Tag Archives: Bass Pro

con·grat·u·bate (kənˈgraCHəˌbāt), Verb

13 Jul

A polite golf clap is in order for Donn Esmonde, who here touts the heavy lift that Mark Goldman unilaterally assumed for himself late last year in promoting a snake-oil salesman’s unscientific, unproven “lighter, faster, cheaper” model of “economic development”. His Wednesday column about Canal Side is something I’m calling “congratubation”, or self-congratulation. Let’s read Donn and Mark pat themselves firmly on their own backs.

Of course, it’s working. It worked everywhere else. There’s no secret recipe or special formula. We have sun, sky and—most importantly— water. Just add a snack shack, put out some brightly colored Adirondack chairs, set up a kids’ space, mix in activities. All of a sudden, we have a down-town waterfront that people want to go to.

Yes, of course! It’s so simple, really. The highest and best use for that property is to cobble the streets, throw in some flexible lawns, erect a shack (and invite a bunch of politicos to cut its ribbon), and all done! And think of all the activities and sand-play that’ll take place down there in, say, February! It’ll be a veritable mad house when the winds whip in off the frozen lake and the lunchtime crowd eats its shack lunch al fresco whilst developing a nasty case of frostbite.

Erie County Snack Shack
picture shack pictures

And consider all the other great and not-so-great waterfronts throughout America.

Even Yonkers has us beat.

Just like a lot of people thought we would, once we got past our magic-bullet fixation. There’s no need to overthink it. To oversubsidize it. To overbuild it.

“It’s ironic,” said Mark Goldman, the activist/entrepreneur whose brainstorm last year changed the waterfront course. “The major economic-development success story in our community this year involves $3,000 worth of Adirondack chairs.”

Apart from being a one-shot boon to Adirondack chair suppliers, manufacturers, and wholesalers, what economic benefit, exactly, is derived? Adirondack chairs are wonderful, don’t get me wrong. They let people who forgot their own chairs to use a publicly supplied chair, sit back, and watch something happen. Or relax. Or hang out. It’s all very nice, but there is no economic activity whatsoever being generated from “sitting back”. Who’s getting paid? Who’s selling something? Who’s buying something? Who’s employed? What economic transactions are taking place thanks to people loitering relaxedly in an Adirondack chair?

UPDATE: Here’s an interview we did with the ECHDC’s President, Tom Dee, on the day the snack shack opened:

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Monday afternoon, more than 100 people walked or lounged at Erie Canal Harbor. A warm breeze ruffled a line of colored banners. Boats glided by on the Buffalo River. Folks lined up for sandwiches and ice cream at Clinton’s Dish—named for the governor who, at this site in 1825, opened the canal that transformed America. (Maybe someday we’ll get a sign that commemorates the fact.)

Oh, my heavens! Over 100 people?! How will we control these throngs if they persist?

And on Clinton Dish’s opening day, I too lined up for lunch. For 20 minutes. By the time they got around to scooping out Perry’s for a whopping gaggle of 6 (SIX!1!) kids, my lunch hour was already all but over. I had time to leave with a bag of barbecue chips and a Diet Coke. But it was an authentic and real bag of chips and bottle of Coke. It was unsullied by subsidized big-box chips or car-oriented Cokes. These were hand-delivered, artisanally manufactured chips and Coke that keep Buffalo unique and real, not fake like Cleveland or Boston.

Am I laying it on too thickly?  Well, I’m sick of being pissed.

It has been nearly a year since Bass Pro, after years of arrested development, mercifully cut bait. It has been eight months since the landmark gathering at City Honors School, when Fred Kent of the Project for Public Spaces outlined a “lighter, quicker, cheaper” philosophy of waterfront development. The event, organized by Goldman, underlined what progressives had pleaded for years: Get over the heavy-subsidy, magic-bullet, lots-of-parking fixation. Instead, create a place where people want to go, and let human nature—and market forces— take over. Step-by-smaller-step.

Call this the Summer of Sensibility. The snack stand and mini-“beach” and Adirondack chairs and kids’ space and random activities—from yoga to Zumba classes—were spawned in focus groups and in public forums. The Erie Canal Harbor board, bereft of a plan after Bass Pro’s bailout, followed the people’s lead. Citizens committees—one includes Goldman, preservationist Tim Tielman and Buffalo Rising’s Newell Nussbaumer —guided the board’s hand. Finally, we’re getting the waterfront we deserve.

That’s funny. In my opinion, Fred Kent and the PPS are guilty of defrauding the taxpayers of New York State, and our public benefit corporation, the ECHDC of thousands of dollars. They accomplished absolutely nothing that couldn’t have been accomplished for a few hundred dollars. I can do a Google image search for “waterfront fun”, too. I can cobble together an unwieldly Powerpoint presentation, too. I can make stuff up out of thin air like, “the Power of 10”, too. I can run a meeting where people put sticky notes on blow-up renderings, too. And I would have done it for a fraction of what PPS did. What a great scam.

The last time Esmonde praised Kent’s scam, I wrote this:

That’s why Donn Esmonde giddily wrote this column a few days earlier, during one of the PPS’ “let’s talk benches” mixers.

BTW, here’s Kent’s Google Image Search, if you missed it the first time. You paid for it.

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“You can build a store anywhere,” Skulski noted. “Why would you want to stick it by the water, and take up this space? It goes against the whole point of a waterfront.”

Esmonde is being disingenuous here. No one has been talking about building a store of any kind on the grassy portion of the Central Wharf for about four years. (Click here for a post I wrote last year, which links to just about everything I’ve ever written about Bass Pro, ever.) Bass Pro was most recently supposed to go on the Aud block, which as of this writing remains a giant pile of gravel and a puddle.

Amen. Granted, nobody is yet printing money at Erie Canal Harbor. But, at little cost and with a lot of imagination, we’re creating a downtown waterfront where people want to be. Where people go, commerce will follow.

Really? How? To whom do I apply to open a business? A storefront? To park a cart of some kind? Whom do I contact for a permit? Whom must I bribe in order to grease the skids? What are the specific requirements for creating any economic activity at Canal Side? Where can I find the real estate or leasing listings for properties at Canal Side? How is commerce supposed to follow where there’s no plan in place for commerce to take place? Well, I’m sure Donn knows. But Goddamnit, NO CHAINS!

“This is creating demand,” Goldman said, “instead of using massive subsidies to create supply, and hoping that the demand follows.

What difference does it make? If an Adirondack chair and a snack shack is such a massive draw, as Esmonde and Goldman congratubate themselves about, (during about 4 months of a 12 month year), wouldn’t a Bass Pro (or other retailer – say, LL Bean) draw in even MORE people? What about a cafe? A bar? A development where businesses could execute leases and sell things, or bring people to offices, or build apartments?

“It is not just people having picnics, it is good economic-development strategy,” Goldman added. “You start small, and it snowballs. By next summer, you’ll see private businesses lining up to come down—instead of asking for big, fat subsidies.”

Lighter, quicker, cheaper. Already, it’s working

Notice the palpable absence of any discussion from either Goldman or Esmonde about what happens when the snow starts flying. Which here could be any time between October and April.

Buffalo, you’ve been punk’d.

The Placemaking Scam

14 Apr

They never told you what they were doing was merely temporary. They never explained to the assembled crowd that it was all a stopgap to make the waterfront less ugly and more usable for the period of time before final structures could be built.

That’s why Donn Esmonde giddily wrote this column a few days earlier, during one of the PPS’ “let’s talk benches” mixers.

But with respect to the Mark Goldman-led insistence that the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation embrace “lighter, cheaper, quicker,” the Project for Public Spaces, Fred Kent, crowdsourcing of ideas, and all kinds of unproven, untested, unscientific gobbledygook, there has been a wholesale theft of money from the people of New York State.  I’ve sent an email to ECHDC asking how much, exactly, PPS was paid.

Because, as far as I’m concerned, the ECHDC could have taken the money it spent on Fred Kent and the PPS, burned it, flushed the ashes down the nearest toilet, then spat on them, and gotten a better return on their investment than the unserious, make-believe nonsense the PPS provided.

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For giving us the work-product of unempirical wishes, a Google image search, and an unwieldly PowerPoint presentation, the PPS or Mark Goldman should pay the people of the State of New York back every dime of money that went into that embarrassment.

Just a couple of weeks after the PPS punked Buffalo, the ECHDC presented what seems like the 900th serious plan for developing the Aud block. It’s a beautiful plan that features *gasp* underground parking. I eagerly await the howls of disapproval from Buffalo’s ersatz intelligentsia, demanding permanent implementation of “flexible lawns”.

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Autocracy and Speaking for the People

14 Feb

When Larry Quinn announced that he was leaving the board of the Erie County Harbor Development Corporation. he said:

I’m going to finish up here, and I’m going to kind of cut off my involvements with other things in Buffalo for now … I have an old expression, that you can nail wings on a pig but you can’t make it fly, and I’m tired of trying to make a pig fly. This political community here is so screwed up that I’m tired of it. It’s just a joke.

Truer words have never been said. The political atmosphere in Buffalo is downright toxic. It is, generally, ideas’ kryptonite.

As we all know, Tim Tielman – the Sarah Palin of Buffalo development – weighed in, likening Quinn to, of all people, Hosni Mubarak. That was followed up yesterday by a wishy-washy Donn Esmonde (one minute he lurves guys like Quinn and Higgins, the next minute he tsk-tsks them).

Through all of it, I think Quinn represented the worst of a top-down, magic-bullet mindset that too often afflicts this community’s decision-making. The Bass Pro fiasco, backed by virtually every power broker and politician, cost the community years of time, money and needless conflict. Think about that, the next time somebody says preservationists are the “obstructionists.”

What Quinn was doing was trying to ensure that a development with a large shopping component have a large shopping draw. Whether you were for or against Bass Pro, the logic of its inclusion was without question. We don’t crowdsource what shopping options go to Elmwood Avenue or the Walden Galleria, so to have a parade of developmental Sarah Palins call Bass Pro everything but Hitler was as unproductive (if not more so) than the attempts to lure the store.

When the Tielmanites talked of the aborted siting of the Bass Pro on the Central Wharf, you’d have thought they were talking of a Shoah.

But when did they hold the referendum? When did the people truly decide?

Because when the Tielmanite Palinists declare development projects to be horrifically wrong, they’re merely substituting their own opinions to someone else’s; we have the preservationist elite (usually in alliance with the foundation elite and activist elite) doing battle with the politically-connected & developer/new money elites. (The Buffalo elites are explained in this post.)

Regular people, though – the people who slot into none of the elites – never got a chance to weigh in on any of the plans until today. For every criticism that Donn Esmonde hucks at Larry Quinn for his supposed autocratic “discount[ing] public process” and “blast[ing] of project skeptics” who had blasted him, the same goes for Tim Tielman and his ilk.

Because Tim Tielman and the anti-development types in Buffalo held exactly zero public hearings or listening tours or referenda or other opportunities to listen to the public. Not that they’re legally obligated to, but when they purport to speak for the entire community, and when Donn Esmonde implies that they speak for everyone, they should be reminded that the regular people – the ones who don’t slot into any of Buffalo elites – no one ever asked them.

Bass Pro Just Isn’t That Into Us

13 Sep

Buffalo Business First reports that over 800 people submitted over 1,700 ideas for what should be done with Canal Side.

I half suspect that if you were to omit all proposals involving the terms, “IKEA”, “Wegmans” and “museum”, we’d have literally tens of ideas submitted.

But ECHDC, which oversees the development of Buffalo’s inner harbor, has Larry Quinn as vice-chairman.  And vice-chairman Quinn has an absolutely phenomenal idea that no one else could have possibly considered.  It is a masterful stroke of genius that combines bad ideas and humor in a way almost unprecedented in WNY, ever.

Larry Quinn’s big idea for a post-Bass Pro Canal Side is…

…let’s try to lure Bass Pro again.

No, really.  I’m serious.

The common and popular themes prompted one ECDHC board member — Vice Chairman Larry Quinn — to suggest maybe the agency should reach out one last time to Bass Pro Stores to see if they would re-consider their plans to develop 130,000-square-foot store that would help anchor Canal Side.

“Lots of deals in the world go south, then get revived when people have a chance to take a deep breath and figure out what they’ve lost,” Quinn said.

Bass Pro, on July 30, ended a nine-year courtship with Buffalo, in large part to a strong anti-attitude the project had taken, especially in the last few months. Lawsuits were filed against the ECHDC concerning the Bass Pro store, public opinion polls were heavily against the store. In early August, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, demanded Bass Pro either sign a lease or walk away from the project. Bass Pro shocked many by walking away from Canal Side after years of discussions.

“Maybe we go to Bass Pro and say ‘Hey, look, what you experienced was a unique political fire storm’ and wasn’t reflective of what people want,” Quinn said.

Brown said he would be open to re-approaching Bass Pro, but he wanted one condition — a more immediate decision.

Guys, Bass Pro had about 10 solid years to make a commitment to Buffalo and WNY.  Seriously, any time they complained about something we made it go away.  We threw money at them hand over fist.  We got the professional obstructionist plaintiffs to more or less STFU about it.

The hard fact is – Bass Pro just isn’t that into us.  Let’s let it go.  Any more discussion about it – even mentioning that name again – reeks of such hardcore, inexplicable desperation that counseling may be in order.

(As a side note, those of you on the Twitters may want to follow “Quinn Must Resign“)

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Carl Paladino Sends an Email

12 Aug

Received via email today, all misspellings [sic]. Presented, for now, without comment.

August 11, 2010

To: Buffalo Media

From: Carl Paladino

Subject: The Bass Pro Debacle

After decades of frustration, our waterfront was finally set to come to life. Instead, once again, Buffalo’s obstructionists piped up at the last minute and buried Canal Place.

Nine years ago, Bob and Mindy Rich encouraged Johnny Morris and Bass Pro to come to Buffalo. Five years ago, the successful national retailer gave up. Morris told Mindy that Buffalo’s negotiators were incompetent and had no idea how to put a deal together.

Always determined, Mindy then asked Larry Quinn, an apolitical doer, to apply his laser beam focus and make the deal work. Larry spent four years putting the Bass Pro project back together. Then Buffalo’s obstructionists killed it.

According to Buffalo News columnist Donn Esmond, “at least we are done getting jerked around…by Bass Pro honcho, Johnny Morris.” Esmond, Mark Goldman, Bruce and Scott Fisher, Tim Theilman, Michael LoCurto and their other self-absorbed obstructionist friends – especially Rep. Brian Higgins – took control of and destroyed a project that, for Buffalonians, would have been a dream finally come true.

The misery Johnny Morris and Bass Pro have had to go through throughout the process was paralyzing.

First was the Project Labor Agreement (PLA), an illegal (agree or we picket the job) intrusion by trade union leaders into what elsewhere would be an open shop project. A PLA requires that all contractors be union, allowing them and their crony union leaders to increase project costs 35 percent.

Initially, the intent was to put Bass Pro in the Aud, then at the water edge, and finally on the north end of the Aud site. Tim Thielman and his merry band of preservationists complained about every site and caused multiple redesigns.

Then enter Mark Goldman and the Fishers. Bruce Fisher, who nearly destroyed Erie County as the father of the red and green budgets, now has a do-nothing job at Buffalo State College sucking more of our tax dollars into his Machiavellian world. His brother Scott is no slouch: he grabbed $10 Million from the city to build the Ani DiFranco “Babeville” cultural center, which is no more than a private banquet hall built with City funds.

Bass Pro would bring Buffalo $600,000 in annual rent and $3 million in additional annual sales tax revenues. Still, the omniscient Mark Goldman objects to using tax incremental financing to offset the onerous cost burdens of building anything in over-regulated and over-taxed New York State.

The three sued to stop the project. Let’s see: Bruce Fisher promoted Bass Pro when he was at the county. Scott Fisher took millions from the City. Goldman is little more than a whiner. We are expected to trust these guys?

Finally came the Community Benefit Agreement. LoCurto and Higgins – our liberal, progressive, arrogant, and elitist congressman – want prospective tenants of Canal Place to pay their employees $3.00 more per hour as a so-called “living wage.” Why would a business agree to be uncompetitive? Does competitor Gander Mountain pay $3.00 more hourly? I don’t think so.

And then Higgins, who has never developed anything, with no consultation and for no logical reason other than political opportunity, blamed Bass Pro for time delays and gave them an ultimatum?

Bass Pro is building in Illinois and in Tennessee where they don’t have PLAs, prevailing wages, Wick’s Law, Community Benefit Agreements, or obstructionists. Earning profits is acceptable there. Our community has failed on the watch of the obstructionists, yet we continue to listen to them as though they preach gospel. It simply makes no sense.

The United States is in a terrible recession; Buffalo is far worse. Retail sales are down and retailers nationwide have shelved store expansion plans. There are no retailers knocking on the door to come to the second poorest city in America for all the reasons Bass Pro encountered.

The Richs and Larry Quinn have put their hearts and souls into winning Bass Pro, the perfect anchor for a mega project that will include multiple other retailers, a hotel and residential and office development. They know of a lot more potential than can be released to the public. Other food and soft goods merchants will not come to the waterfront without a destination anchor. Bass Pro can attract three million people a year and that’s exciting to small businesses.

But why listen to the development people who have been doing this all their lives? The obstructionists, who are experts in everything, live in a fantasy world of ever changing planning. The images they conjure last for a while, some longer than others, and then they disappear.

Enough is enough. Johnny Morris deserves an apology from Higgins and the business community must organize and bring Bass Pro back to the table.

Updating a Quip

3 Aug

Opinions about what should be done with Canal Side are like assholes.

Everyone’s got one, and most of them stink to high heaven.

The Arena of Risk and Responsibility

2 Aug

I vowed that my last column would be just that on the subject of Bass Pro. And so it will be. This column is not about Bass Pro. It’s about the generalized misunderstanding of the difference between Doing and Talking.

WNYMedia has been flush with Bass Pro coverage, because it’s the biggest story in Buffalo, we write about development and FAIL, and it is an interesting intersection of politics, public money, infighting, activists, and taking off the nose to spite the face.

Alan expressed relief and looked forward to the opening of Super Vidlers, Chris cynically looked in his crystal ball, Mark discussed what the next step was, and Colin asked what the fuss was all about, wondering if we lost our minds since we weren’t celebrating.

I had the audacity to sympathize with the Writer and not the Critic.

The image of Levy and Quinn as brave fighters for the public good besieged by cowardly sniping is just too much.  These guys aren’t the modern day Spartacus — they had all the advantages in the world, while their critics were the real underdogs.  I also don’t understand how Levy and Quinn were “in the arena” but their opponents weren’t.  Both sides were fighting in the same arena — that of public opinion — and this time David defeated Goliath.

What does it say of our local Buffalo attitudes, that Colin fairly represents here, that he assumes I was speaking of the Arena of Public Opinion? Nothing could be more wrong. I was speaking of the Arena of Actions and Deeds, of building buildings, fighting wars, making peace, and starting businesses. The Arena of risks and responsibilities, of creation and establishment. The Arena of Public Opinion can kill such projects, can bring the battler low, but it creates nothing tangible itself. It is the sideshow, a killer, not the creator.

Jordan Levy and Larry Quinn, among others, have the responsibility to create Canalside. They write the script, draw the drawings, recruit the businesses, hire the contractors, and build the buildings. They are not self appointed; they are part of a public benefit corporation, created by law, and appointed by politicians duly elected by the citizens of this state and city. They are accountable to those politicians, and to the citizens, to create Canalside. It is ultimately their responsibility to battle in the arena to build something, or fail in the attempt. If they fail, they are fired by the politicians, or the citizens elect new political representatives who will replace them. Canalside is their responsibility, and they are ultimately accountable.

Contrast this with the critics, snipers, professional obstructionists, lawsuit artists, lobbyists and naysayers. Construction of Canalside is not their responsibility. Their opposition to Canalside is a choice, a fight of convenience – when the focus shifts to the Jersey Stables, or the Seneca Casino in Buffalo, or the Peace Bridge, they will move on also. They bear no responsibility to propose themselves, only to critique what the Writer has written. If Canalside succeeds or fails, they are fundamentally unaffected. They are self-appointed by their internal constituencies and funders, and unaccountable to the greater public.

There are exceptions that prove this rule of course. Every fair housing group that does not just lobby and cajole but buys homes themselves, fixes them, and sells them (PUSH being the best example, although there are others) battles in the Arena of Risk and Responsibility. Mark Goldman, party to the lawsuit that helped sink Bass Pro, was a pioneer on Chippewa in the Calumet Arts Cafe and bore the weight of the risk and responsibility. His opposition makes him hypocritical, cold-hearted, and hard-eyed, but I still respect his battle (and look forward to his new project in Black Rock). But groups such as this are the minority, and overwhelmed by their counterparts.

Let’s return to Colin:

I do know quite a bit about the folks behind the push for a CBA.  The Canal Side Alliance — the temporary coalition formed to work on the issue — comprised several dozen organizations.  The lead negotiators on the CBA would have been the Urban League, PUSH — maybe you’ve heard of them?  the best thing to happen to Buffalo in the last decade? — and the Coalition for Economic Justice.  CEJ was the group most responsible for the CBA fight, and their dues-paying membership includes dozens of churches and religious bodies, dozens of unions, dozens of community groups, and hundreds of unaffiliated individuals.

In short, the folks who opposed the giveaways to Bass Pro aren’t “self-appointed” busybodies.  They represent real constituencies — the church around the corner, the autoworker next door, the block club a few streets over.  Who the fuck are Jordan Levy and Larry Quinn?  What constituency do they serve?

I think I already answered the last question – every member of the voting public. The star-crossing of Buffalo, that we can’t get out of own way, is rooted in this fundamental dismissal of the Doer, and celebration of the Critic. The Blue Collar Culture of this town has many tremendous benefits (the general friendliness and helpfulness of the average citizen face-to-face being the best), but this critical attitude is some of the worst. Bass Pro and the ECHDC vs. CEJ became framed as a fight of Management versus Labor, the Rich versus the Poor, Goliath versus David. The unions have shown in the last 30 years around the country that they feel no responsibility for the strength of the company (or worse, the State) they work for, just the strength of the union they are members of. With no accountability to the ultimate completion (much less success) of a project, rejection is mistaken for comaraderie and defense of the collective. In this case, a concrete pit of FAIL is better than a store they would not shop at that would receive too much public money and pay minimum wage to its workers.

It harkens to the old conundrum: when 1000 Oracle workers are laid off in Silicon Valley, they start 1000 new software companies. When 1000 auto workers are laid off in Buffalo, they collect unemployment, complain about the old company, and wait for a new one to come in and hire them. The same city that derides Silver Bullet solutions, and loves to knock them down, also consistently seeks them. We do not live in a city of Doers and Builders. The union does not build a factory and produce cars on its own. The Goliath we fight is the source of, and solution to, all our problems.

Which leads to the last point, and last irony: the fallacy of the entire David versus Goliath frame. The admirable urge to organize, and exert the power of the collective, does not create the David. It creates the Goliath.

The David versus Goliath frame depends on the “small people” being powerless, but organizing to defeat the powerful rich white men. But I would define power by success, and who is more successful in these contests? Current Buffalo history shows that the filer of the lawsuit is the Goliath, and the Doer and Builder is the David. The Peace Bridge is unbuilt, the Buffalo Seneca Casinos sits rusting, and Canalside is back to the drawing board. It seems David’s rock is remarkably accurate. In fact, in the recent history of BuffaloFAIL, I can think of only one instance where it was not a lawsuit that doomed the project: Bashar Issa’s Statler dream. Similarly, many unsued projects in Buffalo have succeeded. In the Buffalo ProjectFAIL sportsbook, safe money goes with the filer of the lawsuit, and the underdog is definitely the Doer.

Canalside, What’s Next?

31 Jul

So, what’s next? Fishing around for a new anchor tenant, LARF!  However, if this mystical anchor tenant hunt produces any fruit and that choice is not to the liking of Mark Goldman or other interests…more lawsuits, more clamoring for living wage legislation, more talking, debating, litigating, and public hearings, scoping sessions and most importantly, more scale diagrams of the inner harbor made of foam.

Here’s how I see the next couple of months breaking down.

The Buffalo Common Council will probably not agree to the Mayor’s Community Development Agreement to transfer land in the Bass Pro Demilitarized Zone to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation because the Council doesn’t know what will be going onto the site.  The council will want input into what goes onsite, how it is placed there, living wage, how it is designed, etc.

Benderson will most likely find that their imaginary list of 10 destination retailers will not be interested in setting up shop in what amounts to an alligator pit of obstructionist nonsense.  A new retailer with a new store footprint will be subjected to a modification process of the formal SEQRA, which will add months to the development timeframe.  That time will allow demagogues to come out of the woodwork and refresh their arguments against “big box” retail.  It will require additional public hearings, going hat in hand to ask permission from the inept and obstinate Common Council for support.  Retailers do not like to put their brand at risk in a public process like this and unless the retailer chosen is Trader Ikea Foods and Barrel, whatever is chosen will be fought tooth and nail.

Aside from all of that, we are in the worst economic climate in nearly a century.  The national commercial real estate market is in shambles and retailers large and small are struggling to stay open, much less expanding with a flagship store in a depressed region where they will face significant public scrutiny and become a community lightning rod and subjected to litigation.  To take on those risks and damage to their brand, a retailer would have to be REALLY committed to the idea of being in Buffalo.

I suspect that Jordan Levy will soon cite his new responsibilities as a board member of Seneca Holdings as well as his other interests and step down from the ECHDC, to be replaced with a Higgins friendly choice.

We’ll see discussion ramp up about moving HSBC Bank from it’s 40 story tower into the Webster Block of Canalside.  Hey, relocating a huge business 300 yards and leaving our most prominent building empty is progress!

We’ll see grass planted in other areas of Canalside, an infusion of mobile meat sales, and some basic improvements made to the street grid, but FAILhole (former site of the Aud) will remain for quite some time.

Which is why I propose we implement the WNYMedia plan.  A couple of years ago, Marc Odien drew up his rendering of Buffalo’s Waterfront Future. It needs to be updated to include the Historic, Epic, Significant Taco Truck…but you get the idea.

Bass Pro and Buffalo’s Courtship Ends

31 Jul

While Brian and Chris congratulate themselves for having accurately predicted the fact that Bass Pro was not coming to Buffalo, ever, I’ll restrict my comments to a different emotion: relief.

It’s finally over. No more feigned “excitement”. No more breathless “imminent deal”. Bass Pro is finished with Buffalo, and Buffalo with it.

Here’s exclusive audio of the final phone call where Buffalo told Bass Pro that it’s over (NB: this is a joke, and the audio is NSFW).

I have been paying attention to this Bass Pro thing since Masiello and Pataki donned flannel to make the big announce six years ago. We’ve lived through an MOU, debates about the subsidy, Joel Giambra refusing to sign the Bass Pro MOU, then changing his mind, tobacco money, the WNY Coalition for Progress, sales tax hikes, the creation of ECHDC by Pataki at Higgins’ urging, the creation of Canal Side, the first 30-day deadline, which turned into a 60-day deadline, which turned into no deadline, , the NYPA reauthorization, Bass Pro’s perpetual excitement, and the perpetual imminence of the deal being done.

Momentum! Eventually, my support for the project turned into indifference. We decided finally to get rid of the useless Aud. Bass Pro and ECHDC turned their attention in early 2007 to the Central Wharf, right down to the imminent deal and flyover animation. Suddenly the professional obstructionists blew their collective gasket. Lawsuits! To his credit, Larry Quinn took the opposition on. The usual suspects came out with the usual lies – in this case, “big box” was the condescending buzzword du jour. Every false claim had to be rebutted.

In 2007, WNYMedia.net produced the “Bass Pros and Cons” video, and held a panel discussion at Canisius College’s Montante Center featuring Jim Ostrowski, Larry Quinn, Carl Paladino, and Scot Fisher. Donn Esmonde did Esmondey things. The professional obstructionists held a circle-jerk panel discussion a month later to “debate” whether it was proper for public money to be spent on a public-private project. The irony of the discussion being held at the Hallwalls facility, which is a private recipient of public money, was generally missed.

We had reasonable and unreasonable discussions galore about this downtown shopping mall. In any event, the Bass Pro on the Central Wharf idea was dead before it was ever born, a victim of dumb demagoguery in the first degree.

Might I propose that somewhere on the property be erected a statue of Tim Tielman with the engraving, “Walden Galleria: 10 Miles”.

But by October 2007, we were on to plan C; Bass Pro would start again with a new-build on the Aud site. We had the “Waterfront Coalition” created, which took the demagoguery ball and ran with it to the Outer Harbor. We responded with the “Coalition of Enough, Already“.

By 2008, Bass Pro was pleading with Buffalo to hurry it up, already. The project was up for public comment and was going to cost $500 million. Suddenly we had a “pre-development agreement”, which roughly translates as “nothing”. And more nothing. And more nothing. And angry nothing.

But nothing was suddenly replaced with … more animations!

But while 2009 was quiet, 2010 saw the issue of Bass Pro coming to a head. The problem was that no one cared anymore. Building crap worth going to on the water in other cities is no-brainer stuff. In Buffalo, it was like a painful 10-year long surgery with no anesthetic costing millions.

It ended with a final ultimatum, a lawsuit from the professional obstructionists, and the ultimate conclusion of this epic drama.

The whole, long drama was bookended by Masiello and Pataki donning flannel on the one hand, and Carl Paladino invoking Marx and ACORN on the other. In-between was the typical contemporary trajectory of Buffalo Fail.

I’m happy that WNYMedia.net was at the forefront of discussing this project in a way that cut through the bullshit and the lies and the demagoguery. We didn’t report the news – we hosted the public discussion and commentary in a way that no other local media was able to accomplish. We were reasonable when necessary, snarky when not. We were hopeful, skeptical, informed, cynical, interested, and offered the community a forum to debate the whole thing.

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The conclusion? When it comes to discussion of development in Buffalo, don’t bet against the cynics.

My Last Word on Bass Pro

30 Jul

Let me start with a self congratulation. I was right. Bass Pro has not been coming for some time. They simply made it official today.

But Congressman Brian Higgins was wrong, when he says they never were coming. He’s wrong because we’ll never know, because CBA peddlers, lawsuit artists, professional obstructionists and Buffalo Common Council gave them an out. Buffalo never had the chance to call their bluff, and we let them off the hook. We’ll never know how long its been since we were in the running.

The post-mortem on Bass Pro will predictably combine several relevant questions into one Pacific gasp: “Who’s fault is it?” That question is obvious, but your answer to it probably reveals more about your political bent and general snootiness than yields a constructive answer. So let me parse it further.

The immediate question is: “What killed Bass Pro?” Or, to put it another way, “What killed Bass Pro today?” It has been mentioned today ad nauseum that Bass Pro has been toying with Buffalo for nine years. Implicit in that critique is the fact that Bass Pro could have pulled out of this deal any time in the last nine years, but didn’t. They made (weak) positive noises through environmental reviews, Tim Tielman grandstanding, endless redesigns, a Great Recession, the Aud being knocked down, Marine Drive parking ramp NIMBYism, and a funding juggling act. They could not survive a late stage living wage monkey wrench to the head, the Common Council balking at a “drop the CBA” bribe funding plan and a lawsuit who’s hypocrisy is only matched by its irony. Some may try to blame Congressman’s Higgin’s ultimatum for today’s announcement. With all due respect to the Congressman, he holds none of the cards in a lease negotiation between a private company and a New York State authority. He could bluster and cajole, but Bass Pro was free to ignore his deadline as well. In the end, it provided some drama to the timing, but little else.

Note that the “What killed Bass Pro?” question is very different from the other questions being asked (and jumbled together) today: “Who’s to blame for this not working?” or “Was Bass Pro a good idea in the first place?” or “Should $35 million be given to retail?” or “What should happen now?” or “Why does Buffalo suck at doing anything?”

Let me take those one at a time. The answers are professional obstructionists, yes, no, shrug, and small mindedness, petty rivalries, and general incompetence, in that order. I am generally sympathetic to Jordan Levy and Larry Quinn, who are at least in the arena battling, rather than cowardly chirping critiques from the side, taking no risk and choosing the status quo FAIL over any plan not perfectly in line with their insulated self-important ideals. The CBA pushers got their wish: non-existent theoretical jobs that will pay no one any wage, rather than actual jobs that will pay someone a lesser wage. The few successfully ruined it for the many. As Alan would say, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Bass Pro was never a perfect fit, and the deal did seem to be getting worse as the bloom came off the “destination retailer” rose. That being said, I was looking forward to trying out a canoe or kayak on the water downtown before I bought one, and the idea of putting a boat/fishing store on the Great Lake that has some of the best bass fishing in the world does seem to make some intuitive sense. I know rednecks don’t get a vote on the intertube commentary to complain, and I’m sure Hamburg would be happy to host a store like this instead (oh the BRO wailing and gnashing of teeth – the only thing worse than a Bass Pro downtown is one in the SUBURBS!).  

So what happens next? My first prediction in March, that Canalside will remain a vacant concrete hole for years, may be too close to the mark. Jordan Levy acknowledged today that the quotes currently out for construction have plenty of work that no longer needs to be done, and the ECHDC may have to go back and reopen the environmental review process because the removal of Bass Pro constitutes a major change. Expect every Tim Tielman, Donn Esmonde and other self-appointed spokesman of the people to have their own opinion about what cultural/retailer/restaurant should occupy that space, and what portion of the $35 million their pet project should get. This process will drag on years, and the Peace Bridge may be built before its sorted out. That $35 million is too big of a prize to not be fought over. Consider this suggestion from the CBA-leading Bass Pro slayers:

Micaela Shapiro-Shellaby of the Coalition for Economic Justice said she hopes the $35 million in subsidies that were earmarked for Bass Pro could be spent in ways that have broad long-term benefits for the region.

“[The money] could be put toward some of the things that we would like to see in a Community Benefits Agreement, such as promoting local entrepreneurship,” she said.

She added that the latest twist in the Canal Side saga might be opportunity to promote greater public input.

Yes, because all those small business incubators, job programs and training sites (read: patronage pits) have done wonders to turn Buffalo around and build a thriving middle class and small business culture in this city. And CLEARLY what this project has lacked the last nine years is sufficient community input.