Tag Archives: Buffalo Development

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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The Buffalo Special Economic Zone

31 Mar

Yesterday, I posted about the Partnership for Public Space’s Tuesday presentation, which I found to be largely based on supposition, incomplete, and improperly presented to the assembled audience. I can’t believe the ECHDC spent money on that, and all to shut a couple of loudmouths up.

A camel is a horse designed by committee, so while it’s nice that we crowdsource the 9,000th iteration of what the waterfront should be, we need a real solution to downtown’s problems. The central business district is a wasteland. We’re now talking about creating a new little shopping district at the foot of Main Street out of whole cloth. But even if we build it, how do you ensure that they come, and that it’s sustainable? Just being there for when hockey or lacrosse games get out isn’t enough. Just being there in nice weather isn’t enough.  It has to be something people want to come to, and people want to return to.

In an economically depressed and shrinking town where entrepreneurship is sorely needed – especially among disadvantaged populations – we can turn downtown Buffalo into something attractive not by centrally planning a waterfront, or doing a 2011 version of what really amounts to 50s era urban renewal. Two votes and a stroke of a pen is all that’s needed.

The area outlined in red ought to be designated a special economic zone. And yes, I use that term specifically to liken it to what China has done to help build and modernize its industry.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be opposed to all of Erie and Niagara Counties being designated special economic zones, but for the purposes of this argument, I’m just focusing on what should be Buffalo’s downtown commercial core.

There are myriad problems with downtown and planning that need to be addressed – above all, modernization and coordination of parking that is relegated to ramps and underground lots. Every parcel within that red zone that isn’t built on should be shovel-ready land. The zoning code should require parking for new development to be adequate and hidden. This means extra cost, but the benefits of locating to the special economic zone means lower taxes and streamlined regulatory processes.

Within the zone, the county and state would waive their respective sales taxes.  That means businesses outside the zone would still have to charge 8.75% on purchases, while businesses within the zone would be tax-free.  It’d be like all of downtown being a duty-free shop.

No, it’s not fair to merchants outside the zone. But life isn’t fair. Furthermore, most of the merchants in Buffalo and outside the zone serve the surrounding residents and will still be patronized out of sheer convenience.  Furthermore, the influx of people and businesses attracted by the SEZ will ultimately help those businesses thrive, as well.

Development would still be subject to Buffalo’s zoning and planning bureaucracies, but the rules would be simplified and permits & approval would be harmonized and streamlined. Property taxes would be reduced or eliminated, depending on the parcel. However, properties would be assessed not based on what they are (e.g., empty lots), but on what their value ought rightly be if developed.

By turning the central business district into a tax-free special economic zone, you give people 8.75 reasons to do business and conduct commerce in downtown Buffalo over anywhere else. Creation of a waterfront district while ignoring the decline and blight of the rest of downtown seems to me to be counterintuitive.

By executing a plan such as this, zoning the waterfront districts, and having the ECHDC or state spend public money solely on the improvement and installation of necessary infrastructure, transfer of title for all parcels to one single entity to speed development, institution of a design and zoning plan that cannot be deviated from, and – most importantly – remediating the environmental nightmares under the soil throughout ECHDC’s mandated districts, we can then auction the parcels off to qualified buyers.

That is how downtowns revive organically – through private initiative and private money.  Government can do its job and merely provide the private sector with the proper environment to do business and build. It doesn’t get faster, quicker, or cheaper than that.

$5MM in Poverty-Reduction Funds to Statler?

24 Mar

Poverty Reducer

Local restaurateur, developer, parking lot owner, and friend-of-Byron’s Mark Croce famously announced that he would commence an incremental rehabilitation of the Statler Towers. For the time being, only the first two floors will be rehabbed to re-enable the ballrooms to be used for events. The upper floors will be rehabbed as the market demands. The deal amazingly closed for only $700,000; in order to make the Statler commercially viable, he will have to repair of the exterior details, many of which have decided to plummet to the ground in recent years.

In order to do that, Croce has applied for a $5.3 million grant from the City of Buffalo, which would likely come from its Community Development Block Grant funding. That money, however, arises out of a HUD program to provide affordable housing and jobs for poverty prevention. Its purpose is to directly benefit low and middle-income people and reduce neighborhood blight. What that has to do with rehabilitating a millionaire’s $700,000 hotel rehab is beyond me.

Add to that the fact that it was announced just yesterday that a Croce LLC just closed on a $1.2 million Orchard Park mansion. I’m sure congress had in mind that CDBG money would go to help develop a crumbling downtown hotel owned by someone who can afford to plunk down $1.2 MM for a nice 12,800 SF house in a tony suburb. Right?