Tag Archives: downtown

The City Grill Shootings and What Now for Downtown #Buffalo

16 Aug

According to the Buffalo Police Department’s website, there have been 32 homicides in the City of Buffalo so far this year, not including the tragedy that happened this past weekend outside of City Grill on Main Street in the faintly beating heart of downtown Buffalo. Four people’s lives were taken after a couple of parties got shut down at City Grill, and someone outside fired a 9MM into the crowd. 8 people were shot.

The next morning, Buffalo cheerleaders were wringing their hands over how such a tragedy might play in Amherst, and whether it would harm efforts to revive Buffalo’s downtown – namely, Canal Side. Of course, this was a senseless tragedy that was anything but random. It’s interesting to watch the city police come face-to-face with the “Stop Snitching” ethos that’s so prevalent in the African-American community. Responsible voices cry out, “if you know something, say something!” but in the meantime, the police are busy arresting the wrong guy.

I’m not a cop, nor a sociologist, so I’m not going to criticize the police, or that they have no residency requirement. I’m not going to make snarky comments about Derenda’s first real test as commissioner and how he’s doing. I’m not going to rail against the Brown administration and how it routinely plays down crime statistics. I’m not going to write a tome about how the Black community can make its neighborhoods safer, or better cooperate with police.

Instead, I’m going to focus on the suburb/city split and Canal Side and how this shooting may or may not affect them.

Any suburbanite whose confirmation bias about the perceived safety of downtown Buffalo is strengthened by these shootings needs to take a step back and look at what happened. This was a targeted, reactionary shooting – not something random. Downtown Buffalo is hardly a shooting gallery on a regular basis. If anything, it’s a ghost town – a wasteland peppered with a small handful of bars.

There’s been something of an interesting intersect as to how these shootings are being linked in to the public discord over Canal Side. The Fisher brothers, Tielman, and others want Canal Side to be a parkland or a museum or something else that cannot be called a “mall”, because malls are the absolute worst thing that man ever created, or God ever permitted to exist. The suburbanites who would be expected to patronize such a “mall” are now chattering about how Buffalo is very dangerous, so they’ll spend their money in Cheektowaga instead.

It is a perfect storm of status-quo for Buffalo. One asshole with a 9MM did more to ensure that downtown remain lame than any obstructionist lawsuit or prejudiced suburbanite could ever do.

I made the point on Facebook and Twitter that “The City Grill murders aren’t going to hurt any downtown #Buffalo renaissance. It’s the lack of non-drunken things to fucking do.” One person commented with this:

Babeville (TWO floors of performance venues, independent of each other). Hallwalls. WNY Book Arts Center. (Also the new home of Just Buffalo.) Squeaky Wheel. Starlight Studio. The newly revived library. Washington Market. The Canal museum-y site. The Mansion. The Avant. ChocoLogo. The OTHER chocolate-based place whose name I always confuse with CL, neither of which is the Chocolate Bar. New Era. All the co-op housing I scoffed at when it first opened but is completely filled.

That’s just the last few years and thus does not include CEPA and the rest of the Market Arcade building, Irish Classical, the ongoing restorations to Shea’s, Spot Coffee (as social venue), Old Editions, Mohawk Place (you don’t actually have to drink when you’re there, you know)…

I replied with:

An impressive list, but of those, I don’t think a single one is open past 5pm on any regular basis, and a few of them may stretch the definition of “downtown”.

It went on from there, with Chris Smith arguing that there’s nothing impressive about that list, and

It’s a list of things that are mostly open during the day…several of which are not open to the general public all of the time. It’s a depressingly small list of incremental improvements that have happened over ten years and which serve a very specific demographic group.

Once the argument turned with the person who made the Babeville, et al. suggestions writing,

are any of you haters doing a fucking thing to make downtown better yourselves? If not, allow me to suggest a number of cities where you might be more welcome.

I was out. It’s done. I wrote one sentence decrying the fact that there is nothing to do in downtown Buffalo on a nightly basis that doesn’t involve getting hammered and then driving home, and I get the “what are YOU doing? You should just move!” argument.

Well, what I’m doing is spending my money in other parts of the city, and in the suburbs, and other places where there are things to do. The beauty of something like Canal Side is that it could be the spark that sets off a fire of entrepreneurial development downtown. If it had actual things to do that would make regular people come downtown, then other businesses could fill it in, as well as the immediate surrounding areas to support the foot traffic that hadn’t been present on Main Street downtown in generations. Maybe Bass Pro wasn’t going to be the silver bullet everyone thought it’d be, but do you have any better suggestions? A museum or park isn’t going to bring a mass of people downtown on a regular basis. An IKEA? Forget the fact that IKEA is never going to come here, or the fact that there’s an IKEA about an hour up the QEW. If you think the Tielman clique had a conniption over Bass Pro, just wait to see what they’d have to say about IKEA – which is the biggest of big boxes. Wegmans? I can’t begin to understand why that’s a good idea. Put a Wegmans downtown, sure. Put it near some other new lofts or apartments, great. But on the waterfront? What’s next? A massive Dollar General?

Given that no one will ever agree on what should go into Canal Side, and given the fact that the obstructionists will continue to obstruct forever, whatever happens there should be organic growth, and there needs to be an incentive to do so. I’ve said it before, so I’ll say it again – if you want the foot of Main Street to be a mecca for people again, then a portion of downtown needs to be converted into a sales-tax free zone. It is a reverse Empire Zone – instead of the businesses getting the incentive, the consumer gets it directly. People would complain about how unfair it would be to other businesses. Perhaps. But the fact that Pennsylvania’s gas and clothes are less expensive is unfair to Chautauqua County gas and clothing retailers.

Downtown is dead because downtown is dead. If you want downtown to live again, improve the business climate and make it especially attractive.

Updating a Quip

3 Aug

Opinions about what should be done with Canal Side are like assholes.

Everyone’s got one, and most of them stink to high heaven.

Erie County Savings Bank ca. 1908

18 Jul

Here’s what the location of the Main Place Tower looked like a century ago, courtesy of Shorpy. You can clearly see the Guaranty Building in the left-hand corner, down to Franklin & Court. Again, with Shorpy posts, the beauty is looking at the full version of the photograph and examining the little details – like the stop sign suspended in the air above the street, or the mix of horse-drawn carriages and motor vehicles.

Someone posted a comment to the original post that included slides of this building being demolished in order to make way for the Main Place Tower and Mall back in 1968 – the tower may be doing well, but the mall is a forgotten and anachronistic piece of dreck, existing only to provide space for computer companies and as an elaborate roof for an underground parking garage.

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Insert “Fish or Cut Bait” Joke Here

16 Jul

There seems to be a growing grumbling about Bass Pro. As typically happens with Buffalo projects that are announced with a flourish and then go nowhere, people just don’t care anymore. The thrill, to quote BB King, is gone.

Back in June, a group of which I’d never before heard called the Public Accountability Initiative issued a report critical of the incentives being offered to Bass Pro. Earlier this week, the New York Power Authority cut a deal with the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation to accelerate funding, enabling the ECHDC to raise $105MM for the project through bonding.

Prior to that event, Andrew Stecker from the Public Accountability Initiative issued this statement to the ECHDC board:

On June 2nd, the Public Accountability Initiative released a report on Bass Pro’s history of receiving government subsidies. The report found that while state and local governments have consistently awarded subsidies for the construction of new Bass Pro stores based on the assumption that these stores promote economic development, these benefits have rarely, if ever materialized.

Given that Bass Pro is not a surefire economic development engine, it is imperative that public policy makers protect the public’s investment by conducting appropriate due diligence research, and by implementing clawback provisions. Unfortunately, the ECHDC has shown no interest in taking these steps.

Given the dubious nature of the economic development claims supporting the Canal Side project, the allocation of funding from NYPA represents a gross misuse of public money. This project will use the entire funding stream from the Buffalo Waterfront Development fund, in addition to an Industrial Incentive Award, to borrow money for the construction of the Bass Pro store, parking garages, and surrounding infrastructure. We believe that the Waterfront Development fund, secured during the relicensing of the Niagara Power Project, should have been allocated through a more transparent, open, and competitive process. However, the ECHDC’s obsession with Bass Pro from day one has precluded the agency from considering any alternatives. The ECHDC has failed to justify why the subsidization of a Bass Pro store is the best use of this funding.

As for the Industrial Incentive Award, we find it extremely disconcerting that while most IIAs are given for one or a few years to New York State manufacturing companies in the form of discounted electricity tied to job creation and retention goals, the Canal Side IIA has a term of 20 years, is in the form of cash, and will be going to a retail development with no requirement to meet job goals. Additionally, this IIA is far larger than most others awarded by NYPA. For the next 20 years, one-third to one-half of the Expansion Power block from the Niagara Power Project will be devoted to the debt payments on the Canal Side Bass Pro.

We believe that the Canal Side project in its current form is improper, unwise, and contrary to the public interest of the citizens of New York State. We urge all interested parties to oppose this project, and take whatever steps necessary to prevent further squandering of public funds by these runaway public authorities.

I think there’s a sense out there that the ECHDC has become so positively obsessed with Bass Pro that the public perceives it negatively. As if we’re giving away the farm so that a sporting goods store – whose appeal is greatly diminished during the great Recession and what may very well be a post-consumerist society – can locate here.

As with most projects that take 10 years of bitching and moaning before there’s palpable progress (hi, Peace Bridge!), I’ve become ambivalent about Bass Pro. Canal Side, I think, is a great project. But perhaps another, less demanding anchor tenant might be in order at this point. Or several.

In addition, the establishment of a sales-tax-free zone in downtown Buffalo would be a bigger draw for people and bait stores than complicated state-generated economic incentive packages.

Buffalo Niagara Convention Center Upgrades

27 Feb

The Buffalo Niagara Convention Center will be spending the summer and $7 million to renovate the 30 year-old concrete bunker lining Franklin and Pearl Streets downtown.

The Failsign will finally be replaced by something that works, a new entryway will be constructed, and some behind-the-scenes improvements will also be made.

The renovations will not, however, have any affect on an exterior that resembles a horizontal version of Buffalo’s execrable city court building, nor on the massive boarded-up hotel across the street.

Bikeshedding Illustrated

11 Feb

First time I heard that phrase, Chris Smith used it.  Bikeshedding is defined as:

Futile investment of time and energy in marginal issues, often including annoying propaganda 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.

And so it is that this picture in this Brian Castner post is a spot-on reminder of Buffalo’s propensity to engage in endless bikeshedding while ignoring real problems, real issues, and real solutions.

The comparison is between Portland, OR and Buffalo, NY.  The point being made is that the traditional “problems” cited by the SoForElmRich crowd to explain downtown’s lack of downtown development are a load of bikeshedding horseshit.

You have yourself a nice day.

Flame Bait: Statler

9 Feb
The Buffalo Statler Towers as viewed from the ...
Image via Wikipedia

I think keeping a mothballed, unused Statler with a negative value needing tens of millions of dollars in renovations and environmental remediation in the very heart of downtown Buffalo is infinitely worse than demolishing it and allowing something to be built on that block that people might actually use.

Buffalo City Hall & Buffalo Place

7 Jun

Avant on Delaware

6 Feb


If you have $1.73 million, you, too, can have the privilege of living in the penthouse of a former Federal office building.

The Avant looks like a great project, and it’ll be nice to have a hotel join the Hampton Inn near Chippewa that isn’t mired in ’80s decor and style. One law firm has rented out two floors of the building, and the rest of it will be condominiums.

$1.73 million to live in a penthouse in downtown Buffalo? That’s an incredible amount of money for urban living.

If I hit the lotto, I’d get an oceanview condominium at the Residences at the W in Fort Lauderdale. This luxury condo/hotel development is across the street from the beach and offers every amenity you can possibly imagine, all managed by Starwood Hotels. A condominium in that building starts at $975k for a one-bedroom, and $1.2 million for a two-bedroom. Less than a penthouse at the Avant.

Although downtown Buffalo has lots of those $500 bachelor/ette pad apartments downtown, no one has really done a condo project offering units at or around $100,000 – something that a young professional could afford, and offers the benefits of home ownership. I know that Uniland is far smarter at real estate than I am, and I’m sure they figure there’s a market for a $2 million apartment that’s walking distance to Papaya and Via de los Jello Shots, but being a cheap bastard, I can’t help but think, “for $2 million, I could get a beautiful apartment in [insert your favorite world-class city here].

Dear Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation

2 Dec

I understand that you’ll be building at least one parking “ramp” (quaintly referred to elsewhere as a “garage”) in order to serve the Canal Side shopping & heritage district.

During a recent trip to San Diego, I saw this building (click to enlarge):

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

It is a parking garage near the Padres’ PETCO Park. It doesn’t look like a parking garage. It actually has an art gallery in the street-level storefront. It’s nestled between two hotels.

Please keep this in mind when designing things for Canal Side. Thanks.

Love, BP