Tag Archives: Canalside

Seven Hundred and Sixteen TeeVees #ForReal

30 Jan

(716) 1 theaterI’m disappointed that the (716) Bistro won’t have 40′ TV screens and is settling for 38-footers. Perhaps I’ll file a lawsuit to block the proposal. My favorite part of the reveal was this paragraph, which was in the Buffalo News

The restaurant’s walls will be decorated with graphics that tell the history of the numbers 7, 1 and 6 throughout the history of sports. Its bathrooms will feature mirrors that have TVs embedded within them. And, in addition to the 38-foot TV screen, there will be 55 more big-screen TVs throughout the restaurant.

Watching the embedded mirror TVs after taking a piss is all well and good, but what about during the piss itself? Can we expect supraurinal plasma screens? What about on the inside of the doors to individual stalls? Going number 2 can take minutes rather than seconds, and patrons can’t miss a minute of sports action! Will the hand dryers have TVs?

Who knew that Tully’s was a restaurant decor trend-setter? 

But seriously, I don’t have a problem at all with a big hotel/hockey/restaurant project across from the First Niagara Center and Canalside, and down the block from Helium. It’s high time that area became the city’s entertainment district, and as much as we can make fun of the acid-washed  dream that is (716), let’s be clear on one thing – HarborCenter is the Bass Pro project, (without the public cash). 

Although it won’t be selling waders, rods, reels, and shotguns, it is a large-scale, expensive destination project that will attract people year-round. The (716) restaurant isn’t going to be fine dining, nor is anyone pretending that it will. It will likely feature a wide panoply of the finest deep-fried dishes, making you wish you owned the exclusive Pitco Frialator distributorship for western New York. It’ll be an over-the-top mega-sports bar to which people will drive 30 minutes to ignore their friends and get drunk while watching – and screaming to – an endless bank of TVs, wearing $120 hockey jerseys, and hopefully not drive home. 

It might not be your cup of tea or mine, but what HarborCenter is doing is, on balance, a good thing for Buffalo.

The Esmonde Template

7 Oct

Sunday brought us a treat – the quintessential Donn Esmonde congratubatory piece. The foundational document. The template. The “we the columnist” from the tea party champion.

It has everything – Tim Tielman, “lighter, quicker, cheaper”, Mark Goldman, and a generalized thesis whereby the general public is populated by cretins who are just now awakening to the genius of the positions of Esmonde and friends. 

All in all, it reinforces the accuracy of some of my theories. For instance, the one where preservationist hero Tim Tielman is the capo of a local preservation racket. Just hire the right people, and suddenly preservationist opposition to whatever demolition or renovation project you’re proposing simply evaporates. The Neighborhood Workshop Thuggery.

I know Esmonde has recently written two concern-trolls regarding the Buffalo Schools – one whereby our self-hating, upper-middle class, elitist white guy hero feigns outrage at racism in the board of education, and another where he knows better than the school district’s superintendent, who quite literally has what amounts to an impossible job. I’m sure Buffalo School Superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown enjoys having a failing school district to run on the one hand, and racist assholes gunning for her removal every. few. weeks, on the other. Esmonde whitesplains all of this for our benefit, ignoring the fact that he voluntarily abandoned his education bona fides when he touted his business partner’s charter school chops, and decided that it would be perfectly swell if Clarence schools’ quality was degraded. 

Want to develop Canal Side? You’ll have a lot of problems from Mark Goldman & his crew unless you spend six figures of public money to hire Fred Kent & Partnership for Public Spaces to educate you on “placemaking” and benches. (Placemaking is the wholly unscientific theory that people will go where other people are. The thing it omits is what it was that attracted the “other people” in the first place.)

Want to develop the Larkin District? Hire a planner well-regarded in preservationist circles to promote the project, and retain Tielman’s company, too, while you’re at it. Suddenly, all your problems will disappear.

Someone explain to me how this is any different from paying protection money to the mob to prevent that same mob from blocking your project and seeking injunctive relief. Don’t want Tim Tielman organizing a picket of your project? Put him on the payroll.  You tell me what that’s called

Lighter, quicker, cheaper brought one restaurant and some Adirondack chairs to Canal Side. Everything else – everything – is temporary, slow, or transient. Go down there on a rainy Sunday and – if you’re not interested in getting wet, and you’ve already seen the Naval museum,  I challenge you to find something to do other than have a beer at Liberty Hound.  It should have shops, cafes, restaurants (plural), maybe a museum or gallery – things more compelling than a temporary stage and “flexible lawns”. Solar-powered carousels don’t count (this was a real suggestion – as if a kid gives a crap about the sustainability of a carousel’s propulsion fuel). 

The Cobblestone now has a restaurant, the Helium comedy club, a casino, and a bar or two. It’s walking distance from Canalside, but the Harbor Center construction makes it difficult to reach.

I wonder if Goldman or Tielman are partners with Esmonde in some business endeavor? Tielman has degrees from SUNY Binghamton in art history, political science, and geography. I don’t know what Tielman’s profession once was, but it looks like he took a hobby and parlayed it into a well-paid position as the community’s gatekeeper for preservation issues. Must be nice. 

Surface Parking Protectionism

13 Feb

The image shown above is a rendering of the HARBORcenter – the Sabres’ proposed hotel, restaurant, retail, and indoor hockey destination planned for construction on the long-abandoned Webster Block.  It’s no Fallingwater, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s not ugly and it’s wholly functional, and will bring people and their money to a fledgling entertainment district that’s growing in fits and starts of its own accord. 

Buffalo antideveloper Tim Tielman has started a company named after the “neighborhood workshops” that have been part and parcel of the formulation and implementation of Buffalo’s soon-to-be “Green Code” zoning law. On Tuesday, Tielman, on behalf of his “Neighborhood Workshop, LLC” appeared before the Planning Board to complain about how the Pegula-led “HARBORCenter” project for the Webster Block isn’t pretty enough for him and his clientHi-Temp Fabrications, which occupies an eyesore across the street from an HSBC Atrium surface lot. 

Four speakers, including the owner of a neighboring business, spoke against the project during a City Hall public hearing today.

Speakers said the development would contribute to congestion and that it did not resemble historic architecture styles.

“The central planning issue that we’re facing in Buffalo today … is how to connect downtown to the waterfront,” said Tim Tielman, whose Neighborhood Workshop consultancy developed an alternative concept on behalf of John and Shelley McKendry, who own Hi-Temp Fabrication, at 79 Perry St. Tielman said the project adds to the separation of downtown and the water, as the Skyway does.

Yes, it’s time to hold our horses and literally obstruct something being planned imminently to replace a surface parking lot.  Perhaps we can make it more historically interpretive by adding hay bales and hitching posts? A museum of downtown surface parking might be good for the cultural tourists? Or maybe we can just re-pave and re-stripe the lot? Perhaps we can retain Fred Kent and his extortionate traveling “placemaking” salon to discuss “flexible lawns” and colorful benches? Where are the solar-powered carousels?

Better yet, maybe we can tell the Sabres to go to hell and construct some ugly hodgepodge of buildings with outdoor rinks as an afterthought up on the roof. 

Mr. Tielman and his uncharacteristically disclosed patrons are coming to protect downtown’s connection to the waterfront – that is, if you ignore the fact that the railyard and the really big hockey arena both do that very thing already. 

Who are we in Buffalo to expect or want a nice hotel and hockey facility to help build on a solid entertainment district foundation now anchored by CanalSide, First Niagara Center, and Helium Comedy Club? 

If Hi-Temp Fabrications wants to weigh in on a development’s design, it should invest in the development or buy the parcel. The 11th hour unwanted micromanagement of a $170 million hockey destination and for what? For this eyesore, which looks like a Crayola marker box come to life; Curaçao by the Arena.

 

 This isn’t a case for historic preservation or even one where a better design is being proposed in place of an existing one. This is about ego, power, and subjective design prejudices. That hotel would look great in coastal Florida. In 1977. Those little phony colorful row houses look as stupid as they do out of place. The idea of outdoor rinks completely flies in the face of the Sabres’ intent – to design a destination Division 1 AAA hockey facility to attract tournaments of all ages from all over. Just leave the Sabres alone. When it comes to attracting people and money, they’ve already got things figured out pretty well. 

Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo

24 Sep
Cuyahoga at Lake and Rail Buffalo NY

Cuyahoga at Lake and Rail Buffalo NY by tark9, on Flickr

1. Shorter Buffalo News piece on Deputy Mayor Steve Casey: he’s a dick who terrorizes staff and throws Democrats under the bus in favor of Chris Collins, but he’s the Mayor’s dick

2. The Buffalo News calls this Hochul ad misleading. How so? It doesn’t say Collins got rich off of Ingenious’ Balance Buddy. It says he makes more money by outsourcing the manufacturing in China rather than building the device in western New York.

Statement A:

Asked why Ingenious would contract with a manufacturer in China, Collins said that it would be too expensive to make the product in the United States. ’It would not be feasible to have that product made and packaged for $7 in the U.S.,’ Collins said. (Cannot link directly to Buffalo News story because of its wholly unusable web presence). 

Statement B: 

China manipulates its currency, steals intellectual property from American companies, subsidizes government-owned businesses that compete with firms in the United States and closes its markets to foreign products.

“It’s not OK,” he said.

If the trade inequities with China are removed, “those jobs come back,” Collins said.

That’s patently true – by Collins’ own admission – and not at all misleading. In fact, the Buffalo News’ “fact check” is misleading. Also – perhaps more egregiously – he conducted Ingenious business from the 16th floor of the Rath Building, and so badly screwed over the initial investors that they’ve sued him.  

3. If there’s one thing Donn Esmonde loves to do, he loves to pat himself on the back. He loves being the official organ of Buffalo’s development/preservationist intelligentsia. So, he twists and contorts to the conclusion that the Liberty Hound‘s success somehow prove that the “lighter, quicker, cheaper” scam is the best thing ever. What the Liberty Hound’s success – as well as the success of a lot of Canalside’s summertime programming – really establishes is that the waterfront will be a popular place if you give people something to do there. Lighter, quicker, cheaper didn’t give us Liberty Hound – that was a big project done with a state agency,  a partnership of two successful restaurateurs, a museum, and  an assist from big political players. Lighter, quicker, cheaper gave us the Fred Kent “placemaking” sideshow, the snack shack, and brightly colored Adirondack chairs. The ECHDC was bullied into doing it by a supposedly earnest man endlessly pushing solar-powered carousels who wasn’t so quick to disclose that his interests in the matter also involved how Canalside might affect the bar and restaurant business in Black Rock and Allentown.  

The Morning Grumpy – 6/13/12

13 Jun

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

Good morning, Bad Luck Brian! Got a good one for us today?

1. Vatican to American nuns, knock it off with the social justice shit already.

The sisters and church officials met to discuss a doctrinal assessment finding the influential group of American nuns had strayed too far from the church’s teachings.

The report also alleged sins of omission, saying the nuns were focused too heavily on social justice and not enough on opposing abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.

It’s not news that the Catholic Church is in serious trouble in America. Membership has declined, the church is leaving thousands of urban houses of worship behind to rot, and the Church is still settling million dollar legal cases related to decades of sexual abuse of children by thousands of priests. To come down on these women, who are leaders in faith for millions, is absolutely bizarre. As Richard Dawkins pointed out recently, Catholicism is more of a cultural relationship today than a spiritual one.

People who describe themselves as Catholic but do not accept the church’s key teachings should be “honest” and admit they no longer belong to the faith, atheist author and scientist Prof Richard Dawkins has told a Dublin audience.

He said he was intrigued by this week’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll showing almost two thirds (62 per cent) of Catholics believed the bread and wine which was blessed during Mass “only represents the body and blood” of Christ.

Just 26 per cent said they believed the bread and wine transformed into Christ’s body and blood in accordance with the doctrine of transubstantiation.

“If they don’t believe in transubstantiation then they are not Roman Catholics,” Prof Dawkins said. “If they are honest they should say they are no longer Roman Catholics.”

While the poll Dawkins references is of Irish Catholics, similar results are found in American polls. If the relationship people have with the Catholic faith is more cultural than spiritually literal, the Church needs to support the social justice mission of the the American Church or risk losing their audience at a far greater rate than they are today.

2. This article illustrates why “Canalside” is a bad idea, whether it’s planned by Larry Quinn, Jordan Levy, state agencies, city planners, or Mark Goldman’s ambiguously employed and bearded jugband.

“A district inherently becomes a single-use idea,” says Kennedy. “Everything has to be ‘art.’ You end up with a bunch of performing arts spaces and when they’re not in use it becomes a vacuum.” This vacuum has made the district itself a museum of sorts, something impressive to observe but strangely inert.

…themed venues catering to neatly delineated tastes, Epcot-style.

The model suggests that city life is nothing more than a selection of personal consumption experiences. But at times, the district feels more like a very enthusiastic ghost town

Pave/cobble the streets, plant grass, run the utilities, zone the land, put it up for sale, and let “Canalside” develop organically. If Mark Goldman wants a solar powered ferris wheel or a historically themed tchotchke/bauble emporium with culturally sensitive puppet shows, it can happen on its own. If Cabelas or Trader Joe’s (or whatever retail destination we desire) opens, it will be because it’s an attractive opportunity. It will also then look like Buffalo, not some pre-planned consensus driven compromise of a waterfront.

3. Bruce Bartlett (senior economic adviser in the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations) tallies up President George W. Bush’s financial legacy, and it’s pretty ugly.

Putting all the numbers in the C.B.O. report together, we see that continuation of tax and budget policies and economic conditions in place at the end of the Clinton administration would have led to a cumulative budget surplus of $5.6 trillion through 2011 – enough to pay off the $5.6 trillion national debt at the end of 2000.

Tax cuts and slower-than-expected growth reduced revenues by $6.1 trillion and spending was $5.6 trillion higher, a turnaround of $11.7 trillion. Of this total, the C.B.O. attributes 72 percent to legislated tax cuts and spending increases, 27 percent to economic and technical factors. Of the latter, 56 percent occurred from 2009 to 2011.

As Andrew Sullivan noted in his column on the subject,

I’m tired of being told we cannot blame Bush for our current predicament. We can and should blame him for most of it – and remind people that Romney’s policies: more tax cuts, more defense spending are identical.

President Obama needs to get off the defensive and make this election about Romney’s desire to return to the economic policies of Bush administration. Remind America how bad it was and how bad it can be again.

4. The capital it takes to get to the Capitol. Who can afford to go to Congress? And how independent can they be once they’ve arrived?

Click here for a full size version of the graphic.

As Rootstrikers writes in their story about this infographic,

The first infographic is dedicated to our least favorite government institution: Congress. Who can afford the high price tag of our government? Unfortunately, only the privileged few. Until it makes sense for politicians to opt into a system where they are not dependent upon the 0.26% of Americans wealthy enough to pay for their time, we will not have a government by the people, for the people.

We’re asking all those who agree that the corruption has to stop add their name to The Anti-Corruption Pledge. Our goal: find and connect one million citizens who are willing to strike at the root of corruption in this country.

I’ve signed and I support Rootstrikers with my money and time. I think you should consider doing so as well.

5. Rolling Stone debunks the idea that voter fraud is actually a problem, suggesting that Republican efforts to prevent it are simply a means to restrict ballot access for Democratic constituencies.

Not only is voter fraud not rampant – it’s virtually nonexistent. The iron-clad word on the subject comes from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, whose 2007 report, ‘The Truth About Voter Fraud,’ sorts through thousands of allegations going back to the 1990s in the most in-depth voter fraud study ever undertaken. The bottom line, confirmed by all subsequent research: “Usually, only a tiny portion of the claimed illegality is substantiated — and most of the remainder is either nothing more than speculation or has been conclusively debunked.” In fact, “one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.”

If you can’t win on ideas, might as well change the rules of the game to benefit your team. GOP2012!

Fact Of The Day: Following the 2010 BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, 50 percent of shrimp were found lacking eyes and eye sockets in Barataria Bay, LA, one of the most heavily oiled areas.

Quote Of The Day: “Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.” – AKA The Republican 2012 Strategy – Bertrand Russell

Video Of The Day: How It’s Made, Hot Dogs

Song Of The Day: “Prisecolinensinenciousol” – Adriano Celentano

Follow me on Twitter for the “incremental grumpy” @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com

Explore ‘n More Should Be At Canalside

14 Mar

When Chris Ostrander sharply criticizes the placemaking fraud that has has supplanted top-down planning with a bottom-up feelings-based lack of planning, he is exactly correct. Deck chairs, hot dog shacks, and happy feelings aren’t going to organically develop the inner harbor, and I’ve written before that all we’ve done is nominally exchange a political/business elite planning scheme for a cultural elite planning scheme. 

 I disagree, however, with Ostrander’s criticism of the proposed Children’s Museum. Such a museum will involve an outlay of public money for construction, and likely will be operated by a well-respected current operator of a children’s museum facility – Explore and More – that is in deep need of a new facility. Ostrander writes: 

I’m condemning the thought of trading the space previously reserved for Bass Pro for a children’s museum. My problem with Bass Pro was that the store wouldn’t capture an entire audience nor cohesively bring the neighborhood together. Now the approach is to use the plan with the least amount of risk. Literally. This plan is being adopted because there is little, to no risk involved. Instead of taking a major step and hitting a home run, Buffalo will be forced to accept a sacrifice bunt, just to advance the runners.

Ostrander misapprehends the size and scope of the Children’s Museum, and what is to happen with the Aud Block and the “space previously reserved for Bass Pro”. 

Regardless of the solar carousel vs. Bass Pro argument, Canalside needs to be a 4-seasons, all-ages place to go. I’m not a fan of the whole “story of Buffalo” programming BS that’s suffused the whole project, but Ostrander is misstating the extent of the Children’s Museum in his piece. 

The image above is a rendering of the current plan for the Aud Block; it isn’t going to be replaced with another huge building fitting its footprint.  What was once the Aud will be chopped up into smaller parcels, footpaths, and canal-shaped reflecting pools. The Children’s Museum – pretty much the only cultural programming at Canalside that I think isn’t a horrible joke – will only take up a small portion of that location, and that’s ok. 

Turning the “story of Buffalo” into a 4D motion ride and costumed people strolling around what should be a shopping & entertainment district is what deserves criticism. Moving Explore ‘n More to the Inner Harbor is one of the better ideas to have come from all of this idiotic turmoil. 

 

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Canalside & a Sense of Tacky Place

10 Jan

Both Chris and I have written extensively over the past several years about what’s going on at the Inner Harbor. (Unfortunately, links will have to wait).

In late 2010, the planning for Canalside was co-opted by a crowdsourcing process that provided all of the ills of central planning with none of the decision-making efficiency. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a facile “placemaking” exercise by uncredentialed huckster Fred Kent of the Partnership for Public Spaces, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation retained consultants to help flesh out the historical/cultural aspects of the Canalside project.

While the district had historically been a wetter, be-bricked version of Mos Eisley, the “history” that will be reproduced at Canalside was always going to be sanitized through contemporary biases.  While Chris and I advocated for the notion of giving people things to do and see, we were vilified for our suburban-colored glasses and our cultural, architectural, and artistic ignorance.

We merely traded a political planning elite for a cultural planning elite.

And the cultural elite’s Cultural Masterplan is out & embedded below.

Initially, Canalside will feature a Children’s Museum, which will fill a gaping hole in our city – one that Explore & More temporarily filled by bringing certain exhibits to a tent at Canalside during the temperate months. It was like the #Occupy version of a children’s museum. But another feature is something Mark Goldman personally lobbied for incessantly – a “solar powered carousel”, and an interpretive “how Buffalo fed America” look back at the times before the St. Lawrence Seaway and interstate network.

When it comes to the historical significance of the canal terminus, there’s a fine line between education and nostalgia porn.

Longer term, the plan is in deep Niagara Falls fail territory with a “4D theater production” depicting a balloon ride, which will “immerse visitors in a ‘you are there’ journey, with 4D effects such as falling snow, wind gusts, rumbling seats, scents, surround sound…”  The cost of re-making the “MOM” ride at Massachusetts’ Jordan’s Furniture and the 4D rides in the Falls will be $25 million, plus operating costs of about $1.3 – 1.7 million per year.

$25 million to take something that was supposed to be “authentic” and give one a “sense of place” and turn it into sideshow tack and a snack shack. This entire placemaking exercise has been an absolute crock of crowdsourcing nonsense that has let dozens of unelected people with tiny constituencies promote their personal biases and prejudices in the name of the entire community.

They sold us on “authentic”, and “lighter, quicker, cheaper”. We’re getting fake, phony tack. Where’s the sense of place?

Does this follow the 2004 Master Plan?

Authenticity?

Sense of Place if Buffalo is Jurassic Park

 

CanalSide Cultural Masterplan Final Report

A presentation to accompany the report is here:

Cultural Master Plan Presentation(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

On a side note, renderings of a summertime and wintertime Aud block at Canalside look quite inviting. Let’s stick to this:

Artist Rendering of Aud Block in Summer with Public Canals

Artist Rendering of Aud Block in Winter with Public Canals


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All Quiet Along This Front

21 Sep

Anyone else notice that nobody is complaining about anything anymore?

Drawing courtesy Sven Yrvind at http://www.yrvind.com

Let me be more specific. While Washington is more shrill than ever, we here in Buffalo and Western New York seem to be more sedate. We’ve followed Jules’ advice and chilled this mother out. Not hope (false or not) for the future, but not resignation and apathetic despair either. Just . . . even keel. Whether this break is a lull, a calm before the storm, or more long lasting is impossible to know. But locally, nobody seems to be too riled up, and this is in stark contrast to the last decade.

Maybe it’s because the lightning rod projects have finally drawn towards a conclusion. Mark Croce, by all accounts, is pouring real money into the Statler and bringing it back. That was the last item in the Silver Bullet checklist of Buffalo. The Peace Bridge second span is dead. The Seneca Casino downtown is morphed into a smaller project, sans hotel, that seeks to embrace businesses in the growing neighborhood. Canalside is poking along, and most citizens seem more interested in enjoying sunshine on the water and a new concert series than get worked up over a couple hundred grand to over-priced Fred Kent and company. The Medical Campus adds new buildings every couple months, and UB 2020 has passed in an abbreviated form; the ink had barely dried on Cuomo’s signature and already the silence was deafening from all sides, for and against. Even Benderson’s “lifestyle center” on Maple died with a whimper. The next Silver Bullet checklist is currently being drawn up – for now it only includes new bridges across the Buffalo River to connect the Inner and Outer Harbors. Perhaps the collective bile will rise as new projects are added. 

Maybe it’s because the instigators have faded away, in victory, defeat or irrelevance. Paladino has mostly kept his turds out of punchbowls since his drubbing. Williams is out as Buffalo Schools Superintendent, Simpson is gone from UB, and Quinn from the ECHDC. I haven’t heard Tim Tielman’s name in months, and Goldman faded as quickly as the paint job on the Adirondack chairs. Esmonde took a (partial) buyout and no one except the insiders care if Lenihan follows the governor’s career advice or not.

Maybe it’s because shoes have yet to drop. The HSBC pullout from Buffalo seemed inevitable earlier in the year. Now First Niagara has a branch network and hockey arena to its name, and the first round of global HSBC cuts have passed us by unscathed. The tower HSBC occupies is in danger of emptying (Phillips Lytle moving two blocks if nothing else), but the main leases there expire in several years.

Maybe it’s because our political season is suddenly a snooze fest. Only six weeks out, Erie County residents may be excused for forgetting there is a County Executive race this November. In contrast to Senator Mark Grisanti’s race for a district that covers roughly the same territory, the recent special election to replace Sam Hoyt in the Assembly passed a week ago with barely a whisper. The local Tea Party groups stopped holding rallies at the waterfront, and no highway tolls are currently on the chopping block. We downsized our Erie County legislature with the help of a judge, and Maria Whyte finds herself stumping for upgrades to the county clerk’s office (Kathy Hochul presided over the Dark Ages?) instead of lighting evil fat cats on fire. We have a Governor who earns the begrudging respect of everyone in the room, and through pragmatic competent leadership, Albany’s tone has actually changed. Alan Bedenko’s coverage of petty politics in Clarence is as insightful as it is ordinary. A fascinating glimpse into crumb gathering to be sure, and effective at the ballot box, but the fish are so much smaller than what we’re used to.

Maybe it’s because no one of the above really matters all that much. It was a beautiful summer, the Bills are 2-0 (and so is my fantasy football team), and Terry Pegula has Sabres fans walking in a perpetual blissful dream world. The worst of the catholic church closings have passed, there are more urban gardens every year, the roads are full of construction workers (read: jobs), and Gordon Biersch has landed at the Galleria. Small improvements, from Riverfest Park to Buffalo River dredging to three-story brownstone renovations all over the city, are quietly creating a swelling avalanche of pebble-sized bits of good news.

Artwork by Christopher Carter

So the Jersey Livery renovation hasn’t happened yet. Neither has the Wingate Hotel of Doom. No one is chaining themselves to piles of bricks to thwart the wrecking ball. Instead, orphanages that I considered lost causes are undergoing rehab in forgotten corners of the city. The Tonawanda Powertrain workers are back, and GM is dumping in nearly a billion in new investment. The Great Recession was bad in Buffalo, but our 7.6% unemployment rate and tiny housing price growth is the envy of the nation.

Has this placated us? It’s not like every problem has gone away. We still have a caretaker, over-politicized mayor. We still have a shrinking population and blighted neighborhoods. A rash of industrial fires in residential neighborhoods have spurred the Clean Air Coalition of WNY to expose how little we know about air quality during major accidents.  But I hear little generally from the activist community locally. I’m not being asked to attend rallies to save anything, stop anything, or make anyone change their mind. 

Why? What do you think? Has the tone changed or have I missed it? I look forward to input and comments.

The Embodiment of Buffalo

27 Apr

Cities have and need symbols. Chicago has the Sears tower; San Francisco twisting streets and trolley cars. New York City was shaken by the 9/11 attacks not simply because thousands died, but because a main symbol of the city fell. Our recently vanquished hockey opponents (I’m still in denial, and like this version better) have a bell for their past, and the Rocky theme, complete with jogging montage up the famous steps, for their present.

What is Buffalo’s symbol? That is an honest question I’d like to hear your answer to. A simple, superficial answer might be a main building, as I chose for Chicago or New York. But we know this city far more intimately, so I think we can do better (and I am sure the residents of Chicago or New York would pick differently themselves). So answer a slightly different, deeper question: what embodies Buffalo 2011?

Let me suggest a few of the potentially more popular answers. Is it an architectural masterpiece, like the Darwin Martin House, showing how we celebrate the future by restoring the past? Is it the Broadway Market, emblematic of our cultural, ethnic, and religious roots? Is it the chicken wing? Niagara Falls? An art festival or Taste of Buffalo? Or perhaps this picture:

I verge towards the cynical when addressing “Progress” in Buffalo, and I have a few more sarcastic and conceptual options. Is it our massive phallus shaped City Hall, ironically over-big for a shrinking population, both in terms of its own sheer physical infrastructure requiring maintenance and also symbolic of our ineffective, over-sized layers of government (regionally). Is it the Wide Right kick or Hull’s No Goal – we get close, but never quite succeed? Is it BERC, adrift since the small time corruption scandal involving the One Sunset restaurant? Is it the American side of Niagara Falls, a comparative wasteland in the shadow of the mighty Canadian tourism machine? For many at this site, the obvious answer is the Canalside failure – we can’t get out of our own way to just build something nice people would want to visit, with hundreds of millions of dollars in hand.

Passing on all those answers, I think I have the perfect choice (other than the Butter Lamb Sabres logo), embodying all of Buffalo as it stands today: the ruin of the Fairmont Creamery.

No single structure in Buffalo combines as many hopes and failures, or as much political pettiness and small time crumb-scraping, as that poor abandoned building, passed daily by tens of thousands on a main highway artery. A gutted, century-old eight-story brick warehouse, it would be at home nearly anywhere within the city, discarded like much of our industry and left to rot. It is bounded on four sides by an over-large highway, the newish Elk Lofts, rotting steel of a potential casino, and parking lots, each of which individually could have been chosen as a potential symbol of Buffalo themselves. The former Creamery also lies proximate to HSBC Arena, the stagnant Canalside, and the Cobblestone “District” (two streets and three bars does not make a destination), all in their time touted as indicative of Buffalo’s bright future. Sandwiched as it is between the symbol of Buffalo’s population growth and renewal strategy  (loft living), our infrastructure built for a city of twice the size (highway), and the epitome of the power of the lawsuit by the few to stop the development for the many (casino), it could not lie in a better geographic location for selection in the poll, or for actual redevelopment itself. And yet it waits, like all of Buffalo, for market conditions to be right for investment. Will it be lofts itself? A hotel? Retail and offices? All of the above? We wait to find out, as we could ask the same question for much of shovel-ready and investment-ready Buffalo.

Even more than the physical characteristics, the political and philosophical conceits surrounding this building make the case for Buffalo 2011 embodiment. Owned by the largest real estate developer in Buffalo (and former embarrassment of a gubernatorial candidate), it’s current chief use is as holder of a billboard advertising an Inside Baseball political dispute with the publisher of the city’s dying newspaper, a rivalry the average citizen could care less about, and yet forced to endure as is occasionally spread across the front page by muck-raker style. Meanwhile, the property itself is the subject of legal action and incurs uncollectable fines for unenforced building code violations that the owner has the clout or simple will to ignore.

When the Fairmont Creamery is finally redeveloped, and cannibalizes tenants from other housing, retail or commercial real estate to fill, it will do so using a variety of tax incentives and grants to make the project economically viable. Then the care-taker mayor will hold a news conference, claim credit or victory, and hail the investment as yet another sign on the city’s rebirth. And we will all praise the news, without the perspective that many other cities have a Fairmont Creamery of their own, have already redeveloped it, and our having finally done so ourselves only brings us closer to average.

Quick Thoughts

16 Mar

Do Not Be Alarmed - this most likely isn't going to happen (http://www.snopes.com/photos/technology/fallout.asp)

It’s time for another article of thoughts that haven’t yet seen enough yeast to grow into their own columns. The unifying thread? SuperFAIL:

1) President Obama has some unfortunate energy policy timing, advocating increased off-shore drilling prior to the massive Gulf oil spill, and nuclear energy before the continuing disaster in Japan. Not that he is to blame – we are short on energy solutions that are not destructive at normal levels, and catastrophic on the extremes. Irresponsible natural gas exploration is contaminating Pennsylvania, the Canadians are destroying Alberta to free oil from tar sands, and there is nothing practical available to replace them. Hard to move to renewables like wind when our local turbines sit idle far more than they spin. Investment is the only pragmatic strategy if we want an environmentally sustainable energy policy: lots of money to regulate current energy industries to follow existing environmental laws, scraping and reworking from scratch our subsidy system to stop picking winner and losers and instead peg commodities to their true total cost, and basic science investment in research and future technologies. Don’t expect to hear any of that in the near future.

2) The census is complete, so it’s redistricting time, in Erie County and at the state level. In Erie County, the commission to redraw legislative districts, consolidating from 15 to 11, met for the first time. As Artvoice reports, the main topic of conversation was how much to do before data on population counts are actually available. In Buffalo’s petty rice bowl politics, the underlying question is who wins and who loses. Geoff Kelly believes no one wins except Ray Walter. Which is another way of saying, we’re all winning.

On the New York State front, the debate in the GOP controlled Senate is whether to change the constitution to mandate impartial redistricting (a plan with an 11 year delay), do a legislative patch now, or both. So far, only the Republicans and Citizens Union, an independent reform lobby, have weighed in. The Democratic controlled Assembly still has a chance to weigh in with traditional partisan redistricting, and screw up this Good Government push. But if these are the only options presented, we’re winning here too. (And this is the only non-FAIL you will see in this column.) 

3) It’s about to be construction season, and WNYMedia’s own intrepid Andrew Kulyk is filling in well on development watch for Mark Brynes, on prolonged sabbatical. What to watch for in 2011?!?! Not much an Canalside, unless you count a little more decking and bike racks as construction. Work on anything requiring an excavator will wait til the Fall. Also watch for an again delayed Federal Courthouse, that not only bears no resemblance to its graphic sales pitch, but is now rotting from the inside. Speaking of rotting, the steel beams of the Casino are rusting away, and may need to come down, even if a permanent complex is eventually built. Finally, if you are looking for hope, don’t look at the Statler – based upon past divisions between Croce and the Mayor, expect summer fights over the $5 million promised to help rehab the lower levels in time for the Convention That Will Save Buffalo.