Tag Archives: Lake Erie

Waterfront – Everyone Relax

16 Nov

Norstar Rendering of the Outer Harbor: 2005

WestEnd (Jerde/Ciminelli) Plan for the Outer Harbor

Buffalo Lakefront Development

While Mark Goldman and the “Canal Side Community Alliance” call for a four month “pause” in the Canal Side development project, I thought it a perfect time to revisit Buffalo’s other waterfront – the outer harbor.

Back in 2005, when the concept of “New Buffalo” had caused otherwise perfectly normal, Buffalonians to temporarily replace cynicism with “hope”, the NFTA solicited bids from three development groups to answer the question, “what the hell do we do with the outer harbor?”

At the time, the NFTA was in its fifth decade of controlling (read: neglecting) the windswept ruins of Buffalo’s Lake Erie waterfront.  Shown above are the three forgotten, scrubbed-from-the-website proposals for the NFTA’s outer harbor.  This was a time when the last half-assed proposal had been Joel Giambra’s “E-Zone” tented amusement park nonsense.

The images above represent – from top to bottom – the three plans. Norstar’s emphasis was on green space;  the WestEnd proposal was a reasonable mixed use development; and then there was the Buffalo Lakefront Development plan, which I derisively termed the “everything but an elevator to the moon” plan.  It included a 3,500 room convention hotel, a 300,000 SF convention center,  (the current one has only 110,000 SF), a 500,000 SF “festival pavilion,” 200,000 SF of Class A office space, and a 215,000 SF sports center.  Just what a shrinking city with dysfunctional state authorities, a horribly ineffective city government, and fights to the death over the smallest development plan needs.

Seriously, you have to see the whole thing in detail to believe it. Click below.

Click to enlarge

What we’ve got on the waterfront now are mistakes that can’t be undone, and I think people want to be exquisitely careful to not make the next 100-year screw-up.  So, while we can’t do anything beyond cosmetic with the Marine Drive blight, we have some plots of shovel-ready (or soon-to-be-shovel-ready) land that were all set for a bait shop that isn’t coming.

On the one hand, we have an ECHDC that has a plan that is missing a huge puzzle piece. On the other hand, we have the “Community Alliance,” which is railing against “faux canals” and underground parking.

Well, maybe we don’t need faux canals anymore.  But I’ll tell you that no matter what ends up down at Canal Side, it’ll need some parking.  And if it’s going to need some parking, might as well do it underground.  And if you’re going to do underground parking, might as well do it now, before you figure out what will go above it.

Five years after the NFTA decided that it absolutely lurved the elevator-to-the-moon plan, and subsequently did nothing about it, the only thing that’s happened out there has been improvements to the waterfront, a walkway, and the much-improved Fuhrmann Boulevard, and access to it from Route 5.  There is no plan, no developer for the outer harbor.  There isn’t even so much as a street grid, zoning, or utility service there.  Because that’s what government ought to do – ready the area for future growth, not create artificial “growth” out of whole cloth.

Likewise, the inner harbor is in a state of flux now that the anchor tenant idea seems stalled.  Bass Pro is gone, and there’s no one lined up to replace it.  I don’t think there’s an anchor tenant worth pursuing for that spot.  Without the anchor tenant, the Benderson mixed-use plan is probably due for a re-think.  So, ECHDC should plan to re-create the street grid that existed before the Aud and the Donovan.  It should pave them, zone the resulting lots, add utility service, and let people put in whatever they want.  Let people buy the property and build on it.  Set up very stringent design criteria for any buildings so we don’t have a waterfront packed with beige Dollar Generals and TJ Maxxes.

I think everyone can get on board with that.

Finally, the issue is – without the anchor tenant, how do you draw people to the waterfront?  How do you get businesses to build? Why would tenants open there? Why would people from the city come down there on a snowy day?  How do you get suburbanites or Canadians to take a detour downtown as opposed to the Niagara Outlets or the Walden Galleria?

You turn the downtown area under the jurisdiction of the ECHDC into a sales-tax-free zone.  That 8.75% discount on almost everything would be a big draw.  ECHDC ought do an RFP for property maintenance and security services to ensure an appealing and safe day or night out.

This stuff isn’t all that complicated, and it doesn’t need to be ridiculously expensive for taxpayers.  The last thing the waterfronts need is more decades-long delays because everyone wants to turn what should be reasonable discussions into Albanian mountain blood feuds.