Tag Archives: Erie Canal

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.

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.

ICYMI

1 Jul

Not Yours.

 

1. There won’t be a new Peace Bridge. After what – 12, 13 years‘ worth of planning, threats, lies, and nonsense, the aging span won’t have a modern or signature companion span. The real signature of Buffalo is our inability and unwillingness to change anything, ever.  In other words, Buffalo’s real signature bridge is the existing 1912 span of steel – a symbol of past glories and past progress. What we will be getting is a newer inspection plaza – but not so big that it upsets any of the people who made the conscious decision to purchase real estate within walking distance of a major interstate highway and multilane international car and truck crossing (see: “coming to the nuisance“) .  A prediction I made three years ago has finally come true.  Lesson: in WNY, never bet on progress.

2. The Erie Canal terminus food shack is opening today at 1:30.  Believe it or not, elected officials such as Byron Brown (he who is single-handedly blocking construction of a restaurant at the Naval Museum next door) and Chris Collins (who detests everything and everyone) will be there to celebrate and cheer the historic opening of a building that is dwarfed by Little League clubhouses throughout the country.

3. Congratulations to Nick Mendola and his F.C. Buffalo Blitzers for the great turnout the other night, and for winning the “Lord Bedlington Cup” in a friendly match against the Bedlington Terriers. I regret not having been able to attend, but hope to check out a game or two in the near future.

4. There was another great turnout last night at the Bisons game for recovering Buffalo Police officer Gary Sengbusch.  Just weeks ago, people were excited that he was in any way responsive. He’s on the way to recovery and last night’s game was a huge fundraiser for him.  There’s something to be said about injured Americans needing a fundraiser in order to pay medical bills and rehabilitation costs, but let’s just be happy that Mr. Sengbusch is doing well.

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.

[HTML2]

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”.

[HTML1]

Placemaking: Canal Side Buffalo

30 Mar
20110329-070020.jpg

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.

[HTML1]

 

20110329-070035.jpg

About 3/4 of the crowd

20110329-070050.jpg

Fred Kent addresses the crowd

20110329-070104.jpg

Flexible Lawn: Inner Harbor

20110329-070116.jpg

Multi-Use Market: Inner Harbor

20110329-070126.jpg

Bistro

20110329-070136.jpg

Inner Harbor - click to enlarge

20110329-070146.jpg

Do Not Demolish! Click to enlarge

20110329-070155.jpg

Grain elevators: click to enlarge

20110329-070207.jpg

WHERE IS IT?! Click to enlarge

20110329-070217.jpg

Woof? Click to enlarge

20110329-070228.jpg

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

20110329-070237.jpg

Passive-aggressive notes dot com: click to enlarge

20110329-070246.jpg

Shut down the Skyway: click to enlarge

20110329-070300.jpg

Don't forget!: click to enlarge

20110329-070309.jpg

Green dot: Click to enlarge

20110329-070318.jpg

As it stands now. Click to enlarge.

20110329-070328.jpg

As it stands now. Click to enlarge.

Buffalo’s Outer Harbor: Ideas?

5 Jan

This week, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation appointed Marc Odien and me to its Outer Harbor Committee, which is to make recommendations to the board at its February 8th meeting with a mandate to figure out things to do out there this summer.  The committee will be chaired by Buffalo attorney David Colligan.

So, given that the outer harbor is made up of scrub, a newly redesigned Fuhrmann Boulevard, reconfigured entry and egress from Route 5, a bike path, and the small boat harbor – what idea might you have for the outer harbor in the Summer of ’11?

And keep the snark to a minimum.

I’m serious.

The Modified General Project Plan for Canal Side, Modified

30 Nov

On Monday, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation voted on the Modified General Project Plan.

Based on what you’ve read over the past several weeks, you’d be correct in assuming that this means one level of underground parking – 177 spaces – will be built under the Aud block.

You’d be wrong.

The ECHDC indefinitely tabled its vote on moving forward with the parking structure.

Based on what you’ve read over the past several weeks, you’d also be correct in assuming that this means a handful of “faux canals” would be built, marring the area with their inauthenticity.

You’d be mostly wrong.

The ECHDC has completely reconfigured how the waterways north of Marine Drive will be built and designed.

In an overt nod to Tim Tielman’s concerns, the canal will still be only 4 feet deep and will not include lake water (i.e., pollution), it will follow the elevations that existed at the time the canal terminus district actually had stuff going on – this means that the pedestrian walkways along the canal will be at an elevation lower than street level.

[HTML1]

The design requirements set forth in the MGPP will continue to be carried out, but Marine Drive will not be turned into a bridge, and the Hamburg Drain is staying put.  In addition to keeping lake water out, ECHDC Chairman Jordan Levy cited cost and utilities as reasons why transforming Marine Drive by the Commercial Slip into a bridge would not be feasible.

The meeting was packed with concerned citizens, activists, and press. While Tielman was cautiously optimistic about the revisions, the Canal Side Community Alliance and Coalition for Economic Justice – which dropped off about 1,000 postcard petitions for the ECHDC board calling for a community benefits agreement – were all but gushing about how pleased they were that the plan had been modified.  Mark Goldman was not present.  Tielman was displeased, however, that the modified plan did not include Dug’s Dive, and emphases on other historical aspects of the canal terminus.

[HTML2]

Everything was, however, refreshingly free of solar powered carousels.

Levy gave a prepared speech, acknowledging that ECHDC has done a poor job communicating to the public about this project – that most people were getting their information (much of it wrong) from other sources.  He cited a past example as evidence of that communication breakdown – the 2007 imbroglio over locating Bass Pro on the Central Wharf parcel.  When the public made it clear that it didn’t want a store on that site and Bass Pro started looking at the Aud again, ECHDC made the decision to bring the water to Bass Pro, since it couldn’t bring Bass Pro to the water.

Jordan Levy explains the new canal configuration: Click to enlarge

Because Bass Pro was coming in as an anchor tenant, ECHDC made many concessions to it with respect to the rewatered interior canals.  These “mistakes” had been carried over to the current process, and ECHDC decided to fix them over the past few weeks.  The canal will now exactly track the original wherever possible, and the project is no longer a big box lifestyle center, but instead a mixed use neighborhood.

The canal system will extend from the Commercial Slip to Main Street, and in another nod to Mark Goldman, ECHDC will retain the services of Fred Kent from the Project for Public Spaces.  Levy will also ask the NFTA to transfer its Outer Harbor land to ECHDC, which will pledge $2 million to build a new lakefront park, as well as a sand swimming beach at Gallagher Beach.  $170,000 will be used to renovate the Buffalo Light in time for next year’s preservationist confab.  While acknowledging that they can’t “please everyone”, Levy noted that the ECHDC has listened to community voices and incorporated their concerned into a hastily reconfigured MGPP.

Click to enlarge: new Canal configuration

After Levy’s presentation, Mayor Byron Brown spoke at length, mostly about the need for city people to get jobs through the development and maintenance of this project.  Board member David Colligan noted that he had heard the word “authentic” a hundred times over the past several weeks, and was pleased that the project had now become more so. Board member Julie Barrett-O’Neill thanked the public for its input and moving the project in this direction.  The Empire State Development guy in Albany appearing by teleconference thanked the ECHDC for basically changing everything, and  Stephen Gawlik from the Empire State Development Corporation then asked the board to vote on the new MGPP.

Tim Tielman then spoke (see above), as did Daniel Sack, who asked that committees be set up to govern design. Disgraced former Supreme Court Judge Joseph Makowski is now representing the Marine Drive residents who don’t want their surface parking lot marred by a modern parking garage, and the whole thing reeked of imminent lawsuit.

Afterwards, Levy answered press questions about the new modifications. A new PowerPoint presentation and new renderings now replace the ones shown at the recent open houses (part 1, part 2).  That video will be up later.

ECHDC Board of Directors

What Happened?  Depending on your point of view, the ECHDC either listened earnestly to the concerns brought forward by very prominent members of the public, or else it decided to call the Goldman group’s bluff.

I believe that a good plan was made better.  I reject any suggestion that the MGPP as it stood earlier today – underground parking and shallow canals – was bad, per se.  But by tabling the vote on the Aud block parking, the ECHDC has disarmed one of its opponents’ arguments.  ECHDC also appeased the protesters by modifying the canal system north of Marine Drive to more closely reinterpret the way it originally looked.  Finally, by hiring the very guy Mark Goldman brought to town – Fred Kent – no matter what ends up happening down by the inner harbor, the opposition cannot argue that “if only they had listened to the PPS“, because ECHDC hired the PPS.

Over the next several months, the ECHDC will set up committees to look at how to develop the canals, the outer harbor, and how to reinterpret the area’s history.  The focus is off Bass Pro and on the input of very specialized Buffalo constituencies – like Tim Tielman.

Add today’s events to this list of WNYMedia.net Canal Side history.