Tag Archives: Canalside

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.

Imagineering® Buffalo’s Waterfront: Part 1

24 Nov

It’s become a pattern.

A major public works project begins, is planned and plotted, goes through the required comment period and environmental reviews – and at the very last minute a small, usually ad-hoc interest group pipes up and demands that everything halt.  It happened with the Route 5 reconfiguration, and it’s happening now with the Canal Side process.

As happened a few years ago with Route 5, the obstructionist cadre uses outrageous and untrue hyperbole to attack the extant plan, culminating in a lawsuit when they don’t get their precise way.  Back then, we were told that the bermed Route 5 was a “wall” separating Buffalo’s waterfront from its downtown, ignoring the presence of the Skyway, the I-190, the Buffalo River, and the excruciatingly ugly brownfields on the east side of Route 5.

Now, we’re being told about the horrors of “faux canals” and perennial bogeyman, parking.

A couple of weeks ago, Mark Goldman became the self-appointed leader of the Canal Side opposition, which has dubbed itself the “Canal Side Community Alliance“, made up of groups whose dedication to the waterfront is unsurpassed – groups like “Prisoners are People, Too” and Sweet_ness 7 .  Goldman organized a talk at City Honors’ auditorium where the West Side intelligentsia and its foundation benefactors let their vision for the waterfront be known.  Naturally, it eschews parking, is heavy on public art, museums, and other not-for-profit things.  Watch this video:

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1. Goldman insists that the process must be “democratic and inclusive”.

2. At around 0:58 in the video, when Goldman demands procedural inclusion, the imagery is of older white males like himself – one of whom is Goldman’s own brother. He cites a need for “more creative thinking… more imaginitive…more artistic” points of view.

3. At around 1:33, Goldman discusses a “luncheon” he held for a very carefully selected subset of the Buffalo old money and arts elites.  He invited “about thirty people” and “made sure that they represented a broad range of work and life and activities in Buffalo.”  That “broad range”?  “Artists, curators and teachers and librarians, and businesspeople…” At 1:48, the camera pans over the sea of white, privileged city residents. He goes on, “…and a whole range of men and women who are active in this community.”  He cites “wonderful ideas” like that from former Erie County Legislator Joan Bozer – that of a “solar-powered carousel” on the waterfront.  This wonderful idea works for an average kid for about 3 minutes on a sunny day; then what?  Other luncheon attendees included the Baird Foundation’s Catherine Schweitzer, (at 2:20) who understands that whatever gets built at Canal Side, “don’t do something that reflects, or is a faux treatment of our history, but do it in an authentic way”.   He mentions Tucker Curtin, a restaurateur who wants there to be food and beverage places down there, but Goldman warns, “not too many, but enough to create a nice synergy”.  Also there was an Albright-Knox curator, and someone advocating for “interactive programming”, meaning people walking around in period dress giving historical interpretation.  From 2:54 until about 3:15, Goldman again express how “broad, varied” the attendees and speakers were.  The camera shows middle aged white folk who are already connected to the arts, politics, and local old-money foundations.

4. Goldman complains that all of the above are, “people who have not been talked to”.

5. Three art pieces were specifically commissioned (by whom, for how much?) to make a statement about the waterfront.  These included an art installation made from garbage, a puppet show, and a “soundscape” showing off the sounds of the waterfront. (3:30 – 4:13).

6. The two main speakers included Fred Kent from the Project for Public Spaces, and Goldman’s brother, Tony.  Kent’s mantra: lighter, quicker, cheaper. Tony Goldman was involved with the gentrification of certain neighborhoods in New York City and Miami, where forgotten neighborhoods were revived through an influx of bargain-hunting artists.

7. Tony Goldman takes his brother and others on a tour of the abandoned grain elevators and imagines what could happen there – a mural, bleachers overlooking a light show, all projected or painted onto the elevators themselves.  The emphasis is on what people will “look at” (see, e.g., 7:09 – 7:19).  “It can be a gallery center, it can be a market”.

8. Mark Goldman envisions the inner, outer, and “middle” harbors being linked together by Ohio Street, and they “shouldn’t be developed separately.”  The inner harbor should be a “village”, the middle harbor with grain elevators should be an “arts and industry island” – a national heritage site with a “canyon of art and theater”, then to the outer harbor where Dug’s Dive will spin off with the Freezer Queen plant as a “node of waterfront recreation”.  Then “the rest will fill in”.

9. Goldman specifically thanks the Rupp Family Foundation, Baird Foundation, Citizens for Common Sense, Partners for a Livable Western New York.

Now, take another look at WNYMedia’s own video about the Canal project, made in 2007.

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There will be an ECHDC open house / meeting as follows.  I urge you to attend:

·        Wednesday, November 24, 2010, 10:00-12:00 p.m.

The sessions will be held at the offices of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, 95 Perry St., Suite 500, Buffalo, NY 14203. There is free, two-hour parking on Mississippi St. on the side of the building.

Anyone who is interested in presenting their ideas to ECHDC, but is unable to attend one of the public sessions is encouraged to contact:

Erich Weyant, Assistant Director, Communications

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.
95 Perry St., Suite 500, Buffalo, NY  14203
716.846.8258
716.846.8262 fax
eweyant@empire.state.ny.us

Read Part 2 here

Imagineering® Buffalo’s Waterfront: Part 2

24 Nov

By now, you’ve watched this video and read what I’ve pulled out from it.

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And you’ve hopefully watched our own 3 year-old video.

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And make sure your voice is heard:

·        Wednesday, November 24, 2010, 10:00-12:00 p.m.

The sessions will be held at the offices of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, 95 Perry St., Suite 500, Buffalo, NY 14203. There is free, two-hour parking on Mississippi St. on the side of the building.

Anyone who is interested in presenting their ideas to ECHDC, but is unable to attend one of the public sessions is encouraged to contact:

Erich Weyant, Assistant Director, Communications

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.
95 Perry St., Suite 500, Buffalo, NY  14203
716.846.8258
716.846.8262 fax
eweyant@empire.state.ny.us

Back to the post…

When Goldman complains that the Canal Side process must be democratic and inclusive, he implies that it hasn’t been up until now.  That’s quite clearly false both in fact and in perception. In fact, democratically elected leaders created the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC), funded it, and empowered it to help develop Buffalo’s inner harbor area. At the time of its creation, development of the inner harbor was non-existent.  It had been several years since the “exploding rocks” debacle that Pataki and Empire State Development helped bring about, and there was neither activity there, nor funding for it.  Since then, the ECHDC has solicited and received public input several times.  A deal with the New York Power Authority funded ECHDC, and a modification of that deal funded it even more.

In Goldman’s video, the word “inclusion” gets thrown around a lot.  But in analyzing what’s going on in those videos, inclusion appears only to have so many definitions and sources.  Goldman’s process is devoid of people of color, average Joes, or  suburbanites.  Only the usual activist cliques, arts promoters, foundation heads, and other typical Elmwood, Parkside, Allentown folks were deemed worthy of input.  Starting at 1:15, Goldman discusses the rationale behind his “Inspirations and Aspirations” event, and some of the speakers are shown.  Older white males, all.

And that luncheon – what a damning self-indictment of this entire movement.  How can you whine about a lack of inclusiveness by hosting an exclusive gathering of Buffalo VIPs?  Were you or I invited to speak to that group and provide our points of view?  Has anyone “talked to” you?  The entire Goldman movement is operating under a preconceived conclusion, and the “process” is being jury rigged to reach it.

And since when does Buffalo’s west side intelligentsia need an engraved invitation from anyone to talk to someone?  Hell, when Chris Smith and I attended Monday’s ECHDC public hearing, we went in after another meeting had just broken up – a meeting that Mark Goldman attended. Artists, curators and teachers and librarians, and businesspeople should all be heard about the waterfront, if they wish to be.  So should parents and car engine manufacturers and construction laborers and plumbers and financial analysts and waiters and deli counterpeople.  No one group has any monopoly on community input – no one group gets to say it speaks on behalf of the community at large.  Only ECHDC can make that claim, since it is created by, and appointed by the people’s duly elected representatives.

We can put in all the solar powered carousels and wind powered ferris wheels and nuclear powered bumper cars we want at the waterfront, but how does that fit in with this group’s other main bugaboo – that of ensuring not faux or fake, but “authentic” history?

Ten years ago, Canal Side was made up of parking lots, the mothballed Aud, the Skyway, the Donovan Building, and more parking.  There was nothing there of an historic nature, except remains that might be excavated.  By definition, all canals are “faux” – they’re faux rivers, artificial waterways.  Even if one was to remove the Hamburg Drain, you’d still have a canal to nowhere. Since the old canal district was long ago demolished, everything that goes there will, by its very definition, be “faux”.  Let’s get over that.

The “middle harbor” where some grain elevators still supply General Mills, and others lie dormant – rusting hulks representing a massive collection of environmental hazards – I don’t understand the burning need to preserve these things.  If they are no longer used, perhaps we could tear them down.  Their presence and age alone do not justify keeping them, nor do they justify preservation by virtue of their ties to Buffalo’s history as a lake port.  Ohio Street from runs along a particularly sad stretch of properties, and some sort of artistic neighborhood, if it is to happen, should happen “organically”, and there’s nothing preventing that from happening now.  Its ongoing uselessness is underscored by its emptiness. There’s no demand for anything there, probably due to the incredible costs associated with maintaining, renovating, or demolishing what’s there now.

You can’t advocate for organic growth within the context of imposing top-down planning decisions for that area.  The hypocrisy at play here is palpable.

The foundations – Baird and Rupp being specifically cited – are shadowy, minimally transparent organizations that wield disproportionately huge, unaccountable power in this town.  No one elects them, no one hires them – they just grant money to worthy organizations or the trustees’ friends.  The foundations run the nonprofits in this town – that’s Buffalo’s version of capitalist entrepreneurs running businesses.

At Monday’s public hearing, there were several who spoke, asking the ECHDC for inclusion of their pet projects or issues, including solar-powered carousels, the elimination of parking,  a bicycle-friendly environment, and the raising of a 200 year-old schooner from the lakebed at a cost of $2 million, and installing it in a tank at the site of the Aud (the weight of which would prohibit a parking garage underneath).

All of these people and groups claim to be speaking for “the” community – but they don’t.  They speak for “a” community.  If you want “organic” growth and bottom-up planning, then you can’t come up with pie-in-the-sky impositions of your top-down vision that’s been vetted only by a small group of people who are exactly like you in almost every way.  Organic growth comes about organically – whereby the ECHDC creates an atmosphere and infrastructure that is conducive to that growth.  You cobble the streets, install utilities, zone it, create a stringent building design/architectural standard for developers to follow, solicit bids, and possibly create a sales-tax free zone, together with other available incentives and let whoever come in and build something.  If someone can pull together the money and resources to raise a ship and place it in the Aud, then he can do so.  If someone wants to lease or buy land to install a solar powered carousel, then they can do so.  If someone wants to put in a tchotchke shop, then they should be free to do so – but in the end, the state agency should be in charge of enabling growth, and entrepreneurs should be in charge of creating it.

Anything else – whether it be a Benderson shopping plaza or a minutely planned arts district – would be Buffalo’s EPCOT.

(Updated to add a few lines, clean up paragraphs, and fix some spelling)

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:

Canal Side: Joint Recommendations

18 Nov

Brian, Chris, and I have formulated our joint recommendations for what should happen to Canal Side now that Bass Pro is long gone for the Yukon. You can read it here.

WNYMedia Canalside Input

18 Nov

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation is taking a pause to listen to the community. Outstanding. Through out this process, clearly the one event that has not taken place enough is a public hearing.  However, they are hosting a series open houses over the next several days as we reported earlier this week.

WNYMedia has been your reliable source covering the courtship of Bass Pro, the lawsuits and protests, the development silver bullets and missed shots, the demise and fall from grace. And while opinion has always been part of our reporting, we have never sought direct input.

That changes now.

At the upcoming hearings, well-meaning ECHDC board members will hear a variety of extremist views, from “Elimate the Incentives” libertarians to pro-Union, living wage activists. They will hear very little middle of the road, pragmatic, grounded, practical advice that is actually achievable. Which is where we step in. Consider this the input of the Coalition of Enough Already, whose only agenda is to get something built that is fun, feels like Buffalo, and is a good place to take out-of-state family when they come to visit.  After five decades of it being a parking lot, “kinda nice” is a huge improvement.

Brian Castner’s Input:

1) If a canal used to be there, dig it back out. If it didn’t used to be there, don’t make one up. Fake canals are fake. Real canals are fun to skate on in the winter time. Ask Ottawa.

2) Put in underground parking. Most people drive cars, and will into the foreseeable future. Underground parking is better than ramps, and there is a giant hole already dug in the ground. Duh.

3) Cobble streets are fun to walk on. Keep those. But build a bridge to the Outer Harbor. I can see the lighthouse from the Marina – I should be able to walk there in less than 2 hours.

4) Canals and cobble streets are fun to sit next to and eat dinner. Ask San Antonio. Make sure there is room for restaurants, and places to get ice cream, and a couple non-Elmwood shops, and coffee on a cold day. This is what we mean about somewhere to take the family.

5) Buffalo has great parks. We have great parks on the waterfront. We have new green space around the commercial slip, big enough to hold concerts. We don’t need more parkland. We need more stuff to do. No more green space please, except as a place holder to more stuff.

6) An Aquarium of the Great Lakes sounds like fun, but 1.2 million people don’t need, and can’t support, two aquariums. Open one at Canal Side if Niagara Falls will close theirs. Make the one at Canal Side look like the Wild Center in the Adirondacks – the kid’s love it. Why should Niagara Falls have to close their aquarium and move their animals to Buffalo? Because we’re a region and should start acting like it. The Niagara Falls aquarium is old and smells funny, and before they invest a bunch of money in it, we should do better at Canal Side. Niagara Falls has a great casino and waterfall and 5 million visitors – they aren’t left in the cold.

7) A Mall of Museums sounds like Main Place Mall – empty and FAILy. A museum related to the Erie Canal makes sense. So does the aerospace museum to coordinate with Naval Park. But every homeless museum doesn’t need to set up shop at Canal Side. Putting a picture of Irv Weinstein next to an old bike and couple used accordions doesn’t like fun.

8 ) Public Markets are fun, but hard. Pike Street Market in Seattle is old, covered, and heated. Saturday Market in Portland is under a bridge (Skyway bonus!), but closed half the year for the weather. Start small, on the existing park space, because we don’t need a replica of the Broadway Mausoleum on the waterfront.

9) Waterparks are tacky. Like really tacky. And not the kind of destination that really fits with Canal Side. We already go to Great Wolf or Darien Lake for that. Let Niagara Falls have their fake snowslide, and leave well enough alone. See #6.

10) Build the whole thing using the new Buffalo Smart Code. Because the old code is really . . . old.

This is the most reasonable advice you will hear the rest of the year. Please write it down.

Chris Smith’s input:

The short answer: Finish implementing the approved and funded Tim Tielman 2004 master plan, fill in the hole where the Buffalo Auditorium once stood, run commercial grade sewage and utilities, plant some grass, throw down a bench or two, zone it with the upcoming form based code, cobble the streets, escrow the currently available public monies, offer incentives to developers (i.e. tax free zone) and call it a day.  All done.

The long answer:
I’m in favor of progress, but I’m opposed to the dictatorship of a community. What does that mean? I’m opposed to groups who claim to represent “the” community when they actually represent “a” community, a group of like-minded associates who share an ideology.  We currently have a group of people and organizations taking up the majority of the planning time and discussing what they want to see on the waterfront, based on their own likes and dislikes.  There is nothing inherently wrong with that, it only becomes a problem when they deign to say they represent “the community” writ large.  They do not.

I’m hopeful when local development projects are announced, but I know that ideas and plans in this region must endure a Bataan Death March style process if they are to become reality. I also know that any idea will have to withstand the microscopic criticism of thousands, the planning board, the political process, the talk shows, the blogs, the demagoguery of activists and usually face some sort of legal challenge if it is to become anything more than a dream.  We’re currently in the midst of that march right now on waterfront planning.

A basic place to begin the discussion is to ask a simple question.  Is this a sensible or reasonable way to run a city?

Thousands of words and tens of thousands of man-hours have been spent contemplating what should happen on our inner harbor. We have Buffalonians looking to start the whole she-bang from scratch in order to crowdsource ideas for waterfront development…because we definitely need more ideas that come without capital or a group who would implement such a crowdsourced plan.

Isn’t that our problem, in a nutshell?  Instead of an established or formalized hierarchy of decision makers in this town, we have lots of people with their ideologies and -isms trying to have their ideas heard when none of them have the capital or resources to get in the game.  Most of these people mean well, but in a local economy which lacks widespread wealth generation, we have a lot of underemployed smart people using their ideas and positions as capital.  It creates a battlefield of ideas, with everyone screaming from the rooftops that their idea is the one we should adopt.  It’s a cacophony of nonsense and it’s tough to make sense of the future when all we do is argue about the present based on what happened in the past.  It’s time for a compromise.

So, what’s next?  A refreshing attempt to wipe the slate clean and allow the market to decide what goes on the waterfront in a regulated and form-based process. Last time we tried “development” in a similar manner, we got the historic waterfront of the late 19th century everyone pines for today. Maybe we should try it again.  I encourage you to post your ideas here and we will submit them with our statements or send your support for this “zone it and get out of the way” plan to the ECHDC.

Alan Bedenko’s Input:

Frankly, I agree with everything Brian and Chris wrote.  But I’d add that no matter which side of this you’re on, this project is going to involve some form of retail goods and services.  That means Canal Side will immediately be competing with the Niagara outlet mall and the Walden Galleria, not to mention the McKinley, Boulevard, and Eastern Hills Malls.  What gets built and how it looks is only part of the problem – the real challenge is to get people to come down there after the initial public curiosity dies down.

We can tout the wonder of the inner harbor and its rich, sordid history all we want, but if you look at the empty blocks of nothing surrounding Niagara Falls, natural wonders and rich history don’t automatically equate to success.

What Canal Side – and possibly more of downtown – needs is a sales-tax free zone.  When it comes to retail, there is practically nothing downtown nor has there been for many years.  Taking the 8.75% sales tax and getting rid of it would be a big draw for locals, suburbanites, and Canadians alike.  There would be an outcry that this is unfair to other retailers, but the argument can easily be made three ways: (1) it’s no more or less fair than shopping on an Indian reservation or downtown exclave; (2) it’s no more or less fair than the duty free at the border.  It’s also unfair but a fact of life for local retailers when the Canadian dollar isn’t at par – I fondly recall shopping in Canada all the time because the rate was 65 US cents for one Loonie, and I could get the GST back on many purchases at the border (those days are long gone).

I attended the first ECHDC public hearing yesterday afternoon, and I was pleased that most of the speakers took the time to thank it for holding them and taking the demanded “pause”.  People came with good ideas – festival space, green construction – and one guy came dressed like a tree and regaled those present with a lengthy missive about the region’s Indian folklore, history, and mythology.

The modified plan that ECHDC put forth is quite reasonable and not widely known because they haven’t put it online.  Bass Pro is now simply the “Aud Block”, and there will be a central canal for skating in the wintertime, and an interpretive, landscaped “little Buffalo Creek”.   The criticisms of opponents against “faux canals” and “parking” are silly and need to be countered.  The “faux canals” track the exact path of the Canal as it existed in that area in 1825, and cannot be made authentic thanks to the Hamburg Drain.  It makes for a charming promenade along the side of the Canal (hence, the project’s name).

Parking is necessary, and not a necessary evil.  If it’s to be built, build it underground where it won’t bother anyone or harm the project’s aesthetics.  Large swaths of Boston’s Common and Public Garden are above a massive multistory parking ramp.  No one complains because no one can see it, and no one cares.  Given the choice of seeing parked cars and not seeing parked cars, I’ll take the latter.  To the people who point to existing surface parking and say there’s plenty there already,  I’d prefer that surface parking be consolidated into one multistory lot to let other plots be built upon.  Furthermore, those lots are packed from 9 – 5 Monday through Friday.  If you want out-of-towners to take the train, that’d be a great idea, but the closest Metro Park & Ride to the I-90 is at the LaSalle stop.

We focus a lot on the built environment, and the project’s design should be as similar as possible to what existed during the canal terminus’ heyday.  What we don’t focus on is actually getting people to keep coming down there.  Give downtown and the inner harbor a fighting chance by giving people a tax-free incentive to open businesses, and patronize them.

And here’s the plan for the Aud block.  Re-create the street grid that used to be there, above the underground parking lot.

From gapfel.com

Downtown Buffalo 1895

Buffalo’s Waterfront: The Pause that Refreshes

16 Nov

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation has agreed to Mark Goldman’s call for a pause, and set up some public hearing times and dates.  If you want to see the “modified plan” being tabled, click here.  The ECHDC’s press release follows:

ECHDC Tables Vote on Modified Plan, Announces a Series of Open Houses

General Public invited to attend sessions and provide input into waterfront development plans

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) announced today that it will delay its vote on the Canal Side Modified General Project Plan (MGPP.) The MGPP emphasizes the development of public infrastructure on the Aud Block, including a series of public canals, walkways and a parking garage. In order to solicit more input from members of the Western New York community, ECHDC will be sponsoring a series of open houses over the next two weeks.

The open houses will begin Wednesday, November 17, 2010 and continue through Wednesday, November 24, 2010. For two hours on each of those days, the public will be invited to participate in a public session that will be attended by representatives from ECHDC. These sessions, which will be simulcast on the web and transcribed, will allow the public an opportunity to convey their ideas and opinions regarding waterfront development.

“Our goal is to provide the community with a forum to express their views,” said ECHDC Chairman Jordan Levy. “These new sessions have grown out of the feedback we have received from the community and an opportunity for the citizens of Western New York to make their opinions known directly to ECHDC, without any filter. Coming on the heels of our successful public hearings, we wanted to extend the opportunity for both ourselves and for members of the community to continue this dialogue before any decisions are made. Board members will be provided with transcripts from these sessions in advance of the final vote on the MGPP, and it is my expectation that they will use them as a resource to aid in their decision. The members of the ECHDC board are stewards of public resources and public dollars and they seek to be fully informed as they weigh their vote.”

In addition to the open house sessions, ECHDC will conduct a series of meetings with elected officials and community leaders which will include invited representatives from several leading Western New York organizations and advocacy groups. Stanton Eckstut, the master architect for Canal Side, and a nationally recognized innovator in public design, will also attend these sessions in order to fully inform them of the development that ECHDC is proposing on the Inner Harbor.

The schedule for the open house sessions will be as follows:

·        Wednesday, November 17, 2010, 2:00-4:00 p.m.

·        Thursday, November 18, 2010, 5:00-7:00 p.m.

·        Friday, November 19, 2010, 2:00-4:00 p.m.

·        Monday, November 22, 2010, 10:00-12:00 p.m.

·        Tuesday, November 23, 2010, 5:00-7:00 p.m.

·        Wednesday, November 24, 2010, 10:00-12:00 p.m.

The sessions will be held at the offices of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, 95 Perry St., Suite 500, Buffalo, NY 14203. There is free, two-hour parking on Mississippi St. on the side of the building.

Anyone who is interested in presenting their ideas to ECHDC, but is unable to attend one of the public sessions is encouraged to contact:

Erich Weyant, Assistant Director, Communications

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.
95 Perry St., Suite 500, Buffalo, NY  14203
716.846.8258
716.846.8262 fax
eweyant@empire.state.ny.us

“It remains our intention to make certain that Canalside is a model for world class re-development projects across America.  It was our intention when we began this project almost nine years ago to build a place that Buffalonians and all people from throughout Western New York will be proud of and will take full advantage of for generations to come. Adding a few more weeks to the schedule can only serve to help us to achieve that objective” said Levy.

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation is a subsidiary agency of Empire State Development Corporation whose vision is to revitalize Western New York’s waterfront and restore economic growth to Buffalo based on the region’s legacy of pride, urban significance and natural beauty.

Back to the Future, Back to the Past

10 Nov

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Bass Pro Just Isn’t That Into Us

13 Sep

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

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

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

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

…let’s try to lure Bass Pro again.

No, really.  I’m serious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Correct. Sarasota is not #Buffalo

20 Aug

Shorter Bruce Fisher:

In growing, business-friendly Sarasota, Benderson is paying for the privilege of building something.

In shrinking, business-hostile Buffalo, Benderson needs loads of incentives in its quiver just to attract someone – anyone – to something it wants to build.

While Fisher’s article is dismissive and critical of Benderson, Canal Side, and ECHDC, and while it advocates for a park along quite literally every sliver of dry land within rock-throwing distance from Lake Erie or the Niagara River, the point he completely ignores is why Benderson would be spending big money to build on the Gulf of Mexico, and looking for handouts and incentives to build in Buffalo.

As an aside, isn’t it interesting how ArtVoice commentators are oftentimes individuals who have directly injected themselves into the controversies about which they’re commentating? First Bruce Jackson, now Bruce Fisher. Fisher who, whilst Deputy County Executive under Giambra, helped to obtain Canal Side subsidy money from county government. Fisher, who is a plaintiff in the Goldman v. Bass Pro, ECHDC suit.

Frankly put, Florida isn’t hostile towards businesses. I’m not saying New York should emulate everything Florida does, because Florida’s meteoric boom has turned into a massive bust. We’ve just had an even malaise for 30 years, and there’s something positive about that when everywhere else is failing. There are many reasons why Sarasota is an attractive location for people and business, the weather and setting being among them. But so is the business climate, and – as Fisher points out – the fact that Sarasota actually has a plan.

Erie County has no plan, and attempts to begin the process of a countywide regional planning board last year were met with scoffing and derision from a county government that above all cherishes the status quo. We can’t have a deliberative process because no one wants to deliberate.

So, we have a hostile business environment, a bureaucracy and nomenklatura that would make the Soviets proud, development and planning by litigation, and a chronic disease called nostalgiitis. It’s not that we’re fearful of success, nor is it that we’re content with our stagnation. It’s just that we don’t even know how to begin talking to one another about rational ways to help ourselves without waiting for Albany or Washington to fix everything for us. It’s about how we cling closely to what we perceive to be the good old days of Buffalo and WNY, ignoring the very possibility that with some changes to the status quo, we may be able to create newer, better days.

The saddest part of this is that (a) it wouldn’t be that hard to make some changes to make it easier for businesses to start up and operate; and (b) there are thousands of other municipalities throughout the country from which we can learn.