Tag Archives: ECHDC

#Placemaking #Buffalo

12 Sep

 

Look at me! I’m an urban planner! 

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The Outer Harbor. Again.

11 May

When I first started blogging about local issues in mid to late 2004, one of my first topics was the Outer Harbor. At that time, the NFTA was circulating three competing centrally-planned proposals for that land – the parkland proposal, the nice proposal, and what I called the “Elevator to the Moon” proposal, because it seemed to offer everything up to and including that feature.  I also called it Amherst-sur-Lac. (Of course, the NFTA picked that plan way back in early 2005. We’re still waiting.)  The Buffalo News endorsed it, as well. 

Parkland Edition

Mixed-Use Version

Elevator to the Moon Plan

The biggest problem with the Outer Harbor isn’t land use; it isn’t whether we lay a strip of parkland along the lake, or whether we turn the whole damn thing into little more than a seasonal festival grounds. 

The biggest problem is how contaminated that area is – and that’s not counting the fact that our self-perpetuating governmental, quasi-governmental, authorities, and public benefit corporations can’t decide who should own the land and control the process. It falls under the ECHDC’s jurisdiction, but is owned largely by the NFTA. Still. 

I’m not sure why the bus company owns land on the waterfront. Or why it should. Or why it hasn’t divested itself of it yet.  Or why it’s sat on it for 50 years. 

The contamination is longstanding and acute. It makes “what to do with the Outer Harbor” a moot question until millions of dollars are spent to fix it. 

Ultimately, what’s going to happen is a lot of finger-pointing, a never-ending process of public hearings, public “debate” over how the land should be used, and absolutely zero direction from Mayor Brown. We’ll probably have at least one or two lawsuits, and Donn Esmonde will periodically exit his semi-retirement to scold everybody, invariably supporting whatever group is first to court to seek injunctive relief. We’ll have the NFTA protecting its turf against the city, the state, and the ECHDC. We’ll have loads of renderings, 3D models, and maybe even a fly-through video presentation of what might be built there, but none of it will ever happen. 

10 years from now, the Outer Harbor will likely look largely as it does today because the primary goal of all these competing entities and interests is self-aggrandizement and self-perpetuation. It’s going to take initiative and motivation to pull together the money it’s going to take to turn that land into something that won’t poison anyone who spends more than a few hours at a time there, and money is hard to come by nowadays. 

Ultimately, however, it doesn’t matter whether the NFTA owns the property or someone else does. What ought to happen is that government involvement should be quite limited. A zoning plan with architectural guidelines should be drawn up, streets should be plotted and paved. Utilities should be brought to the properties, and a broker retained to market them. 

When it comes to projects such as this, Buffalo seems allergic to anything except a centralized plan, but what happens to this potentially valuable property ought to be left almost entirely up to the private sector. 

As for the parkland demanded by the Citizens for a 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor, I don’t have any problem with direct waterfront access being preserved for the public, and don’t have a problem with a strip of parkland bordering whatever development takes place and the water. What I would be opposed to is any notion that the entirety of that property be turned into parkland.   

The Outer Harbor should someday be home to people and retail businesses that support residential city living. Access should be available by boat, car, and the Metro Rail should be extended south to the small boat harbor and Tifft Nature Preserve.  

This area has been patiently waiting for decades for someone to carefully restore it to a safe and attractive use. Maybe this time we’ll get it right. But I’m not holding my  breath. 

ECHDC Food Market Survey

30 Jan

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation is asking for the public’s input concerning restaurant and food market opinions and decisions.  I have an email in to ask, but take a look, fill it out, and let me know what you think it’s all about. 

I think it’s part of the planning for a proposed food market at Canal Side, and also possibly to prioritize what sort of restaurant concessions are approved or pursued. This way, when Goldman et al. complain about what ends up there, the Authority can point to the survey and argue that they sought and received public input, and avoid controversy over who speaks for whom. 

Outer Harbor

1 Dec

The Outer Harbor will cost millions to environmentally remediate, but has tons of potential once this place starts getting its act together again. Here’s something I wrote about it in 2004.

Personally, I think that the outer harbor should be designed as a mixed-use urban village, incorporating the ideas of New Urbanism. It shouldn’t be another office park. It should have character – cobblestone streets and brick fronts. It should have integrated, convenient underground parking. The NFTA should without a doubt extend Metro Rail to this new community. There should be ample retail and restaurant space. There should be easy access to a waterfront promenade/boardwalk & fishing pier. The possibilities are limitless.

Somewhat unfortunately, they still are.

Premature Congratubation

22 Jul

The congratubation appears to have been premature.

Just last week, insufferably arrogant Buffalo News columnist, and shadow mayor DonnEsmonde, along with restaurateur Mark Goldman, congratubated over the perceived great success of “lighter, quicker, cheaper”, brought about by Fred Kent’s and the PPS’ borderline theft of public monies for a Google Image Search & PowerPoint had resulted in huge crowds at Canal Side. To quote from last week:

All of a sudden, we have a down-town waterfront that people want to go to.

Of course, its working

Where people go, commerce will follow.

This is creating demand…instead of using massive subsidies to create supply, and hoping that the demand follows.

It is not just people having picnics, it is good economic-development strategy…You start small, and it snowballs. By next summer, you’ll see private businesses lining up to come down instead of asking for big, fat subsidies.

Yet today, Goldman sort of changes his mind.  In discussing ECHDC’s plans for a public market structure, not unlike the ones found in Seattle, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, and other cities – large and small –  throughout the world, Goldman says we have to wait.  How long? What’s the tipping point? When will Mayors Goldman and Esmonde give Buffalo the thumbs-up on demand? Should we pay Fred Kent another six figures for another PowerPoint first? I’m trying to learn.

I think it is too early for this [building], we need more time for stuff to catch on and to build a constituency, said entrepreneur/ academic Mark Goldman, who helped bring the lighter, quicker, cheaper concept to the waterfront. The focus now is on amenities and programs that draw people. To leap right from that to a marketplace doesnt make sense.

Esmonde, of course, leaps on this.

So I get antsy when the Canal Harbor board, barely a year after ending its Bass Pro fixation fiasco, announces plans to build a “Canalside Market” on the old Aud site. The place wouldn’t be mammoth — about the size of a couple of Walgreens. But the last thing we need in this town is another “Build It and Hope They Come” project.

Downtown abounds with empty buildings. The old AM&A’s. The Statler. The 38-story HSBC Tower, in whose shadow Canalside sits, may soon empty out. The guiding philosophy of the new “lighter, quicker, cheaper” waterfront mantra is to take small steps and see where they lead. Not to put up a building on a foundation of wishful thinking.

The marketplace would be part of the canals and cobblestone streets (and underground parking) coming to the old Aud site. The way these things go, the canals and streets precede the building. That is a good thing. Because the marketplace should be built only if, in a couple of years, enough people are coming — not on the hope that they will show up.

But just last week you guys told us how they are showing up.  You and Goldman touted the historic public investment in Adirondack-Chair-based economic development, and how it was drawing people in their dozens to our waterfront.  Last week, we had happy throngs of sun-worshipping people enjoying shack lunches and sandboxes – but it’s too early to construct something that might draw people and business in to Canal Side year-round, regardless of weather?

To its credit, the Canal Harbor board, led by Jordan Levy, has been marching to the public’s “lighter, quicker, cheaper” mandate. It’s a philosophical about-face from its Bass Pro days. But the board needs to stick to the new, unwritten bylaw: Build no building before its time. That, apparently, is asking for too much.

Levy said the marketplace would be an “instant attraction and catalyst.” He said a consultant’s study shows that there is demand for it.

“[The consultant] has met with more than 150 food folks,” Levy noted, “and the demand is strong.”

Maybe. But we heard that for years about Bass Pro. I would like to see more bodies on the waterfront before we add more buildings.

How many more people do you think a boardwalk and cobbled streets alone will attract? How many more do you believe, in your scientifically polled, focus-grouped opinion, need to come to the waterfront for the proper demand to be met for a market structure? How do you increase demand if there is no infrastructure to accommodate and build it?

And, frankly, what “public” “mandate” is there for Fred Kent’s “lighter, quicker, cheaper”?  On what basis is that claim being made? When was the polling done on that? When was the legislative vote or referendum held on that issue?  Esmonde and Goldman were patting themselves on the back about the fantastic crowds and obvious demand for the waterfront, but today they downplay it and arbitrarily claim that it’s not there yet – it’s not enough.

Who died and made Mark Goldman the king of the waterfront? For whom does he speak? Who elected him? Who is his constituency? You guys said the demand is clearly there. Now you’re saying the demand’s not there yet. I’d ask you to make up your minds, but you have: oppose ECHDC at all costs, no matter what.

For months now, we’ve been beating the drum that Esmonde has suddenly found – that the market should decide what goes in at Canal Side. We’ve continually advocated – including at last year’s ECHDC public meetings and hearings – that the public benefit corporation should cobble the streets, install needed ancillary infrastructure, put in an underground parking ramp, re-water the canal, and put the property up for sale or lease, and let the market build stuff within certain architectural and zoning parameters. Esmonde is saying essentially the same thing – my quarrel is with his arbitrary wishy-washiness with respect to what constitutes “demand”.

The issue here appears to be the claim that Mark Goldman has some massive grassroots constituency behind him.  He doesn’t.  He’s got a couple hundred connected, activist people who support Goldman’s vision for the waterfront. Jordan Levy and ECHDC have a different vision for the waterfront. When Goldman complains about Levy’s master plan, it’s not that Goldman wants to do things organically, per se – it’s that Goldman wants to supplant Levy’s master plan for his own master plan.

This controversy is completely artificial because it represents an irrational clash of egos. There is no proof that more people support Levy over Goldman, or vice-versa.

Should ECHDC contract for the construction of a market building at Canal Side, in order to accommodate local vendors and farmers who want to be sheltered from the elements and have other needed utilities and services?  Well, probably yes. Should they build it now? Should they build it in five years? What are the criteria to be used to make that decision? Goldman’s “demand” metrics are as unknown and un-quantifiable as Janice Okun’s half-stars.

Should ECHDC build a market building? Probably yes. The alternative? provide the infrastructure we need, make the parcels shovel-ready, enforce the building and zoning guidelines, and put out an RFP for real estate or leasing brokers to take on the business of selling or renting the various parcels.  These are the missing links, and we don’t need to rely on Mark Goldman’s or Donn Esmonde’s arbitrary master planning decisions in order to get this done.

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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Next Steps

20 Jul

con·grat·u·bate (kənˈgraCHəˌbāt), Verb

13 Jul

A polite golf clap is in order for Donn Esmonde, who here touts the heavy lift that Mark Goldman unilaterally assumed for himself late last year in promoting a snake-oil salesman’s unscientific, unproven “lighter, faster, cheaper” model of “economic development”. His Wednesday column about Canal Side is something I’m calling “congratubation”, or self-congratulation. Let’s read Donn and Mark pat themselves firmly on their own backs.

Of course, it’s working. It worked everywhere else. There’s no secret recipe or special formula. We have sun, sky and—most importantly— water. Just add a snack shack, put out some brightly colored Adirondack chairs, set up a kids’ space, mix in activities. All of a sudden, we have a down-town waterfront that people want to go to.

Yes, of course! It’s so simple, really. The highest and best use for that property is to cobble the streets, throw in some flexible lawns, erect a shack (and invite a bunch of politicos to cut its ribbon), and all done! And think of all the activities and sand-play that’ll take place down there in, say, February! It’ll be a veritable mad house when the winds whip in off the frozen lake and the lunchtime crowd eats its shack lunch al fresco whilst developing a nasty case of frostbite.

Erie County Snack Shack
picture shack pictures

And consider all the other great and not-so-great waterfronts throughout America.

Even Yonkers has us beat.

Just like a lot of people thought we would, once we got past our magic-bullet fixation. There’s no need to overthink it. To oversubsidize it. To overbuild it.

“It’s ironic,” said Mark Goldman, the activist/entrepreneur whose brainstorm last year changed the waterfront course. “The major economic-development success story in our community this year involves $3,000 worth of Adirondack chairs.”

Apart from being a one-shot boon to Adirondack chair suppliers, manufacturers, and wholesalers, what economic benefit, exactly, is derived? Adirondack chairs are wonderful, don’t get me wrong. They let people who forgot their own chairs to use a publicly supplied chair, sit back, and watch something happen. Or relax. Or hang out. It’s all very nice, but there is no economic activity whatsoever being generated from “sitting back”. Who’s getting paid? Who’s selling something? Who’s buying something? Who’s employed? What economic transactions are taking place thanks to people loitering relaxedly in an Adirondack chair?

UPDATE: Here’s an interview we did with the ECHDC’s President, Tom Dee, on the day the snack shack opened:

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Monday afternoon, more than 100 people walked or lounged at Erie Canal Harbor. A warm breeze ruffled a line of colored banners. Boats glided by on the Buffalo River. Folks lined up for sandwiches and ice cream at Clinton’s Dish—named for the governor who, at this site in 1825, opened the canal that transformed America. (Maybe someday we’ll get a sign that commemorates the fact.)

Oh, my heavens! Over 100 people?! How will we control these throngs if they persist?

And on Clinton Dish’s opening day, I too lined up for lunch. For 20 minutes. By the time they got around to scooping out Perry’s for a whopping gaggle of 6 (SIX!1!) kids, my lunch hour was already all but over. I had time to leave with a bag of barbecue chips and a Diet Coke. But it was an authentic and real bag of chips and bottle of Coke. It was unsullied by subsidized big-box chips or car-oriented Cokes. These were hand-delivered, artisanally manufactured chips and Coke that keep Buffalo unique and real, not fake like Cleveland or Boston.

Am I laying it on too thickly?  Well, I’m sick of being pissed.

It has been nearly a year since Bass Pro, after years of arrested development, mercifully cut bait. It has been eight months since the landmark gathering at City Honors School, when Fred Kent of the Project for Public Spaces outlined a “lighter, quicker, cheaper” philosophy of waterfront development. The event, organized by Goldman, underlined what progressives had pleaded for years: Get over the heavy-subsidy, magic-bullet, lots-of-parking fixation. Instead, create a place where people want to go, and let human nature—and market forces— take over. Step-by-smaller-step.

Call this the Summer of Sensibility. The snack stand and mini-“beach” and Adirondack chairs and kids’ space and random activities—from yoga to Zumba classes—were spawned in focus groups and in public forums. The Erie Canal Harbor board, bereft of a plan after Bass Pro’s bailout, followed the people’s lead. Citizens committees—one includes Goldman, preservationist Tim Tielman and Buffalo Rising’s Newell Nussbaumer —guided the board’s hand. Finally, we’re getting the waterfront we deserve.

That’s funny. In my opinion, Fred Kent and the PPS are guilty of defrauding the taxpayers of New York State, and our public benefit corporation, the ECHDC of thousands of dollars. They accomplished absolutely nothing that couldn’t have been accomplished for a few hundred dollars. I can do a Google image search for “waterfront fun”, too. I can cobble together an unwieldly Powerpoint presentation, too. I can make stuff up out of thin air like, “the Power of 10”, too. I can run a meeting where people put sticky notes on blow-up renderings, too. And I would have done it for a fraction of what PPS did. What a great scam.

The last time Esmonde praised Kent’s scam, I wrote this:

That’s why Donn Esmonde giddily wrote this column a few days earlier, during one of the PPS’ “let’s talk benches” mixers.

BTW, here’s Kent’s Google Image Search, if you missed it the first time. You paid for it.

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“You can build a store anywhere,” Skulski noted. “Why would you want to stick it by the water, and take up this space? It goes against the whole point of a waterfront.”

Esmonde is being disingenuous here. No one has been talking about building a store of any kind on the grassy portion of the Central Wharf for about four years. (Click here for a post I wrote last year, which links to just about everything I’ve ever written about Bass Pro, ever.) Bass Pro was most recently supposed to go on the Aud block, which as of this writing remains a giant pile of gravel and a puddle.

Amen. Granted, nobody is yet printing money at Erie Canal Harbor. But, at little cost and with a lot of imagination, we’re creating a downtown waterfront where people want to be. Where people go, commerce will follow.

Really? How? To whom do I apply to open a business? A storefront? To park a cart of some kind? Whom do I contact for a permit? Whom must I bribe in order to grease the skids? What are the specific requirements for creating any economic activity at Canal Side? Where can I find the real estate or leasing listings for properties at Canal Side? How is commerce supposed to follow where there’s no plan in place for commerce to take place? Well, I’m sure Donn knows. But Goddamnit, NO CHAINS!

“This is creating demand,” Goldman said, “instead of using massive subsidies to create supply, and hoping that the demand follows.

What difference does it make? If an Adirondack chair and a snack shack is such a massive draw, as Esmonde and Goldman congratubate themselves about, (during about 4 months of a 12 month year), wouldn’t a Bass Pro (or other retailer – say, LL Bean) draw in even MORE people? What about a cafe? A bar? A development where businesses could execute leases and sell things, or bring people to offices, or build apartments?

“It is not just people having picnics, it is good economic-development strategy,” Goldman added. “You start small, and it snowballs. By next summer, you’ll see private businesses lining up to come down—instead of asking for big, fat subsidies.”

Lighter, quicker, cheaper. Already, it’s working

Notice the palpable absence of any discussion from either Goldman or Esmonde about what happens when the snow starts flying. Which here could be any time between October and April.

Buffalo, you’ve been punk’d.

The Placemaking Scam

14 Apr

They never told you what they were doing was merely temporary. They never explained to the assembled crowd that it was all a stopgap to make the waterfront less ugly and more usable for the period of time before final structures could be built.

That’s why Donn Esmonde giddily wrote this column a few days earlier, during one of the PPS’ “let’s talk benches” mixers.

But with respect to the Mark Goldman-led insistence that the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation embrace “lighter, cheaper, quicker,” the Project for Public Spaces, Fred Kent, crowdsourcing of ideas, and all kinds of unproven, untested, unscientific gobbledygook, there has been a wholesale theft of money from the people of New York State.  I’ve sent an email to ECHDC asking how much, exactly, PPS was paid.

Because, as far as I’m concerned, the ECHDC could have taken the money it spent on Fred Kent and the PPS, burned it, flushed the ashes down the nearest toilet, then spat on them, and gotten a better return on their investment than the unserious, make-believe nonsense the PPS provided.

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For giving us the work-product of unempirical wishes, a Google image search, and an unwieldly PowerPoint presentation, the PPS or Mark Goldman should pay the people of the State of New York back every dime of money that went into that embarrassment.

Just a couple of weeks after the PPS punked Buffalo, the ECHDC presented what seems like the 900th serious plan for developing the Aud block. It’s a beautiful plan that features *gasp* underground parking. I eagerly await the howls of disapproval from Buffalo’s ersatz intelligentsia, demanding permanent implementation of “flexible lawns”.

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Placemaking: Canal Side Buffalo

30 Mar
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Fred Kent of the PPS

On March 29, 2011, Fred Kent of the Partnership for Public Spaces donned LL Bean gear and presented to the assembled crowd of about 400 people the proposals developed by three distinct citizens’ committees set up by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation.  The PowerPoint itself is shown immediately below, and I took several photographs which are featured below, culminating in a view one gets at 6:30 pm while exiting the HSBC Arena.  If you’ve been following Andrew Kulyk’s posts comparing Canal Side with other arenas throughout the country, you’ll find that quite infuriating.

I’m not 100% sold on “lighter, quicker, cheaper”. It all sounds like a lot of hocus-pocus, none of it ever having been subjected to any objective studies, and it’s astonishing that the development of four or five city blocks (not including the Outer Harbor or Buffalo River areas) can cause such consternation and controversy. I get the sense from some of this that we’re throwing stuff at the wall to see if it will stick on the one hand, and selling our waterfront short on the other.  I like some of the ideas (marketplace, bistro, toilets) but detest others (“flexible lawn?” “multi-use square?” “central square?”). Frankly, open space and green space doesn’t seem like much of a draw or improvement to me.

Kent talked about “triangulation” (“Triangulation is the process by which some external stimulus provides a linkage between people and prompts strangers to talk to other strangers as if they knew each other”) and the “power of ten“; ten destinations with ten places with ten things to do will naturally bring people. That sounds great, but he admitted in the next breath that that theory has never been tested. So, WTF? How much is this guy getting paid for this?  And what’s such a great draw about a lawn under the Skyway? Are two lawns better?

Four takeaways for me:

1. Kent said, “people attract people, cars attract cars”.  That got a predictable round of applause from the assembled car-haters. Problem is, cars bring people. That’s just a fact.

2. That area has been open space for decades. I don’t believe that simply making the open space under the Skyway prettier is the highest and best use for that property.

3. The Mayor of the City of Buffalo was nowhere to be seen. There were almost 500 people in downtown Buffalo to talk about developing the waterfront, and Mayor Brown was a no-show. In mentioning this to someone, we remarked that we didn’t expect him to come.  That’s somewhat sad. Brown didn’t need to give a speech or grandstand or insert himself into the process.  But it would have been nice if he had been present for the event and to chat with attendees, to have shown an interest.

4. This process is almost a decade old, and even with the advent of ECHDC, the three waterfront districts still haven’t figured out who owns what, who controls what parcels, and what parcels need serious environmental remediation. Tick tock, folks.

There were some good ideas, and the PPS presentation didn’t quite make clear that the committees were charged with coming up with ideas that can be implemented very quickly – by this summer or next. These don’t appear to be permanent plans for redevelopment of Canal Side, an effort that continues until the canals – faux thought they may be – are re-watered, the Donovan Building is brought down, and the entire district is shovel-ready to be made awesome.

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About 3/4 of the crowd

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Fred Kent addresses the crowd

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Flexible Lawn: Inner Harbor

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Multi-Use Market: Inner Harbor

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Bistro

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Inner Harbor - click to enlarge

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Do Not Demolish! Click to enlarge

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Grain elevators: click to enlarge

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WHERE IS IT?! Click to enlarge

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Woof? Click to enlarge

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Just relocate them! All done problems! Click to enlarge.

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Passive-aggressive notes dot com: click to enlarge

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Shut down the Skyway: click to enlarge

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Don't forget!: click to enlarge

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Green dot: Click to enlarge

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As it stands now. Click to enlarge.

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As it stands now. Click to enlarge.