Tag Archives: development

Governor Cuomo, First: Do No Harm.

21 Sep

Has a penny of the billion-dollar grant been spent yet? Is it in anyone’s account yet? Is there a plan for how it will be spent yet? 

The reason I ask is because that billion dollar grant that Governor Cuomo announced for Buffalo several months ago sure sounds great, but what’s going on with it? Who from this committee, which is in charge of the money, is communicating with us about what’s going on with it? There’s this PowerPoint from Brookings, and this paper, which is fantastic, but now what? What’s next? Jim Heaney from Investigative Post gave an update where the committee has decided to make a decision, but the whole process isn’t user-friendly, isn’t particularly well-publicized, and has neither the efficiency of a dictatorship nor the legitimacy of a democratic process. 

And another reason I ask is that Albany inaction has been in the news twice now in recent days. First, this report from the Buffalo News placing the blame on the delay in negotiating a new Bills lease squarely on the Cuomo Administration. The deal doesn’t get done if Albany, the County, and the Bills aren’t at the table, and Albany has been unready or unwilling to move on this. The reasons why? What reason would make sense? Why would Governor Cuomo – who has placed a billion dollar bet on Buffalo – risk losing the only NFL team that plays home games within New York State? There’s no scenario within which that makes any sense. 

A second example of Albany dragging its feet to Buffalo’s detriment? This story from WGRZ reporting that Rocco Termini has abandoned his ambitious ($60 million) – and fully leased – plan to renovate the AM&A building on Main Street. As detailed in this interview with Investigative Post’s Jim Heaney

Heaney:The AM&A’s building. It’s next to the Trico Building. It’s probably the biggest hulking vacant space in downtown. You’ve got an option that’s expiring soon with that property. Where do things stand?

Termini: Well we’re waiting for the tax credit bill to be signed by Albany.

Heaney:The bill would raise the cap on tax credits …

Termini: From 5 to 12 million dollars.

Heaney:And you need that much additional to make the project work?

Termini: Yes.

Heaney:The project is how much?

Termini: $60 million.

Heaney:Is this a spec project or do you have tenants?

Termini: The building is 100 percent leased by various businesses that we’ve already been in contact with.

Heaney:You probably don’t want to name individual tenants, but give me a flavor – is this hotel? Is this retail? Is this office? Is this high-tech office? What’s the tenant mix?

Termini: It’s all of them. But a lot of it is tech companies that are looking for what I call “Googlized space” – cool space – which there isn’t any cool space downtown. And we are filling that niche in downtown of providing cool space for tech companies.

Heaney:When does your option expire?

Termini: In a couple of weeks, and if it’s not signed in a couple of weeks we’ll get a move on to another project because we don’t want to lose our tenants.

Heaney:So you’re going to walk away from the building and they’ll be back to ground zero after that?

Termini: That’s right.

Heaney:Any indication from the governor’s people as to which way he’s leaning at this point?

Termini: None.

Heaney:How are the local politicians? Are they in support of this? Are they not in support of this? Are they sitting it out?

Termini: Every local politician is in support of this project. They all voted for it. They’ve had press conferences about it. They know the importance of this bill to Upstate New York. It’s not just Buffalo, it’s every city along the Thruway, which are faced with the same problems.

Heaney:So basically Cuomo signs or you walk.

Termini: That’s right.

Cuomo didn’t sign. Termini walked. 

Hey, Albany & Governor Cuomo: Buffalo and WNY are all FUBAR as it is. We don’t need you to make it worse. This is bad politics and bad policy, and there’s no reasonable rationale for this kind of governmental malpractice. Some are saying this has something to do with the chairmanship of the Erie County Democratic Committee. That can’t be right, though, can it? Seriously, you would harm the entire community over Frank Max? That’s not just malpractice, that’s reckless and wanton. 

A New Convention Center?

20 Sep

During the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last month, County Executive Mark Poloncarz angered a lot of people when he Tweeted about how much nicer Charlotte’s convention center is, compared to Buffalo’s. Jim Fink ripped Poloncarz in Business First, but now admits he was wrong – he thought Poloncarz was comparing our convention center to the Time Warner Center

It’s time to start talking about a new convention center in Buffalo. Why? Back in March the city lost a convention which would have had a $1.6 million economic impact. The reason given: 

“Your Convention Center did not meet the expectations of the site selection committee and did not measure up to the level of convention centers visited in the other cities,” she wrote. “There was also concern from the site selection committee regarding the abundance of vacant storefronts surrounding the Convention Center and the host hotel.

“Our attendees place a high value on the ability to access bars, restaurants, shopping and other entertainment options within walking distance.”

This is why blind, uncritical Buffalove is harmful. Downtown is a mess, made worse by bad planning, bad administration, bad policies, and multiple layers of regulation. Here’s a quick look at the convention center’s immediate surroundings: 

There’s absolutely nothing appealing for a casual convention-goer who doesn’t much care about architecture or the realness or authenticity about a place. Our downtown is a disgrace, and the convention center looks like someone took the Sedita City Court building and laid it on its side. The convention center is a brutalist monstrosity that blocks off Genesee Street, resembles a German Normandy bunker, and goes out of its horrible way to make downtown look even uglier and less inviting – less human.

Here’s Charlotte’s convention center:

It’s not perfect, but it’s not a Stalinist apartment block, either

It’s absolutely time to start talking again about improving downtown – which has been happening slowly, in fits and starts. We need a plan for smart parking and land value taxation to de-incentivize lazy maintenance of our sea of surface parking lots. We also need a new, attractive convention center that can attract business and visitors, and be a showpiece for a new Buffalo. One that’s welcoming. 

Perhaps we can kill two birds with one stone and demolish the existing convention center, make that land ready for development – on two parcels, re-establishing that stretch of Genesee Street. The convention center could be located perhaps on the site of the current Adams Mark, which should also be demolished. Perhaps we could demolish them both on the same day and hold the biggest fricking celebration Buffalo ever had. 

The last time Buffalo looked into a new convention center was 1999. Poloncarz told Fink,

“If we needed one in 1999, we definitely need one now,” he said. “Maybe, it’s time to open that debate again.”

He notes that a new convention center in Niagara Falls, ON has had a $110 million impact on that city already. 

So, I’ll revisit my original idea, which has been actually picking up supporters and steam. It was most recently echoed by Rocco Termini in an interview with Investigative Post’s Jim Heaney.  

Termini: That’s a small segment of what is out there. We need to develop the whole concept of the Toronto market. I’m going to be in Toronto over the weekend talking about this very thing.

Heaney: What’s your thought on how to capitalize?

Termini: I think what we need to do is form a sales tax free zone downtown. We need to take over the first floor of every building downtown and we need to put in there an outlet mall type, high-end retail. And then you will get people coming into Buffalo from Toronto. And then they’ll go to the restaurants, they’ll stay at the hotels, they’ll make a day of it. I just called for a hotel room in Toronto and Trump Tower is $750 a night. You can come and stay at probably a better room at the Lafayette for $149, so a person from Toronto can come down to Buffalo, have dinner, shop all day, and stay in a hotel here.

Heaney: Doesn’t that put local existing merchants at a disadvantage all of a sudden? “I’m selling, the guy downtown is selling; I’ve got to collect a sales tax he doesn’t.” Aren’t you in a stealing from Peter to pay Paul scenario?

Termini: Not really. They’re getting a small fraction of the people coming from Canada. And don’t forget, they already have an advantage. They have expressways going right to their malls; they have free parking, something that we’ve paid for as city residents for many years. And now it’s time for the city to get what they deserve and they deserve a chance to get restarted. Nothing else has worked. We talked about so many things to bring retail back to downtown and nothing has worked. I think this will work because people travel to the Indian reservation to save $5 on a carton of cigarettes and they’ll spend $6 worth of gasoline. But when people think they’re getting a deal they will come.

The central business district is a wasteland. We’re now talking about creating a new little shopping district at the foot of Main Street out of whole cloth. But even if we build it, how do you ensure that they come, and that it’s sustainable? Just being there for when hockey or lacrosse games get out isn’t enough. Just being there in nice weather isn’t enough. It has to be something people want to come to, and people want to return to.

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

BuffaloCBD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battlezone: Webster Block

30 Jul

Late last week, two proposals to redevelop the Webster Block – across from the First Niagara Center and Canal Side – were put before the public. Physically similar, the major differences between the two plans is that one includes publicly accessible indoor ice rinks, costs more money, will take longer to build, and relies more heavily on public money. 

Submitting the two proposals for public vetting and comment, for the use of land the City currently holds, is laudable. However, I will be not at all surprised to see it devolve right into bitter litigation, because of the ease with which that can happen, and stymie the whole project. It’s cost of doing business in our so-called “lighter, cheaper, faster” placemaking/crowdsourcing development culture in contemporary Buffalo. It’s also why our skyline has not changed significantly since the 1960s. 

First, the Sabres’ proposal. Costing over $123 million, with a promise of 450 permanent jobs, “HarborCenter” is projected to open in mid-2015, include two ice rinks, and rely somewhat heavily on public incentives and subsidies, although the exact figure hasn’t been determined.  It features a sports bar, hotel space, retail space, and a 965-space parking garage. 

Next, here’s a proposal put forth by “Webster Block, LLC”, a joint venture led by Carl Paladino’s Ellicott Development. It features retail space, residential condos, a hotel, office space, and 1,089-space parking garage. 

 

Recognizing that design is largely subjective, I somewhat prefer the Paladino proposal. I don’t like the overuse of brick in every new development save the Avant, and these two proposals incorporate that. The archways over the street-level retail in the Paladino plan, along with the awnings and other features one typically sees in big-city urban developments appeal to me. I have seen some criticism about the visibility of the parking ramp in the Paladino proposal, but the Sabres’ renderings seem to conveniently omit that, so Webster Block, LLC gets points for transparency on that point. 

But the brick-and-windows designs are, to me, so late-80s post-modern. The clean simplicity of the Avant should be a model for contemporary high-rise design in Buffalo. This all looks like an NYU or BU dorm, ca. 1986. 

Aside from money and the need for subsidies, the major difference here is the Sabres’ inclusion of two rinks. I think it’s a pretty neat idea, especially if there’s non-hockey related just general skate time available to local and visiting families. Adding amateur hockey space to downtown is clearly a positive, and would be a great asset to have to attract league play and tournaments to downtown. 

But either way, Buffalo wins. This isn’t currently a site, but a blight; another surface parking lot in a city jam-packed with them. It’s the site where the Adelphia Tower was supposed to go – first 40 stories, then 15, then zero as Adelphia went out of business, in disgrace during the last decade.  Anticipating complaints about parking – of course you need parking. It’s not the existence of parking that’s bad, but its visibility and use – a surface lot is an utter waste of space, but a parking garage nestled within a larger project and hidden from view is an absolute necessity. Anticipating complaints about the historic nature of the site of some sort, any such complaints would be disingenuous nonsense. No one moaned about historical significance during the decades during which it was a parking lot. Is someone going to complain that it should be a replica of the original Webster Block? A low grouping of brownstone warehouses

Either proposal would enhance the area around the Arena and Canal Side. Either proposal would be a net plus for the inner harbor area of downtown Buffalo. Either proposal would be a welcome change from the status quo. We have to get past the mentality where one person can halt civic progress for the public benefit with one lawsuit. I wonder if we’ll get there with this project. 

Looking up Main Street 1905 (Shorpy.com)

If you want to add your two cents, you can email the city at websterblockrfp@city-buffalo.com.

Shorter Donn Esmonde

25 Jun

Tim Tielman has transformed obstructionism into a successful protection racket, and this is good for Buffalo. 

 

Steel Tube Production for Lackawanna

30 May

Chris Smith came across a notice for a public hearing, which was held on the morning of Tuesday May 29th in Lackawanna City Hall regarding an application Welded Tube, USA, Inc. made to the Erie County IDA for a land and incentive package at the “Tecumseh Business Park, Lakewinds Site Parcel 3 at the intersection of Route 5 and Ridge Road in Lackawanna”.  

Under the proposal, Welded Tube intends to build a “new, high speed, efficient steel tube production line for the production of multi-faceted cold formed carbon and HSLA tubular steel for use in the energy tubular industry”.  

The ECIDA would purchase the land and lease it back to Welded Tube, and “contemplates that it will provide financial assistance to the Company for qualifying portions of the Project in the form of sales and use tax exemptions, a mortgage recording tax exemption, and a partial real property tax abatement consistent with the policies of the [ECIDA]”. 

The property in question is a 400 acre brownfield site that sits perhaps not coincidentally right next to the embattled Bethlehem Steel North office building. 

Alfred Culliton, COO of ECIDA says that Welded Tube is a “Canadian operation” looking to open up its first US operation on this Lackawanna site. Culliton says Welded Tube intends to construct further south on the property, near the South Branch crossing, and is in no way related to, or spurring the push to demolish the Bethlehem Steel North office building. 

Welded Tube USA, Inc. is not incorporated in New York State, and there are no Google hits for that name, except for the ECIDA hearing notice.  It appears that cleaning up the former Bethlehem Steel property for prospective residential or recreational purposes is not a priority, and the land will instead further be used for industrial purposes. This place – does it matter? How, and for whom?

Leave Acropolis Alone

19 Jan

Is Acropolis a good or bad citizen of Elmwood Avenue?

Are we knee-jerkedly predisposed in Buffalo to discourage and punish success?

Do you live within earshot of one of the city’s busiest commercial districts because you treasure peace and quiet?

Acropolis on Elmwood, fresh off a recent renovation and expansion, is looking to further expand to the second floor. Some people in the neighborhood are opposing this – some reasonably, some with libelous outrage.

The city has already approved the work that Acropolis is doing – adding space to the second floor for small banquets and parties; it’s not a huge building. Yet some residents nearby are engaging in blood feud tactics to protest what they think will become a “nightclub atmosphere” in the miniscule second floor.

2 On Your Side attempted to reach those opposing the expansion but we were unable to track down a name or a group.  There is a public meeting scheduled for Thursday night for both sides to voice their opinion to Buffalo Common Council member Michael LoCurto

Typical – ad hoc group makes stuff up, arbitrarily opposes private enterprise, refuses itself to be accountable to anyone.  One opponent spoke with WKBW / Buffalo Business First:

“The expansion of a full bar at that location would have severe negative impacts on the surrounding residential neighborhood,“ said Lynda Schnekloth. “Including excessive noise, increased traffic, competition for limited parking spaces, safety concerns, property values.”

Isn’t that a good thing for a city – increased traffic and less parking? Doesn’t that mean we’re doing something right? And how will a soundproofed tiny banquet area increase noise or “safety concerns” any more than Cecelia’s next door, or Blue Monk across the street, or any of the other nearby bars or restaurants? What proof is there that a thriving Elmwood business district will adversely affect property values? Any more than, say, break-ins to cars and homes, underperforming schools, theft of architectural features?  Let’s be real – if you want quiet and ample parking, you don’t live in the Elmwood Village. If you want a walkable, thriving, vibrant neighborhood that brings with it the headaches of living in a city environment, you do. It’s really that simple.

It’s like moving to the airport and complaining about the planes.

Buffalo Rising agrees:

While Buffalo Rising has seen far more people in favor of the expansion, what critics now seem to be misunderstanding is the music.  Acropolis is simply not a place for overly loud music.  It’s a place where a DJ can play eclectic trendy music to cater to the bar.  People can still have conversations over the music.   This type of relaxed bistro lounge atmosphere with DJ is popular with young professionals and has been for some time.  Right now, though, the City of Buffalo is holding his music license, so he is prohibited from playing music until the Common Council decides what it is going to do on January 24th.

Tsouflidis is reaching out to his critics, calling for an open community meeting, followed by a tour of the new upstairs space where the entire community can come out and learn more about the project and have a dialogue about any concerns that they may have.  It will be critical for supporters of the expansion to also attend this meeting or contact Delaware District Common Council Member Michael LoCurto’s office at mlocurto@city-buffalo.com to voice their support.  The meeting will be held on January19th at 6:00, in the Lafayette Ave. Presbyterian Church, downstairs in the loaves and fishes room.

The expansion of Pano’s several years ago was also riddled with controversy. Having a nice place to sit, have a drink with friends, and be able to hear your conversation is what adult city dwellers like to do. The protests against this are reminiscent of the neighborhood protests that ended a planned hotel at the corner of Elmwood and Forest, near Buff State. It’s a sorry state that businesses have to spend money and energy responding to – and often succumbing to – propaganda and lies, unless they’re well-connected and donate money to the right people, in which case they can, for instance, taunt politicians from illegal billboards on ironically crumbling, speculatively owned buildings.

Maybe Acropolis should be a future Cash Mob destination.

Cars To a Tax-Free Main Street

14 Dec

Inch by inch, block by block, the city of Buffalo is getting ready to correct what’s turned out to be a mistake that hastened downtown’s demise. The federal government has given the city a $15 million grant to return vehicular traffic to Main Street’s 500 block, approximately Mohawk to Huron – Lloyd‘s downtown corner to the Hyatt.  The 700 block has been done, and the 600 block is in the works.

Pedestrian zone in Delft, Holland

In my experience, most successful pedestrian-only shopping zones aren’t located along main thoroughfares; they’re instead made up of a jumble of side streets, creating what amounts to an outdoor pedestrian retail zone.  Simply removing cars from a main arterial street doesn’t seem to have worked, and the decline of downtown shopping that was hastened by Metro Rail construction disruption never had a chance to rebound.

Although hundreds of thousands of people come into downtown from all parts of WNY every day, it’s a retail wasteland at all times. It’s doubtful that there’s very much that can be done at this point to reverse that.

But as we plan for a reborn waterfront at Canal Side, which will soon expand onto the Aud block and other surrounding areas, if becoming a retail as well as cultural destination is desired, then creating a sales tax-free zone downtown would have a great stimulative effect. Part of the question is – how do you attract people to shop downtown merchants as opposed to the Niagara Falls outlets or the Walden Galleria – an 8.75% discount in the downtown core would probably be a great draw.

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

Main Street in the 50s

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

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

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

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

Merely returning cars to Main Street isn’t going to return downtown to its former glory. A coordinated effort and plan to make downtown competitive and attractive to people and businesses is needed.


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Email me at buffalopundit[at]gmail.com

$100 Million Here and There

9 Dec

Is Governor Cuomo’s division of the state into economic development zones and then having them compete against each other for hundreds of millions in state money a cure for the disease, or is it more of a Band-Aid?  $100 million here and there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.

I’m pleased that the WNY Regional Development Council won over $100 million for local development priorities, but query whether the awards reflect its intended goal of “prosperity”:

Western New Yorkers aspire to create a sustainable prosperity by utilizing and enhancing the strengths of our people, by continuing our rich tradition of human innovation in arts, education, health, and manufacturing; by leveraging our regions natural beauty and abundant natural resources; and by taking full advantage of our unique and strategic location in the world. We will create a region that is admired worldwide, that attracts more people to live, learn, work and visit; where entrepreneurs and businesses want to invest their time and capital, and where all our institutions reflect a culture of inclusion, continuous improvement, adaptation and excellence.

That sounds great, but when you look at the money that was awarded, some of the money doesn’t seem to do much towards attaining that goal. Certainly, awards to institutions of higher learning and knowledge-based industries are positive, and can help set the foundation for future prosperity. Frankly, we should be prioritizing and speeding up our slow and hesitant transition from a manufacturing past to a knowledge-based future.  We should also prioritize the clean-up of contaminated, unusable land for future development. I’m looking at you, Outer Harbor.  Here’s the application that the council submitted to the state.

Final Plan – WNY Regional Development Council//

There are some awards (e.g., renovate 20 homes in the town of Friendship, rehabilitate 25 owner/occupied homes in Allegany County) that don’t make sense from a build-prosperity perspective. There are some infrastructure projects (3 miles of rail in Cattaraugus County, an airplane hangar in Olean), tourism priorities (grape discovery center in Chautauqua County), grants to help the poor and elderly update their homes, but when you get out of the rural counties, the grants here in Erie County are heavily weighed towards helping growing and improving local small businesses, which I think is a fantastic opportunity.

In what we perceive to be an unfriendly business environment, it’s a good thing to help promote, improve, and grow small businesses in a weak economy, giving them the opportunity to grow and create jobs.

Ultimately, however, the best thing Albany can do to help revive upstate and WNY counties is give them a break on taxes, and to streamline the business development red tape – not hold an awards show without the glitz.

Frankly, the WNY Regional Development Council should replace and hopefully de-politicize the entire ESD/IDA structure throughout the region. Just as we have too many layers of government, we have too many hands in the “build business” pot. Formulating region-wide goals and priorities to prevent the sort of petty poaching, and incentivization of Titanic deck-chair rearrangement that takes place now.

Finally, for a governor who went out of his way to underscore that there is “one New York” during his campaign, the notion that there are winners and losers is head-scratchingly odd. By way of comparison, the Finger Lakes RDC, which includes Rochester and Genesee County, was not a big winner, but still got $68.8 million.


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Email me at buffalopundit[at]gmail.com

ECHDC, Benderson, Philips Lytle, and Parking

20 Jul

I know that underground parking is expensive, but this sort of pisses me off.  Then again, the parking here is next to the elevated 190, so who really cares? With that said, anything on that parcel that doesn’t look like a Communist apartment block would be a massive improvement.  Therefore, this is a massive improvement.

Some progress on something would be nice, and *shock horror* retail & services! OMG! Maybe Dave Franczyk will block it because it may harm the snack shack’s business.

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Canal Side’s Potential

5 Jul

Yay Shack

Last Friday, Tom Dolina, and I attended the ceremonial ribbon-cutting of the Erie Canal snack shack, ironically dubbed “Clinton’s Dish”. (We’ll have video up shortly.)

Friday’s weather was glorious, and there were hundreds of people outside enjoying the green space right along the boardwalk. The Pride of Baltimore II replica schooner was in town, the naval museum was open, there were some painted Adirondack chairs available for people to relax in – some shady trees helped keep people out of the hot sun – and there was, of course, the shack itself and a small sandy area before representing a “beach”.

It’s obviously a huge improvement over what used to be there, a parking lot, but I was struck by how many people were there given that the only real thing available to do was to just hang out. The shack itself? Perry’s Ice Cream, hamburgers and hot dogs, chips and sodas – usual shack fare, and on opening day it was quite slow and disorganized. It’s nice that it’s there, but it’s sort of a clone of the Hatch.

Reporters listened to the politicians’ pronouncements, and afterwards cornered Congressman Brian Higgins to press him on issues like the Peace Bridge and the federal deficit, and Mayor Byron Brown to press him on the delay with the Naval museum restaurant.

What I wanted to know was – what’s next? The ECHDC has done an awful job of explaining to people and reminding them that, despite all the jokes about the massive self-applause over a somewhat pitiful shack, there’s a lot more to come. Again – people were there with nothing to do; imagine if there was something to do. Imagine if there were shops and a public market, perhaps a few restaurants and bars, or a gallery or museum space. There is such huge potential there, and you kind of have to go down there on a nice day to be reminded of it.

One thing that stood out – when standing around on the boardwalk by the water, the Skyway is absolutely a non-issue. There was negligible traffic noise, and it was far enough overhead that I didn’t even think about it until I consciously sought it out to observe it. It’ll be nice to someday be rid of it, and it’ll be nice to have the at-grade crossing to the Outer Harbor, but its removal is not a prerequisite to developing and enjoying the Canal Side area.

I was also struck by the fact that a snack shack and some deck chairs were, so far, the net sum of the six-figures paid to Fred Kent and his traveling crowdsourcing circus. That right there is some taxpayer money that is owed back to the people.

So, we asked ECHDC President Tom Dee and Congressman Brian Higgins to remind us what’s coming next. When are the RFPs? Why don’t we just sell off the parcels to private developers and let them do what they want, within design and engineering regulations? What is the benefit of having one unified developer at Canal Side versus several different developers, or one for each parcel.

Coming Soon (?)

The snack shack doesn’t deserve the hype it got. We ought not pat ourselves on the back for things that should have already existed – for no-brainers. We should get excited about the stuff that’s coming and frustrated by the fact that the banners had until recently touted Canal Side opening in May 2011. Well, the newly-cobbled streets are open, but we’ve got a glut of cobbled streets with little to do around them down in that area.

The snack shack is definitely anticlimactic.

But, it may bring you down there and you may enjoy a nice stroll along the water, or take a seat in the “sunset chairs” and hang out. As you do so, imagine how great it’ll be in a few years when the city blocks between you and the HSBC tower have re-watered replica canals and loads of shops and restaurants.  Seriously, it will be great.

As for the process, the ECHDC is talking about building an underground parking garage underneath the Canal Side development. The area needs it, and the tenants will demand it. By placing it underground, you keep it out-of-sight and it doesn’t become a blight on the area. I predict that this will be the next major source of conflict and strife over the coming months, but a refusal to implement underground ramps will only result in the perpetuation and further propagation of private surface lots in the nearby areas.  That’s something we don’t need.