Tag Archives: Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus

Wednesday War ‘n Politics

7 Mar

1. Congratulations to Mitt Romney, who won a couple of states in last night’s Super Tuesday. He appears to have become, at long last, the Republican’s nominee to take on Barack Obama in November. Santorum won a handful of states, and Gingrich won Georgia, which is enough to keep them around and just demolishing Romney day in and day out, but they don’t really have anywhere to go.

2. Incidentally, did you know that the Paladinoist / Palinist wing of the tea party club here in WNY held a Presidential straw poll of its own? Although Romney is very likely to win the New York primary, our plucky band of angry local wingnuts picked Rick Santorum.

3. The debate over what is to become with the Trico building is going to be the big development/preservation fight for the first half of this year. It’s already getting going, as an earlier post will attest. What’s unique about this particular battle is that most people agree that the Trico building is an historically significant landmark, and also that the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is something that’s great for the community and the source of a great many good jobs, and of a knowledge-based future Buffalo industry. It’s going to be a tough battle because it’ll be particularly hard for anyone to demonize or belittle anyone else. It’s also yet another ad hoc battle that we’re so used to, which pits people against each other, creates loads of rancor, and is generally sad and discouraging, regardless of who wins. While I recognize the historic importance of Trico, and the importance of its former factory, I also recognize that Trico is long gone, headquartered in Michigan, and making blades in Brownsville and Matamoros. The building is, to me, subjectively hideous – an eyesore, and refurbishing a former factory – regardless of how historically important – into a medical research facility is impractical, and something the BNMC simply doesn’t want to do. They want a 21st century facility, not a 19th century facility. This is before we even get to the environmental cleanup that any adaptive reuse would entail. My sympathies default to people, jobs, and the future.

4. The Valenti/Brocuglio dynamic duo is back in / still in WNY, depending on whom we’re talking about, and their residential landlord got shafted at Eden court in her eviction effort. The former owners of Valenti’s restaurant have until the end of March to move out of their home, and Judge Zittel did not order a judgment for back rent dating to December.

5. I remember watching the Little Rascals after school when I was a kid, those little unsupervised, depression-era scamps were often tussling with the truant officer. Perhaps it’s time that school districts with big absentee problems revisit this idea.

6. There was a lot of hubbub yesterday about a map released by a special master appointed by a federal judge to try and resolve the ongoing fight over congressional redistricting in New York. Locally, the issue was the fact that both Brian Higgins and Kathy Hochul reside within the redrawn 27th district. Suffice it to say, the court’s map is not in any way final, but it will be the default map should the parties be unable to come to a separate agreement. It happens every time, and acts as a catalyst to move negotiations forward. What does seem likely, however, is that Louise Slaughter’s district will be re-drawn to return her influence to the Rochester area only, and out of the Buffalo metro. NYS Judicial Redistricting Map

7. Ron Paul has won a whopping 47 delegates during this primary season. The margin of Romney’s lead over Santorum in the delegate race is more than 200 delegates. Why the hell is he still in the Presidential race?

8. In response to news that the government is looking to get rid of over 800 jobs at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve base, Republican Congressional candidate David Bellavia tweeted this:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/DavidBellavia/status/177124836504645633″%5D

Well, not really. I received a press release that Schumer, Gillibrand, Hochul, Slaughter, and Higgins jointly released, reading as follows:

“We call on the Air Force to reverse this decision and to identify a new mission for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. As a united delegation, along with the support of Governor Cuomo, we will continue to fight to protect this base, the positions it supports, and the thousands of Western New Yorkers that rely on its services.

“The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is an essential part of our nation’s military force, and we will not rest in the effort to find a new mission.”

Furthermore, Republicans are usually very, very opposed to things like government stimulus of the economy and government employment vs. private sector employment. Somehow, those principles get thrown out the window whenever we’re talking about military spending. The truth is, the air base has a stimulative effect on the regional economy, and losing it diminish that. Also, it’s false to suggest that the local delegation isn’t working to keep that stimulus spending here.

9. Barack Obama is going to have an easy time running on his international affairs record, and sought yesterday to calm the rhetoric coming mostly from the right, agitating for a new war in the Persian Gulf, this time against Iran. Speaking of the unemployed Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney:

The president was withering in his retort. “Those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities,” Mr. Obama said. “They’re not commander in chief. When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war” — for those who go into combat, for national security and for the economy. “This is not a game,” he added. “And there’s nothing casual about it.”

“If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so, and they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be,” he said.

We need another war like we need another 2008 global financial meltdown. But not to be outdone, Senator John McCain suggested that we ought to bomb Syria due to the political and humanitarian crisis being created by the fascist Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on a months-long popular uprising. It may soon become time for military intervention in Syria, as we took part in in Libya. However, this would need to be a multilateral effort, with the Arab League taking the lead in demanding the intervention. Efforts to do that through the UN Security Council were unsuccessful, due to China’s and Russia’s positions as the permanent member protectors of brutal authoritarian regimes, and the veto that goes with it.

10. Jim Heaney interviews former ECHDC / Sabres guy Larry Quinn, who has some choice words for the risible “lighter, faster, cheaper” method of planning for the inner harbor.

Largely Symbolic, Locally Stupid

18 Jan

Many thanks to the Republican congress for finally freeing us from the tyranny-at-gunpoint of $32 million in regional federal investment in pork barrel projects such as:

Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station $9.5 million
Lake Ontario/Niagara River navigation $4.2 million
Cyclotron at UB research center $3.7 million
Statler transportation facility $3 million
Viral research at Hauptman-Woodward Institute $2 million
Darwin Martin House improvements $1 million
Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus streetscape improvements $1 million

Although it does sometimes seem as if the Darwin Martin House is the biggest welfare queen in Buffalo, I have a huge problem with losing funding for things like viral research and the Cyclotron.  We’re pretty good here in western New York of maintaining a mediocre economic status quo, so when Washington throws us a bone we should run for it, not from it.   After all, it’s not the federal government at the root of that mediocrity, and New York State is a net federal payor.

Earmarks get a lot of attention because they’re easy for people to understand, and easy for some politicians to heap scorn upon, but they’re real projects that benefit real people and create real private-sector jobs.  In the case of medical or scientific research, they can have scientific and economic benefits that last decades.  After all, a lot is riding on the medical campus, as it represents a huge effort to move our region further away from its long-gone industrial past and into a 21st-century knowledge-based economy.

I challenge anyone to tell me why a C-130 flight operations center at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is mere “pork” – like a bridge to nowhere – with no federal benefit.

While the sole Republican representative from the Buffalo area, Chris Lee (NY-26), says it’s indicative of an effort to stop “reckless spending”, that sort of comment does a disservice to the projects themselves.  There’s nothing “reckless” about an investment in Buffalo’s future, it’s common sense. And given that earmarks make up less than 0.5% of the federal budget, talk of this earmark ban being some sort of return to fiscal sanity is just a lie.  This is macro window dressing, with very poor micro effects.

In the meantime, the United States spends around $700 billion per year for defense alone, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – about $2 thousand million per day out of a $3.5 trillion budget.

I guess things in Washington are not that dissimilar from our own Erie County Legislature – we get all worked up about minutiae, ignoring the bigger picture.

A Microcosm of Buffalo

19 Sep

The people of Western New York do not have much excuse for complaining that we don’t get what we want. For there being so much anger at our demographic, economic, political, and development circumstances, the Fates hear our requests loud and clear, and we reap the logical conclusion of our decisions and views.

We don’t like our high taxes, but are unwilling to take any tangible steps to lower them. You may not trust any particular politician to lower taxes, no matter the promises (notice how few WNY politicians even promise this, by the way, as election season comes into full swing), and I would not blame you. But Williamsville and Sloan had the opportunity to eliminate an entire class of taxes, and despite national research that increasing the number of governments increases taxes, they chose localized services over tax reductions. Fair enough – we get what we want.

Exhibit B is the not-unexpected news this past weekend that Women’s and Children’s Hospital is starting a move to the downtown Medical Campus, and will invest tens of millions of dollars on the Near East Side, not the Elmwood Village. Its the logical conclusion of Elmwood’s policies, and can be extrapolated to explain why national investment (demographic and political capital) heads to the South East and South West, and not Buffalo.

This region manages to nearly universally praise the development at the Medical Campus and the Larkin District without understanding, or even examining, what policies and circumstances are in place that allow for this investment. The similarity is not the source of the dollars. The Medical Campus started with existing assets (BGH and Roswell park), added some New York State investment, and now is surging with Kaleida, UB and some private dollars, while the Larkin District has been nearly entirely private money, with a smattering of standard tax breaks. The similarity is also not political will or involvement: the Medical Campus is every politician’s darling, while the Larkin folks are happy to fly under the political radar.

No, the common element is the presence of lax development policies, with its related cousins, a welcoming neighborhood and lack of opposition. It is to each’s advantage that there is less neighborhood being impacted than in Elmwood. But a scarcity of local residents has not kept Canalside from being fought over for ten years, and most residents near the Larkin or Medical Campus appear happy for outside dollars. Work was allowed to begin, success has begot success, and momentum has built. The initial projects of each were not perfect, but the ability to simply complete a project helped sway the physicians of WCH to throw their lot in with the Medical Campus. The Larkin Developers have won praise for historic rehabs, but they also built large parking ramps, and have kept surface lots as well. Restrictive architectural and development policies were not in place, architectural renderings were not fought over, outside plans were not imposed, and urban planning sins were overlooked.

The result: jobs, residences and life in portions of the city nearly forgotten ten years ago, and billions (literally) in infrastructure investment alone. The Medical Campus has $401 million worth of projects (Global Vascular Institute, Educational Opportunity Center, and a new nursing home) currently under construction as we speak.  

In the meantime, the residents of the Elmwood Village (where two complaints can stop construction) are reaping what they have sown. After fighting to keep the hospital, the Elmwood Village then opposed any concrete action that would make it viable. The box again became more important than its contents. Everyone involved made a rational choice: Elmwood values a monoculture of trendy retail and restaurants with quaint Victorian homes, and the hospital values modern facilities and medical advancement. Everyone gets what they want . . . except when they don’t. The BRO crowd is trying to decide if hyperlocal high paying jobs are important to a vibrant neighborhood. We’ll see, as Elmwood doubles down on its experiment as an urban bedroom community.

Buffalo is fortunate that the move of Women’s and Children’s will be measured in blocks and not hundreds of miles. In this case, maybe everyone wins. But all too often, Buffalo’s face to the world is that of the Elmwood Village, and not the Medical Campus: your ability to fit inside our box is more important than your investment. So companies leave, or choose not to move here in the first place. The major companies that do arrive – GEICO, Citi, Yahoo – choose our less restrictive suburbs rather than the urban core. I don’t think this is simply a matter of floor plates and parking lots, and I’m purposely leaving taxes out for a moment, as any major company will get a sweet deal from NY. There is plenty of open land for wide new towers with underground or adjacent parking in our Central Business District. Do we welcome this development, or restrict, impose and curtail it, to have it our way or not at all?

I don’t think we can survive as a community of a million or more by simply selling yoga lessons and tapas out of historic brick buildings. The corollary is there will not be sufficient capital to maintain all those historic buildings with a smaller community. Since our city can not agree on what Progress looks like, we get a de facto result, not a planned or deliberate one. But we get what we want, or at least what we deserve.

Branding Buffalo

25 Feb

In a couple of recent posts, I’ve identified the brand of Buffalo as our biggest business and redevelopment challenge, and I’ve established that our culture in Buffalo is holding us back from progress. Today I want to examine our brand, and rebranding efforts, more closely. Why now? More on that later in the post.

Cities have brands the way any other product does. Just as Nike shoes will forever be linked with an image of Michael Jordan sailing to the basket, cities have brand reputations. And this goes beyond “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” (though that is great branding). New York is the Big Apple where anyone can make it, and anything can happen at any hour of the day or night. Los Angeles is the center of glitz and Hollywood. Nashville and Austin have fun music reputations. In the latter two cases, a couple of streets and bars (plus a music festival or two) is all it takes to keep that reputation intact. If you don’t like your city’s brand, you can remake it, a la Balboa, where a new famous museum changed everything. Brands morph and change. Hummer used to be known for rugged strength. Now it is a poster child for everything wrong with the American car industry, and is being shut down.

So, as a review, what is Buffalo’s current brand? I once described our potential logo as “an over taxed rusting factory covered in snow.” Chris Smith, in an article from a couple years ago, described it this way:

I would argue that our current national brand is that of a snowy, dying, heavily unionized, rust belt town that is still reeling from the death of our local manufacturing base.  Marketing organizations like the Buffalo CVB, Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, Buffalo Homecoming and Buffalo Rising have attempted to demonstrate that we are more than that confining description through urban and regional boosterism.

City brands are important because they help to attract (and retain) business, draw tourists, and attract (and retain) population. Phoenix’s reputation as a boom town became self reinforcing at a  certain point. Residents of the midwest, where there are “no jobs,” would move to Arizona because there “were jobs.” Many took construction jobs, building houses for the next wave of midwesterners with the same thoughts.

Buffalo’s snowy, rusting, dying brand is so important because not only does the rest of the country believe it, much of Buffalo believes it too. If Buffalo had a good reputation among more of its current residents, we would be shedding less population. Likewise, if the rest of the country had a different impression of Buffalo’s brand, jobs, tourists and population would be attracted to it, and the reality would change in addition to the illusory brand.

So its the brand boosterism efforts Chris references above that I really want to talk about, because I think the impression of Buffalo (brand) is more important than the reality of Buffalo. And in any case, the impression is much cheaper to change.

The first major rebranding effort I term the Drew Cerza Plan. Drew is the Wing King, of course, and organizes the yearly Buffalo Wing Festival, among other things. The Drew Cerza plans says “What good things is Buffalo already known for? Lets enhance those.” So if America already thinks of chicken wings and sports (Bills and Sabres) when they think of Buffalo, lets do more of that. Cerza himself was spotted in Pizza Hut adds selling more chicken wings nationally, and if you like sports, 2010 is a good year for you to be in Buffalo: the Sabres are winning, NCAA basketball in March, Empire State Games in the summer, and World Juniors Hockey in December. The CVB and new Buffalo Sports Commission have also been pushing smaller events – Buffalo will host the New York State high school swimming state championships soon. Those events add up to a real tourism industry, real jobs, and real visitor impressions changed. The benefit of the Drew Cerza plan is that you are altering the reputation of Buffalo, not completely rebuilding it.

The second major rebranding effort I call the “Donn Esmonde Plan.” This plan says “Everything people know about Buffalo is wrong – lets show them all the great things Buffalo really is.” This plan gives great satisfaction by finally showcasing the “real” Buffalo. But it is also a constant uphill fight because 60 years of Buffalo brand opposes it. So we package up the historic buildings, biomedical research, and a flourishing arts community and try to sell it to a skeptical audience. Every time we are named a Distinctive Destination by a niche organization, or our architecture is mentioned in a national publication, we cheer that America has finally noticed. We count each visitor to the Darwin Martin House, and hang on Cleveland Biolabs bringing 15 workers to the medical campus. One commenter on Chris Smith’s post mentioned above, Nathan Wallace, suggested Buffalo’s brand should be “Historically Innovative.” I love it – we do have great architecture and a great history of medical innovation (like the pacemaker). But you’d have to educate 98% of the Buffalo community on this history before you try to sell it.

Beyond these two major efforts, I find it interesting what major brand resources we have that seem outside of the rebranding process: Niagara Falls, major banking giants, and a huge college population. Note that the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s efforts and targeted industries (agribusiness, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, logistics, professional services and renewable energy) seem separate from either rebranding effort, or those three resources I mentioned.

For me, I’d be happy to rebrand our image into “fun.” As in, “Oh, you’re from Buffalo? I hear that’s a fun town.” Buffalo is a fun place already. We have enough known commodities (sports, chicken wings, beer), and enough unknown items to share (festivals, food) that staking out a reputation as “fun” should not be overwhelming. “Fun” would go a long way to dismiss some rust belt blues – Detroit is not a fun place.

So, to my original point: why talk about this today. Because a major rebranding effort, in the Drew Cerza model, is taking place this weekend downtown. While local high schools are playing their hockey championships in HSBC Arena, Labatt is hosting its massive pond hockey tournament, and the inaugural Powder Keg Festival is sandwiched in between. This expanding event combines not just our love of hockey, beer, and food, but it adds a little rebranding with a love of winter too. I will be taking my kids downtown to watch a little pond hockey, walk through an ice maze, and do some skating. Despite global warming, Buffalo will continue to have a reputation, and a reality, of long snowy winters. Colorado, Vermont and New Hampshire have long winters too, and yet are seen as winter sports paradises. We don’t have the mountains, but we should be able to find a way to play hockey, drink, ice skate, snow shoe and cross-country ski our way into a “fun” reputation.