STEEL October 26, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    First: The key objective of this conference was NOT to impress lovers of architecture who are in a position to influence other lovers of architecture.

    The key objective was to present the latest thinking and on the ground activity in architectural preservation today. This was a professional conference made up of professionals in the field. They were not tourists coming to look at old buildings though that is one of the things they did do. The conference was held in Buffalo because Buffalo is emerging as one of the leaders in the preservation effort. It is a place where hands on preservation at multiple levels can be seen and experienced in person including the successes and the huge challenges at hand. To that extent the conference used the city as a laboratory of study the tools and results of preservation first hand.

    Second: Preservation is not simply about saving pretty things to look at. It is about saving and using valuable and pretty things that can enrich the lives of people who live and work in a city. They are the kinds of things that are proven to make a place more livable and enriching. Preservation in Buffalo is important because it has things to preserve and these things just happen to also be powerful economic resources. You seem to have this odd idea that buildings are renovated and then nothing is done with them. As if they are just placed into a museum for visitors to look at. Where does that warped idea come from?

    As part of the conference I took a multi-stop tour through Allentown where we looked at buildings saved from the very brink of demolition. All had been empty and abandoned for many years before being saved. All were now active attractive elements of the city. Loss of any one of them would have been a major negative to the livability of the city. On the tour I met proud developers talking about what it took to pull off the project. I met the County Executive showing his restored building with pride – a building that he would have just a well torn down a few years earlier. It now houses highly paid scientists.

    On the tour I met a young couple meticulously restoring their home – they eat and shop in local stores and their efforts add to a street filling up with renovated houses filled with like minded people. We stopped at the Theater of Youth on Allen Street. The theater is a magnificent and rare institution providing theater to children. Few cities have anything like it. The theater directors described the arduous 13 year effort to fund the restoration of the beautiful theater and the delight they get seeing a street full of kids entering its front doors. We stopped at Buffalo’s oldest house where its resident allowed a bus load of strangers wander through every room because she new just how special the place was and did not feel it her right to keep it all to herself. In not one of these cases or many other similar could you make a case for a parking lot being better in their place and it has nothing to do with attracting visitors to ogle at historic artifacts. Buffalo can no longer afford to recklessly ignore the importance of these historic buildings to its successful future.

    There, you got a sneak preview of a near future BRO story.

  5. Brian Castner October 26, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    @ Derak – In reference to the tourism angle, I used the terms “heritage” and “architecture” interchangably. Perhaps I shouldn’t, and I know the promoters of each would wrangle over it, but I don’t know how different the potential markets are – I bet they largely overlap.

    @ Jesse – That’s the million dollar question – how much of an impact will it have? I could dive into the pro’s/con’s there, but then I remember my last article about how I hate that economics has won, and I think “its just nice to live in a place with all that stuff – is that enough?” If Buffalo put an much effort into being bike friendly as we have to being an architectural destination, we’d have hundreds of miles of path by now. Its the opportunity cost that’s the biggest, I think.

    @ Mark – can you give (using your own humnble opinion, of course) the best example of new good/bad design the last 20 years here? Is the new fed courthouse as much of a dud to experts as it feels like to me? Is the Avant as wonderful as the awards would indicate? As you note, I hear lots of lauding of old styles, but little more than puff pieces on anything new. Just curious.

  6. RaChaCha October 26, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    Good points — I liked Colin’s article, as well. I have always felt that people + buildings preservation is the biggest win. Serendipitously, I have an article on Buffalo Rising today about a project that’s an intersection of the arts, creative people, and old buildings:
    http://www.buffalorising.com/2011/10/a-leap-of-art-in-the-500-block.html

  7. Brian Castner October 26, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    @ STEEL:
    To your first) I can’t begin the count the number of places, in all media and from the mouths of the organizers, where this conference was sold as a chance to show off Buffalo so everyone tells their friends and they come back. Quoting from Mark Sommer’s wrap up story I linked to:

    More than 2,500 highly educated “opinion makers” arrived for Wednesday’s opening of the National Preservation Conference, and left this weekend as newly minted ambassadors for Buffalo Niagara’s glorious past and its revitalization.

    And:

    “If this was an audition, Buffalo now has a starring role,” said Valecia Crisafulli, the Trust’s vice president of partnerships.

    I think my characterization is right on.

    To your second) As I said in the piece, its a matter of emphasis. Where are we spending our time and resources? Its not that preserved buildings sit empty. Its that we pay more attention to the building than the contents. More, not an absolute all or none. Great deeds can happen in preserved buildings – that’s the optimum, clearly. Great deeds can happen in shitty buildings. Piddly minor things can happen in preserved buildings. In my opinion, our best and brightest spend more time on the buildings than the great deeds – its a collective choice of emphasis we’ve made.

  8. Derek J. Punaro October 26, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    I this conference, unlike other “professional” conferences, is that it does appeal to a tourist crowd as well as a professional crowd. There are so many activities that if all you want to do is go to the opening plenary and parties and spend the rest of the time just touring the host city, that’s entirely possible. But, the tourists certainly wouldn’t have been sitting in some of the sessions I attended because they’re for those working in the field. A lot of architects attend the conference because they can get AIA credits for attending. Most of the people I met, even those on the tours, had some connection to a preservation organization of some type. Most of the tourists I met were there travelling with their spouse who was the professional.

  9. STEEL October 26, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

    Brian – Again the key objective of this conference was not to show off Buffalo. That Buffalo was shown off as a consequences is a great benefit. The KEY objective of this conference was no more about showing off Buffalo than your Hockey tournament was last year.

    As the the second – how are you backing up your statement? The buildings I described and toured had well intelligent highly paid people living in them. They had law firms in them. They had restaurants and other businesses in them. They had prominent scientific research companies in them and they had unique cultural institutions in them. They also made the city a lot more attractive to look at than a vacant lot or parking lot. I really don’t get what your point is. Would you be happier if these restored buildings had a some call centers inside them instead?

  10. Brian Castner October 26, 2011 at 6:18 pm #

    No offense, but what was discussed in the actual seminars and classes has nothing to do with my point. Those classes could have been held anywhere, ironically even in the worst cinder block room. The point is not that conference happened at all and great things were discussed. The point is that 2500 opinion makers came to Buffalo to do it. Never once did I hear that we lured this conference to Buffalo so more Buffalo people could attend the workshops. THAT is the ancillary benefit – I don’t know if Derek Punaro goes if the conference is in Savannah. The key objective of this conference for the CVB, the Mayor, our collective self image in the Buff News, Catherine Schweitzer, et al is that it happened here. Just like the World Junior Tourney.

    The second point is not that I would be “happier” if any particular thing was in a restored building. I think I and Colin Dabkowski both wish we just paid as much attention to what was inside of them as to the building itself. What do I mean by that? The #1 funding priority for Brian Higgins for years has been the Darwin Martin House. He only gets so many Congressional inserts. Its a limited resource. What if he asked for $10M a year for a entrepreneurial incubator as his #1 priority instead? Or getting a key contract for a military contractor in the region. Or… whatever, I don’t care what it is, really. The point is, he gets one #1 funding priority, and the Darwin Martin House has won for him. Now he’s moving on to a bridge connecting the inner and outer harbors. What would the water front look like if he had chosen those in reverse? My point, that you say you don’t get, is that preservation is a choice. Like all choices, if we spend limited time and money on preservation, we aren’t spending it on something else. A Rocco Termini dollar on the Lafayette Hotel is a dollar he doesn’t invest as a venture cpaitalist in a new drug therapy being developed in the medical corridor. I don’t oppose preservation – I’d just like to shift the balance a bit. But the community feels differently, and that’s the kind of town Buffalo is morphing into. You should feel good – your message has worked.

  11. Brian Castner October 26, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    How about this: to introduce some facts into our opinion based arguments, what we both need is some research on productivity in historic buildings versus crap versus good modern ones. I’d love to see some research on patents/sq ft of lab space in historic preserved buildings vs the rest. Or the same with Nobel prizes. That would show, without resorting to ugly economic argumnets, whether more good stuff happens inside of preserved historic buildings. If so, then focusing on preservation DOES mean focusing on the contents. If not, then my point stands.

  12. Mark October 26, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

    Let’s look at stuff done by local firms only so KPF’s courthouse design is excluded.

    The two things that stand out to me as genuinely good architecture by a local firm is 285 Delaware (by HHL) and the Northhamton Lofts @ Artspace, also by HHL (although I believe they recieved significant assistance from a Toronto firm on that design). Cannon is technically local but they know their market well, they know Buffalo is fine with crap so they usually give their clients crap (I’m oversimplifying for the sake of my argument but w/e).

    Niagara Center was right before Buffalo Rising, and if that site existed, maybe they would not have gotten away with such crap. But with that location and those clients and that scale of a project-its the most embarrassing building done in Buffalo in my lifetime.

    And the Avant is an amazing project that you can’t question. But if you want to pick nits, the curvy form on delaware that pops out is awkward and could have been handled infinitely better (the original drawing was much worse). I feel bad critiquing it because its such a great project but there are some subtly laughable design elements inside and out to those who care.

    But it’s not just architecture. Web design is awful in Buffalo because no one cares to pay for a good website, so the good web designers leave (12 Grain Studio is a rare exception). There are no standards for typography or print design in general (Hero, White Bicycle, Montague/Fraser/, Block Club, Martin Group are rare exceptions). 

    Basically, Buffalo’s problem is that no one is allowed to say that something sucks as long as someone really tries (see what happens when someone tells Newell on BRO that his writing is atrocious). I was not a good designer until I left because I couldn’t find people who had the background or the balls to tell me my stuff was shitty. No one felt comfortable telling me my writing needed serious improvement until I moved away. Buffalo needs to be okay with being told we suck as long as it comes from a good place that is meant to help point us in a better direction. 

    • Alan Bedenko October 27, 2011 at 6:34 am #

      Mark: you hit the nail on the head. Thanks.

  13. Brian F. Wood October 27, 2011 at 5:05 am #

    Earthworm’s view: I ran into one of the visiting folks (from Davenport, Iowa) at a gin mill. Through several drinks, he said he really loved Buffalo’s architecture and would recommend anyone come to see it. He skipped the grain elevators,though–said they had plenty of that sort of thing in Davenport.
    He was mighty impressed overall, however.

  14. Mark October 27, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    from RustWire this morning: http://rustwire.com/2011/10/27/the-cult-of-defensiveness-and-self-promotion/

  15. Brian Castner October 27, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    @ Mark – yeah, so that Rustwire article sums up nicely the last 6 years in Buffalo. As my wife put it in reaction to my article a couple months ago where I got in a fight with BRO on Twitter: “Why are you pulling the pigtails of the nice girl. Stop picking on Buffalo and BRO. You’re a bully.” Your previous comment brings up an interesting challenge of doing well here – when everyone is special, no one is. So when everyone is rewarded for trying, excellence is not recognized. That gives a whole region a certain taint – Kristen Becker has complained that its hard for people to believe she is good at comedy because she’s in Buffalo. If she was good, she’d go somewhere else. Same with architects, designers, writers, musicians, etc. Our Buffalo culture is cutthroat around politics and family loyalty. If we were cutthroat about quality . . .

  16. Derek J. Punaro October 27, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    Brian, I think it would be great to be able to quantify such things, but I highly doubt there’s enough raw data out there to do so. I’m not sure your example measurements are the right ones, because I’m not sure that it’s a 1-to-1 link between a particular function and a particular building that’s important. A startup with minimal funding may be the next big thing, but it’s unlikely that they’re going to be the one in the expense, restored historic building. The law firm with deep pockets may be, but they’re unlikely to be contributing to the advancement of society. But if both of those things are in the same city, it’s still a net gain.

    What happens in the buildings is certainly important, but what happens inside a building can be located anywhere in the world. The question to answer is how you get those to be located in Buffalo. The number and quality of arts institutions will go up and down with the population and economic status of the area. Those are variable. The number of historic and significant buildings and elements of a city can only decrease. Once they’re lost, they’re gone forever* (unless you go the Darwin Martin route and recreate them at 100x the original cost and 10x the cost to save the original* (numbers pulled from thin air)).

  17. Brian Castner October 27, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    @ Derek – I don’t know what the right measure is either. STEEL makes the point that cities with nice planning and architecture are more livable and enriching. There is also plenty of data that happy workers are productive workers. So, shouldn’t A+B=C? I picked patents and Nobel prizes because I had a vision in my mind of researchers doing work at MIT and Oxford and the University of Chicago, in historic preserved buildings. Then I compared them in my head to researchers in ugly shiny office parks in Silicon Valley and Houston. Controlling for other factors, can you isolate the historic or ugly nature of the building as a factor? That’s why PhD’s and advanced stats exist.

    To your second point, as Mark says, the Darwin Martin House was new once. There is no absolute reason our supply of significant buildings can’t go up each year. You can’t replace, but you can create.

  18. Derek J. Punaro October 27, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    This is true, we can (and should) create new, significant buildings. Buffalo has no shortage of infill opportunity. Niagara Square is a great example – there’s nothing wrong with having a brand new steel and glass building next to a historic art deco one. But any place can build new buildings. Having a stock of significant older buildings is a unique quality, and if leveraged properly can be a distinguishing factor.

  19. Brian Castner October 27, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    Define “leverage properly”. Was any evidence presented at the conference of companies using as a deciding factor moving to a preserved historic building over another when doing site selection? And I mean inter-city, not rearranging our deck chairs locally. I don’t oppose local companies leaving suburb office parks to move to historic downtown buildings, but that’s not a growth strategy.

  20. Derek J. Punaro October 27, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    Leveraged properly as in being viewed as an asset instead of a liability, an economic development opportunity instead of another waste of money. Most established companies aren’t going to move to another city solely because there is a historic building available, unless that’s your industry. But it would be naive to say that where your executives want to live ISN’T a deciding factor. So availability of historic structures may not be THE growth strategy, but it can certainly be one piece of it. Again, I keep coming back to what makes an area unique – why would a company pick one city over another? On that checklist you want to have as many features as possible, and rare or unique ones are even better.

    Now, there’s another way of looking at this – could we actually create an industry around historic preservation? We have a stock of projects to work on, could we attract a critical mass of businesses that work in this field to the area specifically FOR preservation? That’s an interesting idea that would be worth more investigation.

  21. Brian Castner October 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    I think we already have a lot of that industry. The Yots’ Preservation Studios. One of only two plaster reproducers in the country is based here. We have a couple stained glass windows restorers and maintainers based here who do work work throughout the NE. Buff State has a leading arts restoration program, one of the best in the country. Skilled craftsmen all, but not lucrative or generators of high employment. The stained glass companies are father/son teams. I find it a subtle joy of living in Buffalo that such things still exist here, but its not the growth strategy either.

    Maybe this is the point: the benefits of preservation are largely aesthetic, while the costs (opportunity and monetary) are firmly economic. No great revelation there, except in the third poorest city (hate to drag out that tired stat) the justification can be challenging. So we search for the economic proof in the preservation (7:1 leveraging! As if other industries/grants don’t produce similar or better returns), and lose the forest for the trees.

  22. STEEL October 27, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    Brian,

    Your position that Preservation in Buffalo is being pursed at the cost of all else is silly. Look around. There are gobs of buildings rotting in place. Investment choices are made all the time and not all are wise. Sheas Buffalo attracts 100s of thousands each year at a tiny fraction of the investment placed in keeping the Bills or Sabers in town. A parking lot in place of Sheas would have been a net loss of economic activity in WNY. Perhaps instead of having the Bills we could have invested in a start up research company (your argument not mine) I think you could argue the same about our over emphasis on parking. Maybe instead of investing so heavily in parking (50% of downtown at last count) we should invest in some hot new tech company and bring them to Buffalo. To suggest that Termini become a venture capitalist instead of the of being the very good property developer that he is is plain stupid. Is this really your concept? Perhaps we should ask the Wegmans to stop building super markets and instead use their cash for venture capital. With the state that Buffalo is currently in I really can’t in any way fathom how anyone could come to the conclusion that Buffalo is investing too much in its historic infrastructure. It is just a goofy thesis.

    • Alan Bedenko October 27, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

      If we had more venture capitalists, we’d have more entrepreneurs and jobs. If we had more entrepreneurs and jobs, we’d have more wealth in the community. If we had more wealth in the community, we’d have population growth. If we had population growth, more wealth, more entrepreneurs, and more jobs, we’d have more people with the wherewithal to renovate decrepit historic buildings and populate them with said people and jobs. Then maybe the taxpayers wouldn’t have to foot a big chunk of the bill for renovating historic buildings.

      No one’s saying historic preservation doesn’t matter. It’s just that we’re discussing whether or not some things are more important.

      I work in the Dun Building. It is surrounded quite literally by vacant lots turned into parking – two Paladino lots, one for Verizon, and then there’s the horrible, awful “park” behind us. Imagine if Paladino could find a better, higher, more lucrative use for those two empty lots so that Buffalo could start filling in its broken “bones”.

      • Christopher Smith October 27, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

        THIS!

        If we had more venture capitalists, we’d have more entrepreneurs and jobs. If we had more entrepreneurs and jobs, we’d have more wealth in the community. If we had more wealth in the community, we’d have population growth. If we had population growth, more wealth, more entrepreneurs, and more jobs, we’d have more people with the wherewithal to renovate decrepit historic buildings and populate them with said people and jobs. Then maybe the taxpayers wouldn’t have to foot a big chunk of the bill for renovating historic buildings.

        I think where Dave is coming from is that he believes the investment in buildings is a pre-cursor to this economic development. That the city, county, and state have a responsibility to make investments into preservation to create an environment conducive to economic growth as the buildings themselves become a magnet for development. I don’t really agree as it pertains to Buffalo. Our economic development strategy is not based around attracting creative or SMB scale professional services employers, that’s “infill” economic development which is organic and tends to emerge as the need to service a broad-based local economy grows.

        We’re pursuing large scale manufacturers, light industrial, bio-medical, advanced manufacturing, datacenter, enterprise information technology companies as the basis for development and growth. Those types of employers are looking for new, Class A level space, not cool and beautiful old buildings. So, how do we gear our economic development strategy around the secondary assets of a charming architecturally significant built infrastructure while focusing on our primary assets of low cost power, low cost of living and an educated workforce?

  23. STEEL October 27, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    And guess what? There would be more vacant lots without preservation. To say that WNY puts an over emphasis on preservation to the detriment of other things is plain silly and has no basis in fact.

    • Alan Bedenko October 27, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

      Preservation isn’t the same as renovation. AM&A is “preserved”. The Statler is being renovated. The Dun has never been vacant. It’s all different, isn’t it?

      I don’t know whether WNY quantifiably puts an overemphasis on preservation vs. other things. For instance, I think there’s a huge overemphasis on men skating after a puck or running after a ball. With that said, everyone’s doing this wild back-pat over the preservation conference which is all very nice but now what?

  24. Brian Castner October 27, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    STEEL – your reading comprehension skills did not improve in your time away, nor your inability to see the irony in calling arguments silly and non-fact based, and then presenting no facts yourself.

    Preservation is not being pursued at the cost of all else. But it is prioritized over other ventures. I am not arguing the merit of that – I’m just seeking an acknowledgment of the monetary and opportunity cost of such. Preservation is not free, in either time or money. In other cities with other cultures, the local Termini’s (i.e. the prominent local investors) are putting their money in tech start ups, not historic buildings. I think it is worth noting that our region’s investment in preservation is neither a forgone conclusion nor costless. Its not pure win. You’re right – the same is true for the Bills and parking (I don’t how much “investment” we do in parking, but sure) – other states (Oregon) would put $100M in public transportion, not stadium improvements. All these choices have a cost, and preservation is a the same. If we put as much combined political power behind regionalism as we have preservation, who knows where we might stand there. Or bike trails. Or tech start ups. Or cheese factories. I don’t care what – I’m not making an argument to do something else specific, except (like Dabkowski) pay more attention to the active culture and effort of now.

    Not every choice is between Sheas and a parking lot, by the way. Sometimes its between the Erlanger Theater and the new courthouse. Or civil war era brick homes and Kaleida’s GVI. We do build some new things here.

  25. STEEL October 27, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    Your statements ARE silly. Termini is a property developer. He invests in property – that is what property developers DO! Guess what? Property developers invest in property in other cities too – not just Buffalo, and get this, sometimes they invest in historic properties! If they didn’t do that there would be no place for the start up ventures to do their venturing let alone have a place to live. I suppose instead we could invest in tents and use the left over money for venture investment.

    The plain FACT is that Buffalo has seen an extreme lack of property development and to say that the relatively small amounts of money invested in its historic property is misguided boggles the mind. Your statement that preservation is prioritized over other ventures is vague and has no meaning. The fact is tearing down buildings has been the priority in WNY. Preservation has made large parts of the city much more valuable and attractive. The parts of the city with historic buildings that have been regularly invested in have some of the highest property values in WNY – they also return the highest rate of property tax per acre in WNY. Maybe you should instead focus on the wasted investment in the next crap hole suburban strip mall as misguided investment instead – oh that’s right we are not supposed to complain about suburban development because that is “growth” right?

  26. Brian Castner October 27, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    I’m not sure how to even untie the straw men from what I actually said, so I won’t try.

    Termini is a property developer, but he’s also, more generally, an investor. An investor that has a certain stature in the community. I contend that in plenty of other cities an investor with the same amount of $$$ and same stature is not a developer. The community culture and focus is such that its the prominent investors are venture capitalists, or industrialists, or wind farm operators, or whatever. A good example is the McMinamins brothers in Portland, who in a great example of paying attention to both a building and its contents, turn great historic places into restaurants and breweries. The Portland culture is conducive to holding up beer tycoons. In Buffalo, we do the same with preservationists and historic property developers. That’s my point.

    Chris’ point, that what the BNE seeks to attract doesn’t always match what we have to offer, is worth its own thread.

  27. Brian Castner October 27, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    STEEL – let me ask you an honest question. Can you imagine a situation where there was TOO MUCH preservation? To much of a community emphasis on historic structures and spaces? Or is it always best to do everything humanly possible in every situation?

  28. lulu October 27, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    To Derek’s idea of creating industry around our historic building stock, I was recently in Berlin, Germany where they are still rebuilding the city and will be for some time. Their equivalent of HUD hosts annual contests where hundreds or thousands of students of architecture from around the world are invited to develop and submit plans for rebuilding monuments and buildings with the Municipality ultimately funding a certain amount of the winners. It is only one way they are approaching the monumental task of rebuilding, but it seems like a very good and simple way to attract investment.

  29. STEEL October 27, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    Brian your question about doing “everything humanly possible in every situation” is a Limbaughesque queston for 2 reasons.

    1. Of course not and no one is making that claim
    2. And how does that apply to Buffalo since in fact very little has been done in the name of preservation in Buffalo. To claim otherwise is also Limbaughesque

    Also I notice that All of Rocco’s buildings are completely full of people and businesses – buildings that before Rocco were empty so I really really don’t understand you beef with Termini.

  30. STEEL October 27, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    By the way some of the wealthiest and most prominent 1%ers in Chicago are real estate investors. Sometimes they just invest, sometimes they also develop the property. One such major major investor believed that being a successful property developer also meant he was smart in other things as well. He invested in the Tribune Company in a heavily leveraged deal that soon crashed and burned. the Tribune is still in bankruptcy I believe. Maybe Termini should invest in the News?

  31. Brian Castner October 27, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    The labeling hasn’t stopped either, I see. Well, at least it wasn’t Beck.

    I have no beef with Termini. I know him a little bit from work on some projects, and I think he’s great. I don’t make this personal.

    I think you need to rethink your basic assumption that “very little has been done in the name of preservation in Buffalo.” I think its exactly the opposite. In fact, that was the whole point of my piece. Preservation has trickled all the way down to the cab drivers. As you point out in your BRO piece, there are construction fences all over Buffalo. There is a lot going on – your impression is out dated. Hell, there is a radio commcerial on WGR 550, the sports talk station, for Ted’s Hot Dogs that says “We’ve been serving hot dogs since Darwin Martin lived in his house.” That tidbit makes my point about the culture change in Buffalo.

    “Everything humanly possible in every situation” is far more reasonable than putting venture capital firms in tents, by the way. So dial it back if you want – can you imagine too much preservation?

  32. Derek J. Punaro October 27, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    The debate over what’s more important is largely one of personal interests and will likely never be answered. Popular opinion will reign that we will absolutely give $100 million to the Bills to keep them in town two more years. I would give that $100 million to the Central Terminal and it will be completely rehabilitated and will last 50 more years. Someone else will want to spend that $100 million on a business incubator which may or may not produce any results at all.

    We’re largely tossing around the term “preservation” here to encompass restoration, rehabilitation, and adaptive reuse here. This isn’t the place to get into a debate on the semantics of this. Since we’re talking about commercial development, it’s mostly the latter.

    I disagree with Chris’s statement that none of those types of companies he listed would be interested in “beautiful old buildings”. While some professions may require specialty newly built buildings due to infrastructure needs (e.g. the medical field) there is nothing stopping an IT firm from setting up shop in the Larkin building, etc. I worked at a global IT firm in Boston in 2000 that utilized space in several rehabilitated buildings. The employees loved it because it was cool and unique. See also the Main Washington Exchange.

    Brian – Re:30 – You have to have historic buildings around to create those kind of developments. Thus our default reaction should be to attempt to save structures not knock them down, and stop demolition by neglect when a property owner is doing it to skirt the system. But we do need to balance the needs of expansion for business development vs. saving buildings just because they’re old and nice looking. That’s why there are preservation boards.

  33. STEEL October 27, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    On a relative basis WNY has invested piddling amounts of money in preservation. How can you could claim otherwise. The fact that more is being invested now, as I noted, does not change that yet. It is still a small sum in comparison to other types of real estate investment in WNY. That people are starting to take notice of the importance of preservation in WNY is a good thing.

    Can you place too much emphasis on preservation? Certainly but I can’t see how you could make that case in WNY. 2/3 of the city is currently rotting for lack of any investment at all. To blame that on preservation is as I said SILLY.

  34. Brian Castner October 27, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    @ Derek – While everyone has their personal interest, I think the general consensus is swinging in your favor. The Bills still win, but I think the public (and certainly the politicians who represent them) would spend $100M on “preservation” before a lot of other things, including the park system, obvious corporate handouts, environmental clean up, a Metro Rail line, and (strangely enough) the waterfront. Its been a struggle to spend more than a couple million at the inner harbor, but the HH Richardson complex has $79M with little complaint or fanfare, and the Darwin Martin House is at $50M last I checked.

  35. Derek J. Punaro October 27, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    Brian, I certainly hope the consensus is swinging in our favor. While there are a few, well publicized projects in Buffalo that attract large amount of capital (both public and private) so far it’s been incredibly difficult to get any significant amount of money for the Terminal. If a public bond was floated to put, say, $30 million into the Terminal, do you think the public would vote for it? I’m pretty skeptical.

  36. Brian Castner October 28, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    Legit question. I don’t think any $30M bond would float for anything in WNY – on Grand Island, last year we even shot down the school budget because it raised taxes for improvements to the high school and football field. But for our other funding mechanisms, not in the direct control of fickle taxpayers, I think preservation regularly wins. The city just released its $22 capital budget – imagine the impact if it funded one $20M project every year, instead of nickel and diming it as hand outs. Why not the terminal? I hear about the terminal literally every day from someone different – when people as disparate as the local morning sports radio host and my wife’s professor colleagues are talking about the terminal with equal passion, then this isn’t Buffalo 1980.

  37. Jack Sinclair October 28, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    Brian – it appears a lot of your strange logic stems from your belief that Buffalo Rising is the center of the media universe in Buffalo and represents the sensibilities of the majority of WNY. It isn’t and it doesn’t. 

    Also, your belief that the most prominent Buffalo investors are real estate investors also reveals Buffalo Rising as the center of your world. Rocco Termini is a real estate investor. He doesn’t have all that much money and, given the nature of real estate developing, he’s able to do projects by leveraging bank loans and tax credits. See, real estate investors, unlike venture capitalists, can utilize a tremendous amount of leverage. Comparing the two is silly and naive. Also, real estate investors exist in all cities and they get media coverage in all cities. 

    Also, there are quite a few prominent angel investors around town who have actual cash (unlike Termini) and invest in start-ups. And you have some VC firms that invest – Softbank, Mercury Capital Partners, Summer Street, Rand, etc. The fact that you don’t know them doesn’t reveal anything about Buffalo; it reveals more about you.

    Finally, the notion that the dearth of fast growing start-ups around here is a result of lack of local venture capital is laughable on its face. It’s tantamount to saying we need more web hosting companies because new companies need websites hosted. It’s 2011 for god sakes. A company in Buffalo can use services from companies all over the world – and can raise money from VC’s all over the world. The venture investing business is frothier than anytime since 1997 and a start-up anywhere in America can get meetings with small, medium and large funds anywhere else in America. 

    If there is a lack of venture investments in Buffalo (and, of course, you’ve presented no evidence that there is less venture investment in Buffalo on a per capita basis than any other city), it’s much more likely a result of a lack of start-up talent. In other words, it’s not the supply of capital, it’s the supply of talent. 

  38. Brian Castner October 28, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    Jack – Congrats – you successfully got my hackles up. Let’s review. Rocco Termini gets at least as much coverage in the Buffalo News and Business First as he does at BRO. I read the first two much more than the third, and especially BF over the last couple years has increased their amount of developer/real estate coverage. That is largely in response to the increase in rehabs and investment downtown (lofts) and coverage of major investment projects (Statler, DM, etc). Increased activity = increased coverage, which is exactly my point. Of course real estate developers get coverage in other cities – but please name me local angel investors who have the same public prominence of any of our real estate developers? Or the heads of VC firms? Or the heads of the start ups themselves? A dollar is a dollar is a dollar – I think you are naive to believe that real estate investors stay solely in their box, and other investors stay in theirs, and it must always be so.

    To our local VC scene. Are you trying to argue that there are plenty of investors around town (and I simply don’t know them), or it doesn’t matter if there are or not, because there is no talent for them anyway? I say there is a lack of both, start ups and funding. The two are probably related – money follows talent, and the other way around. Here is your proof that we are way behind in VC funding. The Rand Corp, of which I am a stockholder and so follow closely, has a total value of $22,862,507 according to the last statement they sent me. Not a huge bottomline, and their stockprice has barely moved off $3 for years. Only 6 of their 15 major investments are local. So we have small pots of potential cash, and few to access it. My assertion is our community has collectively placed a greater emphasis on historic preservation than growing this sector. Other than trying to imply I don’t know what I’m talking about, do you have a point?

  39. doc October 28, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    As a reader, it’s been alternately amusing and dispiriting to see a thoughtful question “answered” with talking points and name calling.  To some extent, this may be because an interesting discussion about the present and future direction of Buffalo has degenerated into tired arguments about the past.  With that in mind, allow me to sum up my understanding of the issues at hand, which I think better reflect the intent of the OP:

    1) Buffalo is heading down the road of branding itself in terms of architecture and preservation.

    2) Regardless of how much money has or has not been spent IN THE PAST, this branding implies a certain amount of investment in preservation IN THE FUTURE.  

    3) All investment has opportunity costs.  That is, all investment in domain x is investment not going into domain y.

    4) Therefore, we as a community must try to decide if we really want to pursue FUTURE investment into preservation more than we want to pursue FUTURE investment in other things.

    The correct response to this set of points is to define what “good” outcomes for the community look like (e.g., aesthetics, economic development, community solidarity) and to try to make a case for whether investment in preservation furthers these outcomes more than investment in other domains.  The correct response is decidedly not to call the question “silly.”

    Discuss.

  40. Brian Castner October 28, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    Thanks, doc. I get long winded, and I appreciate your brevity – that’s exactly what I was trying to say.

  41. eliz October 28, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    There are so many straw men here on every side of this, that a match could erase this whole discussion.

    Each instance that is described here has its own set of qualifying factors. Sure, Richardson got money from the state–the state owns it and had been letting it fall apart for decades. They finally started fixing up their property. Something is finally happening at the inner and outer harbor in a different way and with different players.

    I see incremental progress on a few fronts–including those not related to preservation–in this still badly compromised economic environment. Is it too soon to make sweeping generalizations? I think so. Visionary economic development planning–which we’ve never had–would help. But basically, we’re poor, like you said, Brian. When something halfway positive happens, it gets played up.

  42. Dan October 28, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    Mark> Web design is awful in Buffalo because no one cares to pay for a good website, so the good web designers leave (12 Grain Studio is a rare exception). There are no standards for typography or print design in general (Hero, White Bicycle, Montague/Fraser/, Block Club, Martin Group are rare exceptions).

    Something I’ve always said: Buffalo has a collective lack of design consciousness. Consider the crappy municipal Web sites compared to what you might see for peer communities elsewhere in the country. Consider amateurish business logos and signage, and the region’s embracing of Brush Script, a typeface that is otherwise despised among most designers, making it the region’s iconic typeface in the same way Gill Sans is so heavily associated with the UK. Consider the lack of architectural design and landscaping standards in local zoning codes. Consider the generic appearance of display ads for local businesses in the Buffalo News. Consider newspapers, both large and small, with a design aesthetic that places them solidly in the 1990s. So much of this is explained away by the homer crowd as “authenticity”; that real Buffalonians shun what seems too polished, too professional, too “fee-YAN-see”.

    Buffalo seems to forget that the little things in the public realm are all part of the big picture. Weeds left untouched along curbs. Street signs many left bent at odd angles for years. Rusted and mangled median dividers. Parking lots cluttered with massive white and red “PARKING RESTRICTED ALL OTHERS KEEP OUT” signs. Overpasses that reassure visitors the region’s “Rust Belt” nickname is well-deserved. Buffalonians think this is the norm throughout the country. It’s not.

    What do ordinary folks in Buffalo do with the historic houses they call home, the unique semi-bungalows and two-flats built in the 1920s that define the region’s architectural vernacular as much as what’s printed in the tourist guides? They cover them in asphalt and plastic. They enclose the porches that once provided eyes on the street which kept their neighborhood safe. They rip out the original wood railings and replace them with “clee-YASS-ee decorative iron, looking not to the Arts-and-Crafts movement that influenced the original design of their houses, but to Sopranos wannabes on Staten Island. They replace solid casement windows with smaller vinyl specials from Valu Home Center. They butcher their dwellings with an intensity and enthusiasm that just isn’t seen in peer cities with the same abundant frame housing stock.

    In short, Buffalonians just don’t give a shit about their visual environment.

  43. STEEL October 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    So the basic thesis seems to be that we can either have preservation or we can have something else (such as better funded Venture Capital), but not both. There are many things to be invested in and many things that are invested in (50 million $$$$ waterfront highways , new strip malls, new subdivisions for instance). To say that preservation is sucking all the oxygen out of the room has no basis in fact. If this were the case San Francisco and Boston would be decrepit backwaters. Again, it is beyond absurd to say that preservation is over emphasized in Buffalo when it is common practice in Buffalo for building owners and government agencies to own and hold buildings for decades with no maintenance until they eventually collapse.

  44. Dan October 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    > Web design is awful in Buffalo because no one cares to pay for a good website, so the good web designers leave (12 Grain Studio is a rare exception). There are no standards for typography or print design in general (Hero, White Bicycle, Montague/Fraser/, Block Club, Martin Group are rare exceptions).

    Something I’ve always said: Buffalo has a collective lack of design consciousness. Consider the crappy municipal Web sites compared to what you might see for peer communities elsewhere in the country. Consider amateurish business logos and signage, and the region’s embracing of Brush Script, a typeface that is otherwise despised among most designers, making it the region’s iconic typeface in the same way Gill Sans is so heavily associated with the UK. Consider the lack of architectural design and landscaping standards in local zoning codes. Consider the generic appearance of display ads for local businesses in the Buffalo News. Consider newspapers, both large and small, with a design aesthetic that places them solidly in the 1990s. So much of this is explained away by the homer crowd as “authenticity”; that real Buffalonians shun what seems too polished, too professional, too “fee-YAN-see”.

    Buffalo seems to forget that the little things in the public realm are all part of the big picture. Weeds left untouched along curbs. Street signs left bent at odd angles for years. Rusted and mangled median dividers. Parking lots cluttered with massive white and red “PARKING RESTRICTED ALL OTHERS KEEP OUT” signs. Overpasses that reassure visitors the region’s “Rust Belt” nickname is well-deserved. Buffalonians think this is the norm throughout the country. It’s not.

    What do ordinary folks in Buffalo do with the historic houses they call home, the unique semi-bungalows and two-flats built in the 1920s that define the region’s architectural vernacular as much as what’s printed in the tourist guides? They cover them in asphalt and plastic. They enclose the porches that once provided eyes on the street which kept their neighborhood safe. They rip out the original wood railings and replace them with “clee-YASS-ee decorative iron, looking not to the Arts-and-Crafts movement that influenced the original design of their houses, but to Sopranos wannabes on Staten Island. They replace solid casement windows with smaller vinyl specials from Valu Home Center. They butcher their dwellings with an intensity and enthusiasm that just isn’t seen in peer cities with the same abundant frame housing stock.

    In short, Buffalonians just don’t give a shit about their visual environment. If they want to put their eggs in the basket labeled “architecture”, that’s got to change. Now.

  45. doc October 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    Steel,

    Please try hearing other people’s points instead of your bastardized version of them.  To wit:

    “So the basic thesis seems to be that we can either have preservation or we can have something else (such as better funded Venture Capital), but not both.”

    No, that is not the basic thesis.  The basic thesis is that all other things being equal, a dollar for preservation is a dollar not invested in something else.  No one is arguing that there are NO other dollars, which is what your caricature implies.  Maybe Buffalo’s economy will improve so much we can invest heavily in both preservation and VC.  That’s certainly the case for SF, Boston, and other cities that are comparatively wealthy and therefore can fund a longer list of priorities.  

    But for the time being, it would be hard to seriously make the claim that Buffalo has so much money it doesn’t have to prioritize. Perhaps preservation should be the priority.  Perhaps it shouldn’t.  But given the economy of this region especially, it’s the responsibility of anyone claiming that their interest or industry should be the priority to make the case to others in the terms I described: define what good outcomes Buffalo needs, and explain why your interest/industry achieves those outcomes better than other things that also need money.

    To illustrate my point, let’s talk about another potential growth industry for Buffalo, one that Brian pointed out as another aspect of Buffalo’s re-branding: higher education.  This happens to be my industry, and I love to see investments in Buff State, UB, Canisius, and all the rest. But I’m acutely aware that money designated to any of those institutions is money not going to other needs of Buffalo and the region.  How does one justify this?  Well, you can make the argument that education is an inherent good (it is) and that investments in education yield economic growth (they do), but that doesn’t mean you can’t say the same for other kinds of investment.  For example, aesthetically speaking, I think it’s pretty easy to make the case that historic architecture is an inherent good.  And perhaps you can also make the argument that it spurs economic growth.  But my point is, you have to MAKE that case, and not get irritated when people ask you to do so, in as specific a way as possible.

    Please note, before you ask me to do this with respect to higher education, this post is NOT intended to say “let’s invest less in preservation and more in higher ed.”  Far from it.  I’m simply pointing out that arguments of the sort I’m describing *have* been made for investing in higher ed, and other contenders for funding priority should do likewise.

    There are many things to be invested in and many things that are invested in (50 million $$$$ waterfront highways , new strip malls, new subdivisions for instance). To say that preservation is sucking all the oxygen out of the room has no basis in fact. If this were the case San Francisco and Boston would be decrepit backwaters. Again, it is beyond absurd to say that preservation is over emphasized in Buffalo when it is common practice in Buffalo for building owners and government agencies to own and hold buildings for decades with no maintenance until they eventually collapse.

  46. STEEL October 28, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    DOC- “No, that is not the basic thesis. The basic thesis is that all other things being equal, a dollar for preservation is a dollar not invested in something else.” This is a pointlessly obvious statement that has no ultimate meaning. A dollar spent on nail polish is a dollar not spent on something else. So what? What does that mean. My summation of the thesis is what Brian said just above. Restoration of historic buildings does yield positive economic benefits. This can be seen in Buffalo, Boston, San Fransisco and many other cities. And again. I really can’t see how anyone can claim with a strait face that Buffalo has over done it with preservation or that Rocco Termini has done the area a disservice by investing in Buffalo’s historic properties

  47. doc October 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    “Restoration of historic buildings does yield positive economic benefits. This can be seen in Buffalo, Boston, San Fransisco and many other cities.”

    All I’m asking is that you show me (and Buffalo) the data that restoration caused economic benefits, rather than restoration emerging from economic success.

    “And again. I really can’t see how anyone can claim with a strait face that Buffalo has over done it with preservation or that Rocco Termini has done the area a disservice by investing in Buffalo’s historic properties.”

    And again.  I’m not.  This is about FUTURE priorities.

  48. Jack Sinclair October 28, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    The point that you don’t know what you’re talking about is kinda the point. You’re missing so much of the story that your post seems downright silly.

    Prominent angel and VC style investors include Howard Zemsky and Jordan Levy. Have you heard of them? 

    Also, I have a lot of experience in the investment business and I can assure you, most real estate investors remain real estate investors. They don’t also become successful VC investors. If you really think the skills are so similar it reveals you don’t know much about either. And Buffalo real estate investors in particular lack any real liquidity so they couldn’t go and serve as meaningful sources of VC funds even if they wanted to (which they don’t because they will readily admit they don’t know what they’re doing in that sector).  

    Further, you understand that about 1 in 10 private sector jobs is created by a firm funded with VC money, yea? In the age of Techcrunch, everyone thinks every company must be funded by VC’s but that’s just not the reality of the situation. 9 out of 10 jobs are at companies funded by less sexy means – old fashioned savings, bank loans, credit cards, family borrowing, etc. 

    Having local real estate developers use tax credits and bank loans to invest in real estate assets specific to our region is, undoubtedly, a win. This architectural stock is unique to Buffalo and it should be preserved. That developers are now able to make these investments – and actually make money – is a sign of the city’s relative health compared to 20-30 years ago when this sort of investment would haven been unimaginable. 

    Finally, not to go all Tom Friedman on you but we live in a small world nowadays. If there are local start-ups with great ideas, they can find funding with VC’s elsewhere. There is no need for the venture capital provider to be local. Really. But it is substantially more necessary for a local investor base to own and rehab local real estate. 

  49. Brian Castner October 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    @ eliz – I don’t want to make too sweeping of a judgement, but I think the conference provided a good opportunity to reflect on a watershed of public prioritization and interest. Yes, each individual project (Richardson, etc) is moving ahead for a different reason. But the general public support, reaction, and endorsement of each is getting more and more consistent. The preservationists have been successful (IMHO) in changing the general attitude.

    @ Jack – I have to thank you – of all the possible angel/VC investors you could have chosen, you picked two that are best known in Buffalo for their real estate dealings, either with their own money or the public’s. Thanks for proving my point, both about the investors we raise to prominence locally, and how truly interchangable real estate and VC dollars are. Real estate investors leverage tax credits, VC investors leverage DoD, NIH and other government grants. Every minute Zemsky spends thinking about Larkinville is a minute he’s not working on start ups, and the other way around.

    Of course, that whole Termini (and Zemsky) sidebar was really just about showing an example of how our community is focused on preservation. That it has stuck culturally in all classes and kinds of people. If you read what I wrote in the piece, this wasn’t about VC solving all of our problems. I mentioned all sorts of industries our community could collectively focus our time and energy on: colleges, med research, etc etc. I don’t have specific data to recommend we spend more time on any particular thing, but STEEL is proving it can be hard for some to grasp that preservation is not a costless venture.

    As far as the need for local investors – yes, Cleveland BioLabs can and does go to China and Russia for funding. And NYC and Toronto interests have invested plenty in real estate here, sometimes with excellent preservation results. I would rather our business and real estate investors were both as local as possible, and they make as much money as possible – the more wealth created here, reinvested here, donated back here, the better. Its our culturals and non-profits that most need wealth to be local.

  50. STEEL October 28, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    I really don’t get your fixation on real estate investment in preservation. Why not ask suburban strip mall and big box developers to become venture capitalists instead. WNY has invested far more into this kind of banal crap than it has into preserving its irreplaceable historic buildings. Why of allllllllll the things invested in is it your contention that it is preservation which is sinking the boat for Buffalo venture capital???? I really don’t get it. The investment in the Larking buildings alone is worth hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) in new real estate taxes. These are investments that now house major high paying employers that did not require major investment (or any) in new civic infrastructure. The Richardson renovation should be applauded in that preservationists forced the state to spend money on buildings in Buffalo that it should have been doing anyway but was not. If not for preservationists that money would have flowed somewhere else not to Buffalo and Buffalo would have lost a cultural asset do neglect in the mean time. I really do not see where the upside is to letting the state demolish by neglect the Richardson buildings. The idea that Termini should become a venture capitalist instead of creating a new hotel, space for new downtown businesses and new high end residences etc is idiotic.

  51. Brian Castner October 28, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    We’re talking about preservation today because there was just a big conference. Other than that, I didn’t say or imply a single thing you just charged me with. Please take doc’s advice next time. Thanks.

  52. Jack Sinclair October 28, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    Jordan Levy is best known for his real estate dealings? What real estate dealings – the single family house he lives in? 

    Also, if you only know of Howard Zemsky from his real estate dealings, you should get better connected to the Buffalo business scene. He made tens of millions before he bought a building. again, there is more information available than Buffalo Rising. 

  53. STEEL October 29, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    Actually Brian, yes  you did, several times.

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