Tag Archives: Buffalo Waterfront

What Old White People Like: Waterfront Edition

24 Nov

I’ve learned a lot during the last two weeks of attending/viewing the series of open houses hosted by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) at which they are soliciting public input on the Canal Side Modified General Project Plan (MGPP).

Most importantly, I’ve learned a lot about what old white people want to see on the waterfront.  Of course, there is a difference between “places” and “things”, but that nuance seems to escape them. We’ve already written a couple hundred thousand words discussing Bass Pro, Canal Side and our analysis of the project, but I’ll write a few more.  I’ll also encourage you to attend the final session tomorrow at the ECHDC offices between 10AM-Noon.

Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned from the various public speakers at this event:

Roughly 75% of the speakers have informed the ECHDC that the Hamburg Drain needs to be moved.  What’s the Hamburg Drain you ask? It’s the fourth largest and third most active Combined Sewer Overflow in the Buffalo Sewer Authority. It’s kind of a big deal in the sewage community.    Click here to read why its important, seriously.  As part of the environmental review process, the ECHDC did an analysis of the drain and its impact on the project, you can and should read it here.  It also sits directly under the Aud Block and its location prohibits the types of structures or canals that can be placed on the site.

The presence of the drain prohibits the digging of navigable canals thus necessitating the dreaded “faux” canal, for instance.  The Hamburg Drain was modified at great expense several years ago to make room for the Commercial Slip on the Inner Harbor.  Estimates to remove it or completely redirect it range anywhere from $75-100MM.  Of course, the sum total of available monies for the Canal Side project are somewhere around $100-140MM.  None of the people, when questioned by ECHDC officials have any concept as to what is involved with removal, the scope of the project nor the cost.  They just want it removed.   So, there’s that.

Each speaker is demanding “dialogue”.  Going back through available press releases, we were notified and then notified our readers of 26 public meetings of the ECHDC since 2007.   That does not include the mandated environmental review meetings which were well-attended, we even streamed those meetings online.  There are very simple ways to contact the ECHDC on their website and their doors are always open.  The ECHDC has initiated several community committees that have been working with them on the historic narrative, museums, public art, recreation, public market, boating, and other issues.  Involvement and dialogue have been everywhere for three years.  That didn’t stop one speaker yesterday from saying “I wasn’t even aware any of this was happening until Mark Goldman told me about it.”  Of course, she wants a pause until she can get caught up on what’s happening.  Also, she hasn’t read all the information yet, she just knows it’s not authentic.

Let’s make a short list of the things people have told us they would like to see implemented at the Inner Harbor and/or their opinions about what is planned.  Note my purposeful overuse of the word “need”, I heard it during each speaker’s comments.  Also, none of this is exaggerated or made up.  These are all things people asked for or said.

  • We need to move the Hamburg drain so we can have navigable canals connected to the lake and the river
  • We need an Ellis Island like historical museum replete with a huge statue of John Wilkinson, a museum which lists all of the people who ever traveled on the Erie Canal on a “Wall of Fame”.
  • Tucker Curtin of Dug’s Dive wants us to slow this 50 year process the fuck down and “jam it in reverse”.  Of course, in the interim, he’d be glad to open a series of food stands at which he can sell moderately priced delicacies to the people coming to look at the hole in the ground.
  • We need restrooms with showers so boaters can get clean.
  • We need to look to Dunkirk’s waterfront for inspiration on how things should look
  • We need an underground parking garage, no we don’t, yes we do, people can walk, no they won’t, they can take the train, build a new train, maybe an outdoor airport-style people mover, connect the train to UB/Hamburg/Tonawanda.  It’s all real easy!  Why is ECHDC making it so tough?
  • We need to make authentic fake history, not fake fake history.  We need authentic low slung docks with handicap accessibility for kayakers who struggle with stairs.  Yes, really.  We also need special parking for kayakers.
  • It would be cool if we had radio controlled boats on the authentic canal, not fake canals because that would be tacky.
  • We need to have authentic boats, not toy boats or paddle boats.  Radio controlled boat guy visibly annoyed.
  • We should dig up a schooner off the coast of Dunkirk (80% of the ship has been consumed by the elements) and put it in a huge tank of water on the aud block.  Which, of course, necessitates the need to move the Hamburg drain as the imagined tank of water containing 20% of a schooner would presumably be too heavy.
  • One speaker has independently been trying to “lure” LL Bean here for a decade.  Can ECHDC finish what he started?
  • We need wading pools, spray fountains, the schooner, oh and it would be great if we had ice rinks and that solar powered carousel thing and “food sources”.
  • We need whimsical and serendipitous situations inspired by nature.  We don’t need buildings, we need trees, green roofs, community gardens, and we can reduce the need for the hamburg drain by using vegetative swails.
  • Kayak lady wants authenticity while asking for kayak accommodations.  Early 19th century recreational kayakers agree.
  • Bike museum from Orchard Park was mentioned ten times on Tuesday, seven times on Monday, five times last week.  Bike museum guy is looking to sell it to ECHDC or someone else, it’s his retirement fund.
  • All streets must be authentically cobbled, preferably with era-sensitive stones.  Authenticity is a must and the Hamburg drain needs to be moved, and I quote, “I have no idea what’s involved in that, but it needs to go, ASAP”
  • We need this to look like San Antonio.  In fact, I once read about a guy from Hawaii who does really nice murals.  I don’t know his name or who he is, but ECHDC should definitely call him.
  • A guy from Buffalo who says, “The Authority lacks expertise, the whole thing looks fake,  It needs more authenticity, what’s being put in brand new here looks worse than brand new stuff being put in in other places.”  His qualifications?  He was wearing a blue shirt.
  • It would be great if we could put in a houseboat community or shantytown that exaggerates the scale of the grain silos.  In fact, we can use the grain silos as ice climbing structures.
  • We should connect the light rail with UB
  • We need a museum that features other museums and tells people how to get to the bigger museum
  • We need to move the Central Library or Convention Center to this neighborhood.  But, those buildings should be authentic.
  • Connect the light rail with the central terminal and hire blues performers and historical interpreters to walk the streets of Canal Side year round.

None of these things are necessarily dumb or bad ideas.  They are all valid things that people would like to see built with their tax dollars.  The problem is that if their idea is not built, they’ll have a sad.  Some might even decide to sue or work actively against the implementation of a different idea.  It’s what often happens with crowdsourced solutions.  They can’t ALL be used and many people who spoke have not read the actual MGPP to know what’s actually happening at Canal Side.  Also, who has the time to properly vet each and every one of these ideas?  Who decides what gets considered and what doesn’t?  Do we not like those deciders or do we need different deciders?  It’s all quite bizarre.

Anyone here familiar with the term bikeshedding? It is a geeky term used to describe lengthy technical disputes over minor, marginal issues while more serious issues are being overlooked. The implied image is of people arguing over what color to paint the bicycle shed while the house is not finished. This process DEFINES bikeshedding. This series of blue sky brainstorming sessions with a crowd is happening when we should be working seriously with professionals appointed by our elected leaders to create the infrastructure to support a new neighborhood.

At this point, the ECHDC staff and board are meeting regularly with Mark and Tony Goldman and other members of the Canal Side Community Alliance to discuss the “things” their community of people wants to see built. The problem is, we haven’t yet created a “place”.

Cobble It
Electrify It
Zone It
Incentivize It

Once we’ve done that, we can start worrying about the things we want to see there, because people with money, resources and a business model will be able to build there.

History of The Buffalo Waterfront Debate In Pictures

22 Nov

Let’s be honest, the last four years of Buffalo Waterfront Development news has been very good to this website. We’ve had hundreds of thousands of people come to WNYMedia to read our take on the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, the courtship of Bass Pro, Route 5 Redevelopment and all of the FAIL.

We’ve streamed hundreds of hours of public meetings, scoping sessions, environmental reviews and citizen meetings on this website and at UStream. We made a broadcast documentary called Bass Pros and Cons which detailed the fight over the proposed anchor tenant and hosted a series of community panel discussions on Canalside featuring Larry Quinn, Carl Paladino, Jim Ostrowski and Scot Fisher.

The best part of all of this coverage? The images we’ve created to describe the proceedings. In recent weeks, I’ve received over a dozen emails from readers asking for me to collect and put in one post, all of the images we’ve created that went along with our articles and videos. I’ll post them context free.

So, without further ado, here is the WNYMedia Illustrated Version of the Buffalo Waterfront Debate, 2006-2010:

Waterfront – Everyone Relax

16 Nov

Norstar Rendering of the Outer Harbor: 2005

WestEnd (Jerde/Ciminelli) Plan for the Outer Harbor

Buffalo Lakefront Development

While Mark Goldman and the “Canal Side Community Alliance” call for a four month “pause” in the Canal Side development project, I thought it a perfect time to revisit Buffalo’s other waterfront – the outer harbor.

Back in 2005, when the concept of “New Buffalo” had caused otherwise perfectly normal, Buffalonians to temporarily replace cynicism with “hope”, the NFTA solicited bids from three development groups to answer the question, “what the hell do we do with the outer harbor?”

At the time, the NFTA was in its fifth decade of controlling (read: neglecting) the windswept ruins of Buffalo’s Lake Erie waterfront.  Shown above are the three forgotten, scrubbed-from-the-website proposals for the NFTA’s outer harbor.  This was a time when the last half-assed proposal had been Joel Giambra’s “E-Zone” tented amusement park nonsense.

The images above represent – from top to bottom – the three plans. Norstar’s emphasis was on green space;  the WestEnd proposal was a reasonable mixed use development; and then there was the Buffalo Lakefront Development plan, which I derisively termed the “everything but an elevator to the moon” plan.  It included a 3,500 room convention hotel, a 300,000 SF convention center,  (the current one has only 110,000 SF), a 500,000 SF “festival pavilion,” 200,000 SF of Class A office space, and a 215,000 SF sports center.  Just what a shrinking city with dysfunctional state authorities, a horribly ineffective city government, and fights to the death over the smallest development plan needs.

Seriously, you have to see the whole thing in detail to believe it. Click below.

Click to enlarge

What we’ve got on the waterfront now are mistakes that can’t be undone, and I think people want to be exquisitely careful to not make the next 100-year screw-up.  So, while we can’t do anything beyond cosmetic with the Marine Drive blight, we have some plots of shovel-ready (or soon-to-be-shovel-ready) land that were all set for a bait shop that isn’t coming.

On the one hand, we have an ECHDC that has a plan that is missing a huge puzzle piece. On the other hand, we have the “Community Alliance,” which is railing against “faux canals” and underground parking.

Well, maybe we don’t need faux canals anymore.  But I’ll tell you that no matter what ends up down at Canal Side, it’ll need some parking.  And if it’s going to need some parking, might as well do it underground.  And if you’re going to do underground parking, might as well do it now, before you figure out what will go above it.

Five years after the NFTA decided that it absolutely lurved the elevator-to-the-moon plan, and subsequently did nothing about it, the only thing that’s happened out there has been improvements to the waterfront, a walkway, and the much-improved Fuhrmann Boulevard, and access to it from Route 5.  There is no plan, no developer for the outer harbor.  There isn’t even so much as a street grid, zoning, or utility service there.  Because that’s what government ought to do – ready the area for future growth, not create artificial “growth” out of whole cloth.

Likewise, the inner harbor is in a state of flux now that the anchor tenant idea seems stalled.  Bass Pro is gone, and there’s no one lined up to replace it.  I don’t think there’s an anchor tenant worth pursuing for that spot.  Without the anchor tenant, the Benderson mixed-use plan is probably due for a re-think.  So, ECHDC should plan to re-create the street grid that existed before the Aud and the Donovan.  It should pave them, zone the resulting lots, add utility service, and let people put in whatever they want.  Let people buy the property and build on it.  Set up very stringent design criteria for any buildings so we don’t have a waterfront packed with beige Dollar Generals and TJ Maxxes.

I think everyone can get on board with that.

Finally, the issue is – without the anchor tenant, how do you draw people to the waterfront?  How do you get businesses to build? Why would tenants open there? Why would people from the city come down there on a snowy day?  How do you get suburbanites or Canadians to take a detour downtown as opposed to the Niagara Outlets or the Walden Galleria?

You turn the downtown area under the jurisdiction of the ECHDC into a sales-tax-free zone.  That 8.75% discount on almost everything would be a big draw.  ECHDC ought do an RFP for property maintenance and security services to ensure an appealing and safe day or night out.

This stuff isn’t all that complicated, and it doesn’t need to be ridiculously expensive for taxpayers.  The last thing the waterfronts need is more decades-long delays because everyone wants to turn what should be reasonable discussions into Albanian mountain blood feuds.

Mark Goldman & the Waterfront

15 Nov

In a taped video message, local developer and activist Mark Gold man says, “We need to let the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp know that we have deep reservations about their plan to spend in excess of $40 m. to build faux canals and a parking ramp on the Inner Harbor. And we need to let them know by Monday Nov 15th, their decision day.”



11 Nov

Can you guess what this is?

Now that election season is over, Buffalo can focus once again on what it does best – fight about nonsense.

In just the past few days, we’ve had:

1. A demand that the ECHDC institute a “pause” in the Canal Side planning process so that the ad hoc planning types can get their post-election shit together in order to better block the construction of a parking ramp on the site of a current surface parking lot in-between a housing project and a highway flyover;

2. A very beautiful video came out showing off Buffalo’s architectural gems from a century ago, proving that “this place matters”. The Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors’ Bureau commissioned the video in an effort to draw visitors to town for the National Preservation Conference in October 2011, which is sponsored by Preservation Buffalo Niagara. This non-profit lists as its issue/advocacy priorities the saving of the Statler, “concern” over the Olmsted Parks, and preventing the Peace Bridge Authority from building a new entry plaza. Preservation Buffalo Niagara made the news yesterday, and if you haven’t yet, you must read Brian Castner’s report and analysis of yesterday’s Statler press conference. Key passage:

Beneath the polished presentation, smiling politicians, and unified front, what was unsaid and implied was far more interesting than any specific plan. Lest anyone be confused, the leading WNY preservation group just endorsed altering the facade of our most celebrated historic landmark to connect it to the most egregious example of terrible urban planning in Buffalo. Rather than pushing for the Warsaw Pact convention center to be removed, so the coveted original street grid could be restored, Preservation Buffalo Niagara is ensuring its perpetual existence with a permanent link to the Statler.

And why? The video-promoted National Trust Convention in 2011. On more than one occasion, Robert Knoer noted that Buffalo could not stand for preservation-minded convention goers leaving their daily events to see a Statler, right out their front door, barricaded and boarded up. The egg on the face of the convention organizer, Preservation Buffalo Niagara, would be considerable. PBN needs a Statler solution, and the Croce plan is the only one. They sold their soul for a week long glorified business meeting.

3. Watch for the Peace Bridge plaza controversy to heat up, and the different sides are as well-entrenched as any over anything in Buffalo.

4. The County Budget process is underway, which is the annual opportunity for people to attend a County Legislature event of some sort and advocate for their pet projects. County property taxes are a minimal portion of people’s property taxes, and sales taxes are about maxed out to make up for that. We have reduced our progressive taxes in order to increase our regressive taxes. For the past 5-ish years, we’ve had a state-imposed control board to restore “adult supervision”, we’ve had two megalomaniacal county executives, and Republican lawmakers verbally bitchslap county taxpayers who are advocating for the maintenance of county funding for cultural entities that help to make the quality of life in Erie County good. Let’s don’t forget that the administrators and artists pay taxes, too – and if they’re out of work or out of town, the financial loss is only part of the story. I can truly say that I detest county politics and how fundamentally dysfunctional it’s become, how they fight over a tiny fraction of the county budget that’s left for them to fight over. How each side proclaims that the other is out to do everything short of drowning kittens. All over something that might be helped if you paid an extra $20 a year in property taxes.

Preservation of historically significant buildings is an important goal that most people support in the abstract. The fractured zealotry of the local preservationist factions (think People’s Front of Judea vs. Judean People’s Front) competes with a developer class that enjoys donating money to local politicians and receiving gentle treatment in return. The problem with zealotry is that minor disagreements that could generally be worked out satisfactorily become causes celebre spoken about in terms often reserved for Armageddon. The developers get caught in a rhetorical corner, everyone hunkers down and nothing gets accomplished. The preservationist cliques get labeled obstructionists, and seldom does anything get done.

But the preservationists and the developers have something in common here in WNY – they both rely heavily on charity – whether from cash-rich foundations, or from politicians.

I am fully cognizant of the fact that many of us at WNYMedia.net are despised by the preservationist class. They see us as everything from obnoxious assholes to glib nihilists – we’ve even been compared to Tea Partiers. I’m going to try to tamp down the “obnoxious asshole” bit, as well as the glibness. I don’t think we’re nihilists, nor do I think we’re zealots in opposition to the preservationists. Instead, we are skeptical of the claims of zealots – whether they may be preservationist zealots or political ones. We like to examine the arguments on both sides, and to actually visit the sites in question, and come down on the side of comparative reality. We’ll be doing this – bringing up facts and reality – to question the claims of those with agendas. Because our only agenda is to see good things happen in Buffalo, and we generally make that determination based on facts, rather than ideological prejudice.

It’s time for the people with the power and the zealous followers to concentrate on software – people and jobs – rather than hardware – buildings and roads. But that will never happen. Arguments over infrastructure are the opiate of the Buffalo masses.

Back to the Future, Back to the Past

10 Nov


NYPA: Breaking Wind

22 Jun

There’s much debate over whether we should install wind turbines in Lake Ontario and Lake Erie to harness the windy lake conditions to produce clean, renewable energy. Environmentalists are torn between the notion of clean energy versus disturbing the lake bed.

I’m not a big environmentalist, so I don’t care about all that.

What I care about is that this is being pushed by the New York Power Authority – the same entity that operates the Niagara Falls hydroelectric plant and funnels energy from WNY to parts unknown while most of us in WNY pay higher electricity rates than the rest of the country. While NYPA’s recent reauthorization resulted in annual payments to enhance regional waterfront development, imagine if instead we here in WNY could have cheap, renewable hydroelectric power and use that as a selling point for people and businesses to stay or relocate here?

Letting NYPA get into the windmill business is to invite an unelected, unresponsive, unaccountable authority to export more of our natural resources for others’ benefit, and to our detriment.

If NYPA wants overwhelming popular support for wind turbines in Lake Erie, offer everybody in WNY electricity rates that are cheaper than the national average. Or better yet, free.

A Hundred Million Here, a Hundred Million There…

12 Dec

…and next thing you know, you’ve got a waterfront in downtown Buffalo that people will bother to visit.


We’ve got the building blocks. The development of the area around the canal terminus proves that the inner harbor can be an attractive, fun place to visit. Concerts and fireworks during the summer help make it a brand new and integral part of Buffalo’s warm-weather repertoire of venues. The Aud is down and gone. The Donovan is poised for re-use. The plans are there.

People just need a reason to go down there.

Now, winds whipping off the lake at hurricane force aren’t conducive to wintertime waterfront fun, but we can’t ignore the fact that other cities in cold climates make the most of their wintertime weather. Quebec City’s Winter Carnival, Ottawa’s Rideau Canal rink – it happens. The pond hockey tournament at Erie Basin Marina proves we can do it, too.

And so it is that Governor Paterson comes to town and holds a press conference with Congressman Brian Higgins, County Executive Chris Collins, and NYPA President Richard Kissel to announce that they’re going to get something built down there that will make it worth people’s while to go down there.

Paterson said, “I want to make this crystal clear. We are going to revitalize this harbor, and we’re going to do it in the next few years.” Part of the announcement today had to do with some financial hocus-pocus to transform 50 years’ worth of NYPA relicensing fees into a 20 year plan that means $8.5 million per year to ECHDC, rather than $5 million. The price tag for Canal Side is said to be $315 million, which is really probably closer to a half a billion in New York dollars. But it’s hoped that by compressing this NYPA resettlement will make it easier for the project to find private financing.

As an aside, Bass Pro still hasn’t signed anything yet, and there’s no guarantee that it will come. I realize that Bass Pro owner John Morris is fishing buddies with Bob Rich, but perhaps other anchors should be pursued. The closest Bass Pro to Buffalo is in Vaughan, ON (103 miles), and Auburn, NY (126 miles).

The nearest LL Beans, by contrast, are 173 miles away in Pittsburgh, or 283 miles away in Albany. Just saying.

Canalside: Statler or BNIA?

21 Oct

How many times can a design be “unveiled?” I count four for Canalside, at least, counting last night.

I’m sure it was a fascinating public discussion last night. But the question on everyone’s minds, that Levy and Dee and Quinn can’t answer, is whether Canalside will be the Statler, or the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Don't you just want to slap that smile off his face?

Don't you just want to slap that smile off his face?

When it comes to positive development in our fair city, collective memories are goldfish short. The list of high price successful development projects may not be as long as some places, but it does exist. Case in point is the wildly successful and completely unappreciated Buffalo Niagara International Airport. If Canalside works as well as the BNIA, we will be doing well.

Constructed in 1997 at an original cost of $187M (total cost has been over $450M over the last 12 years, with a $90M add-on in 1999, and over $50M in upgrades in the last year), the BNIA took too long to build (6 years from plans to construction) and made plenty of people angry. But it has also been wildly successful and fulfilled or exceeded nearly every promise made before its construction. Many new airlines have been attracted to Buffalo, dropping average airfares from one of the highest in the nation to one of the lowest. It took nine years (2006) for passenger counts to hit 5 million, a milestone officials didn’t think they’d reach until 2020. People wondered where the passengers would come from, but with a third now from Canada, and drawing from Rochester and beyond, BNIA has become the hub it was supposed to be (how often do you drive to Rochester to fly out there for cheaper rates?). Even in this economy, passenger counts have stayed high, compared to the rest of the country. And personally, coming from someone who seems to live in airports, compared to the rest of the country we have a sleek, modern, comfortable terminal, with above average food and relatively quick baggage claim (now that the new conveyor system is in place).

The other end of the spectrum, of course, is the Statler Towers (or Peace Bridge, or Buffalo Creek Casino, or other options – take your pick). Over-promised and under-delivered, the centerpiece of the downtown core continues to rot. I don’t need to recount the litany of FAIL here, including bounced checks from the weekend.

So, which model will Canalside be? No matter how hard it tries, it will not be all things to all people. The history will not be historical enough. The architecture will not be hip enough. The restaurants will not be trendy enough. The stores will not be trendy enough. The bars will not be rowdy enough. The walkability will not be easy enough. The parking will not be close enough.

But, if two or three years from now, I have somewhere to buy a new kayak by testing it on the Buffalo River, a new restaurant (sorry Pearl Street Brewery) to go to before Sabres games, and outdoor skating on canals a la Ottawa, it will be a success in my book.

But who is the real big winner? Canadian shoppers. One regular critique I hear is that we are adding hundreds of thousands of square footage of new retail, with no new shoppers willing to venture downtown (a la the airport passengers). I contend that if Canadian shoppers are willing to stream into WNY for the dumpy Walden Galleria and the dumpier Niagara Outlets (the second most visited tourist attraction in Niagara County, behind the Falls), then they will be willing to drive a shorter distance to underground parking at a primo shopping center. Cha-ching, as the ever-complaining Donn Esmonde would say.

Skyway Reuse

21 Oct

Ran Webber on his alternative to tearing the Skyway down: