Tag Archives: Mark Goldman

The Esmonde Template

7 Oct

Sunday brought us a treat – the quintessential Donn Esmonde congratubatory piece. The foundational document. The template. The “we the columnist” from the tea party champion.

It has everything – Tim Tielman, “lighter, quicker, cheaper”, Mark Goldman, and a generalized thesis whereby the general public is populated by cretins who are just now awakening to the genius of the positions of Esmonde and friends. 

All in all, it reinforces the accuracy of some of my theories. For instance, the one where preservationist hero Tim Tielman is the capo of a local preservation racket. Just hire the right people, and suddenly preservationist opposition to whatever demolition or renovation project you’re proposing simply evaporates. The Neighborhood Workshop Thuggery.

I know Esmonde has recently written two concern-trolls regarding the Buffalo Schools – one whereby our self-hating, upper-middle class, elitist white guy hero feigns outrage at racism in the board of education, and another where he knows better than the school district’s superintendent, who quite literally has what amounts to an impossible job. I’m sure Buffalo School Superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown enjoys having a failing school district to run on the one hand, and racist assholes gunning for her removal every. few. weeks, on the other. Esmonde whitesplains all of this for our benefit, ignoring the fact that he voluntarily abandoned his education bona fides when he touted his business partner’s charter school chops, and decided that it would be perfectly swell if Clarence schools’ quality was degraded. 

Want to develop Canal Side? You’ll have a lot of problems from Mark Goldman & his crew unless you spend six figures of public money to hire Fred Kent & Partnership for Public Spaces to educate you on “placemaking” and benches. (Placemaking is the wholly unscientific theory that people will go where other people are. The thing it omits is what it was that attracted the “other people” in the first place.)

Want to develop the Larkin District? Hire a planner well-regarded in preservationist circles to promote the project, and retain Tielman’s company, too, while you’re at it. Suddenly, all your problems will disappear.

Someone explain to me how this is any different from paying protection money to the mob to prevent that same mob from blocking your project and seeking injunctive relief. Don’t want Tim Tielman organizing a picket of your project? Put him on the payroll.  You tell me what that’s called

Lighter, quicker, cheaper brought one restaurant and some Adirondack chairs to Canal Side. Everything else – everything – is temporary, slow, or transient. Go down there on a rainy Sunday and – if you’re not interested in getting wet, and you’ve already seen the Naval museum,  I challenge you to find something to do other than have a beer at Liberty Hound.  It should have shops, cafes, restaurants (plural), maybe a museum or gallery – things more compelling than a temporary stage and “flexible lawns”. Solar-powered carousels don’t count (this was a real suggestion – as if a kid gives a crap about the sustainability of a carousel’s propulsion fuel). 

The Cobblestone now has a restaurant, the Helium comedy club, a casino, and a bar or two. It’s walking distance from Canalside, but the Harbor Center construction makes it difficult to reach.

I wonder if Goldman or Tielman are partners with Esmonde in some business endeavor? Tielman has degrees from SUNY Binghamton in art history, political science, and geography. I don’t know what Tielman’s profession once was, but it looks like he took a hobby and parlayed it into a well-paid position as the community’s gatekeeper for preservation issues. Must be nice. 

Rewind: Welcome, Preservationists!

18 Oct

In honor of the National Preservation Conference, which is taking place in Buffalo this week under the auspices of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, I’m re-publishing the “Regular Buffalo Person’s Manifesto”. Chris, Brian, and I wrote it as a specific response to Mark Goldman’s “Obstructionist’s Manifesto“, which was published in the Buffalo News around the same time.

I believe that too often, too many people in this town get away with carrying out their personal bias and ill will because they wrap it in the mantle of preservationism, in which case almost all reasonable discussion and debate magically stops.

Being concerned with hardware is great, but even the best and most beautiful hardware won’t work without competent and reasonable software. – BP

Mark Goldman is a Buffalo icon. He is a doer – a guy who has accomplished literal miracles, notably sparking the turnaround of what is now known as the “Chip Strip”. This sets him apart from the usual suspects who are professional obstructionists, but little else.

Goldman was one of the plaintiffs in the recent, moot lawsuit that sought to block state funds from being used to support the Bass Pro Canal Side project in any way. Some politicians blamed the death of the Bass Pro deal on a “few obstructionists”, and Goldman took to the Buffalo News to proudly claim the mantle, and publish an accompanying “Obstructionist’s Manifesto”.

So, to rebut Goldman’s “obstructionist manifesto” point by point, we present to you the Regular Buffalo Person’s Manifesto, a joint statement prepared by Alan Bedenko, Brian Castner and Christopher Smith. We’re regular people in the Buffalo area who live, work, send kids to school, and pay taxes here and we feel that our voice is often drowned out by a small yet litigious and vocal minority.

Forward this to your representatives and voice your support…or if you’re old school; print it, sign it and send it to your local representatives and tell your friends to do the same. Become a fan on Facebook and spread the word.

The Manifesto of Buffalo’s Regular People

We are regular people; neither obstructionist nor unnecessarily permissive. We believe that development projects should be reviewed and debated on a case-by-case basis, on their own merits. They shouldn’t be demagogued, lied about, or otherwise treated unfairly.

We also believe that small cliques of people whose public personae are defined by their opposition to new development don’t speak for the entire community, despite their claims. We believe that we can speak for ourselves and don’t need to have our interests represented by people who perhaps unintentionally advocate for the failed status quo.

What follows is the manifesto. Live it, learn it, love it.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I wouldn’t trust heart surgery to a barber, so I believe that city planning should be left to the professional city planners. We have too many hobbyist planners in this town, and they strut about pretending to be experts whilst loaded down with suppositions, overwhelming emotion, and little training. Calling yourself a city planner does not make you one, and whether a particular plan may cause harm or benefit must be weighed on the merits – not on hypothetical situations and feelings.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I believe that small groups of tightly connected amateur planners with anti-commercial prejudices shouldn’t be the deciding factor in regional planning decisions. As Regular Buffalo Person, I am interested in projects that would lead me to go out of my way; off the beaten track, where I can spend my money and do something fun with my kids.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I believe that small groups of tightly connected amateur planners and professional plaintiffs should be consistent in the application of their outrage. If millions of dollars ought not be spent to lure a big anchor retailer, those millions ought not be spent to house trendy art galleries, either. But when people appointed by our duly elected officials decide to spend that kind of money, I won’t disingenuously suggest that this happened without public consent, and I won’t be a hypocrite, either.

As a Buffalo Regular Person, I eschew propaganda buzzwords like “big box”, and will not liken the existence of “parking spots” to some unspeakable evil. I recognize contemporary reality, and prefer to look at a particular project as a whole. I’ll also be sure to ask obstructionists why it would be so horrible to duplicate the pedestrian success of the Walden Galleria in a far more attractive waterfront location not unlike what exists at Quincy Market, Byward Market, or any other public marketplace up and down the eastern half of North America.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I won’t make-believe that small entrepreneurs will somehow be a significant regional draw for a waterfront that is all but uninhabitable for six months out of every year. Sometimes, you have to go big or go home.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I believe that city planning decisions should be made based on a project’s business plan and likelihood of success. Appeals to “values” or “ideals” or “aspirations” of the region invite divisive, subjective debate, leaving no one happy. There is a reason why development projects are seldom subjected to referenda. When proposed projects have undergone a decade’s worth of vetting, it’s somewhat silly to suggest that they’re sudden, novel, or being rammed down anyone’s throat. As a Regular Buffalo Person, I won’t wait until the absolute last minute to express my displeasure with a project that’s all but ready to go.

The absolute last thing that should be done about Buffalo’s inner harbor is to subject it to a citywide citizens’ committee of ideas. Each person – each participant would have a different idea, and implementation of it might be a fun civic exercise, but little else. If the obstructionist class in Buffalo is intent on opposing every single project that is suggested for the inner harbor, then there’s little sense in doing anything at all. The street grid should be re-established and cobbled, utilities should be brought in, the area should be zoned, and then the city should let the market have at it.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I don’t want to participate in some sort of “submit your idea” crowdsourcing method of planning. The people whose idea or vision is rejected will simply become the next round of obstructionists, lying and suing to get their way.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I will not define my support or objection to a proposed development or project based primarily on whomever is leading the effort. I will be open-minded, listen to proposals and make educated evaluations. I will be judicious and serious and will weigh the costs and benefits before speaking my mind.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I will not define each and every project as an epic class warfare struggle nor will I support others who engage in such behavior.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I will evaluate the merits of a project on its value to the region, writ large. No more parochial thinking, we are a region that will either rise or fall as one, we must begin to act like it.

Given the current economic state of western New York, given the fact that downtown Buffalo is completely bereft of any meaningful retail whatsoever – and has been thus for thirty-something years – and given the fact that the Canal Side area has been bare for more decades still, the ultimate obstructionist dream is to let it lie fallow under the shadow of the Skyway, an empty memorial to what might have been.

Perhaps we could file a suit to express our displeasure at the Bass Pro deal being killed. Perhaps we should recognize that without a huge, well-paying employer like HSBC, there will be significantly fewer people in town to visit art galleries, drink wine at trendy-yet-gritty bars, buy tchotchkes, and sup at the taco truck.

Neither the obstructionist few, nor the developers speak for us. We speak for ourselves.

That is our Regular Buffalo Person’s manifesto.

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.

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 ECHDC Vote on its MGPP Explained

30 Nov

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Canal Side: Please Read the MGPP

29 Nov

On Saturday, a group of very cold people gathered at Canal Side to protest things.

Among them, a demand that the “lighter, quicker, cheaper” waterfront plan include an artificial corridor down Ohio Street for artists and artisans, culminating in light shows and murals on the grain elevators down near the cement plants and General Mills facility, as well as the rewatering of more of the Erie Canal so as to make it navigable thus requiring moving the Hamburg Drain at a cost estimated to be a few hundred million dollars.  All for what?  So that there might be something nice at the waterfront.

It’s quite evident that the “lighter, quicker, cheaper” mantra is simply Newspeak, and that the vast majority of the people complaining haven’t read, and don’t know what is covered by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation’s Modified General Project Plan.

Humorously, and perhaps ironically, a similar protest held Saturday had to end early.  As an organizer wrote in an email, “To those that came down after it ended early, we apologize. It was just a tad on the chilly side.”

Maybe if there was something built on the water so as to block out the vicious winds off Lake Erie… but I digress.  At this point, the protesters cite their desire for a nice mixed-use area to grow out of Canal Side.  Interesting, since the MGPP says,

The following specific components of this MGPP will be constructed in Phase 1 of the development by ECHDC with reference to the parcel numbers provided in Exhibit A. Prior to construction of anticipated future phases of the Project as referenced below, the Corporation will amend this MGPP as may be needed to reflect such proposed developments.

Aud Block Parking Structure

On the Aud Block (Parcel A1), bounded by Lower Terrace, Pearl Street, Main Street, and Marine Drive, ECHDC will initially construct an underground one-level, approximately 177 space parking structure, that will be constructed in a manner that will allow for vertical expansion at a later date to increase capacity to accommodate additional cars and/or to support future developments to be located directly above.

Street-level Canal System

Public canal features will be constructed by ECHDC on the Aud and Donovan Blocks. On the Aud Block will be street-level water features interpreting the alignment of the Erie Canal and Commercial Slip, which once crossed the Aud Block. The water features will be constructed to avoid impacting operation and maintenance of the Hamburg Drain.

The street-level canal system west of Main Street will consist of narrow water bodies that will emulate the original Erie Canal system. Several “barges” will be “anchored” in the canals. ECHDC consulted with the Buffalo Maritime Center on the design and historical accuracy of the anchored barges. Anticipated summertime uses will include paddle boats and/or row boats for rent. During winter months, the water features will be drained out and ice skating rinks will be set up lining the Canal. Water depth for the canals will range from 18 inches to three feet. Finishes will be dark to enhance the appearance of depth and provide greater reflectivity at the water surface.

South of the remodeled Donovan Building will be a “dry” canal bed, interpreting the former Hamburg Canal serving as the focal point of the Entertainment District, where waterfront restaurants and nightlife will be located. This section will evoke the feeling of an old canal where the water was drained out and barges settled to the bottom. It is anticipated that the dry canal will be designed as a sustainable garden and beach environment. Surrounding the East Canal on this block will be wide boardwalks for pedestrian and commercial use.

That’s all that’s being discussed right now in this MGPP: one level of underground parking for the benefit of whatever ends up at Canal Side, and  a recreational waterway that tracks the path of the old Erie Canal, which has since been replaced in utility by the Hamburg Drain, which is the fourth largest sewer outflow in the City and is activated every few days. Urbanists tend to prefer underground parking over garages or surface lots, so this is a good thing.  To reconfigure the drain to enable the waterways in question to be navigable would cost millions, and ultimately it would be “navigable” to exactly nowhere.

This seems more and more to be the protestations of people who are either (a) protesting for protesting’s sake; and/or (b) largely uninformed about what’s involved in the MGPP.

Even more devastating to the entire process, the paper of record – which sits just across the street from Canal Side – is taking the side of Mark Goldman and his supporters.

Like I said before, Buffalo doesn’t suffer from bad development decisions as much as it suffers from a complete absence of development decisions.

Heavier, Slower, Pricier

27 Nov

In an editorial today, the Buffalo News’ editorial board calls for a “pause” in the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation’s vote on the Modified General Project Plan.  That editorial is a shoddily informed, sloppy, and harmful disgrace.  Filled with assumptions and half-truths, it is a fundamentally unfair call for a ridiculous delay in an already delayed process.

The scope of the MGPP covers one level of underground parking under the Aud block (where Bass Pro was supposed to go), and the creation of waterways that track the path of the Canal before its infill many years ago.

An ad hoc group led by Mark Goldman had demanded that the ECHDC extend its public comment period on the MGPP – which it did.  Over the course of the last two weeks – over 6 days, the ECHDC held 12 hours’ worth of public comment at times that would accommodate any concerned citizen to come down and express themselves.  The hearings were well-publicized, well-attended, constructive, and respectful.  Those 6 sessions took place after a hearing had already been scheduled and conducted at the central library on November 3rd at 7pm.

I’ll note that at least one – sometimes two – representative of WNYMedia.net was present for all but the first 5pm open house. As far as I can tell, no one from the Buffalo News attended any of them, and they were not reported on.  (To double-check, I completed a search for “ECHDC” and “Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation” and “MGPP” at the News’ site). No one from the editorial board showed up to listen to the people, Donn Esmonde was absent, and there were no reporters, either.

That means that the Buffalo News has absolutely no first-hand knowledge of what transpired at any of those hearings.  It has never reported on the presentation with which ECHDC opened each session, where Tom Dee would go through the MGPP in great detail.

Most of the speakers that I heard advocated for their pet project’s inclusion in the Canal Side project, writ-large – well outside the scope of the MGPP.  Some speakers merely parroted the “faux canal” and “parking is bad” mantra that they had been fed by Goldman and his presenters.  Yet many people at those open houses asked for underground parking to accommodate families with strollers, or the disabled and elderly.  Not to mention, underground parking is easy to build on an excavated lot and is better when out-of-sight.  The parking under the Boston Common doesn’t bother anyone, and is punctuated only by a few entry kiosks in the park:

That parking brings in $20 for every 12 hours of parking for the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.  (Perhaps it’s time to consider abolishing the hacked-out BCAR and instead let the CVB operate the publicly owned parking facilities in the area, so that they may be modern, well-maintained, and not 60s throwbacks. Also, it would be another source of revenue.)

In addition to parking, the other issue covered by the MGPP is the extension of some waterways out towards the Aud Block.  It exactly tracks the angles of the former Erie Canal, which has since been replaced by the Hamburg Drain.  Back during the exploding rocks “debate” of a decade ago, it was ultimately decided that it was too expensive to redirect the Hamburg Drain – instead, a filtering system was installed.

But uncovering the Commercial Slip left a problem of what to do about the Hamburg Drain. Moving it was rejected for the expense and because it would interfere with the historical excavation.

The answer is a $3.5 million system that will mechanically filter floating debris. It includes a pump station that will send Buffalo River water through the slip to keep it from becoming stagnant.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the project or a black eye,” said Tim Tielman, the preservationist who helped lead the effort to make sure the real Commercial Slip was uncovered, “and it really will help focus people’s attention, which is good.”

According to that same article, the Hamburg Drain sees 306 million gallons of sewage and storm water flow through the Commercial Slip each year. The cost to restore that small section of the Erie Canal terminus cost $47 million half a decade ago.

The Goldman group is using the same argument as 1999’s Tielman group made – that the “faux” canals are dishonest and not authentic enough.  They insist that the Hamburg Drain be damned, the rewatered parts of the canal, so far as they are to exist, should be navigable.  This despite the fact that the canal goes nowhere from Canal Side.

Perhaps incredibly, the mantra of those who support the Goldman group’s proposals is “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper”.  That was the point of the presentation that Fred Kent of the Partnership for Public Spaces made at Goldman’s assembly two weeks ago.

Yet moving the Hamburg Drain so that a waterway to nowhere might be navigable is not “lighter”, is not “quicker”, and most certainly is not “cheaper”.  Remember – the MGPP is not about the entirety of the Canal Side project, or whether we put galleries or shops there.  It is only about parking and the recreation of canals in the middle of the project.  The cries of “faux” are disingenuous, since everything there is fundamentally a replica – a reinterpretation of what was there long ago.  Replicas of an artificial river, to boot.

The Buffalo News’ editorial – (one of two in as many days that calls for someone to slow something down) – is an embarrassment.  For it it, for the city, for this process, and for the region as a whole.

We’ve said it before. Lighter, quicker and cheaper is what Buffalo needs in waterfront development and now that Bass Pro is out of the picture, it’s time for fresh ideas on how to develop an asset that belongs to the people and whose rebirth is being funded by large amounts of public dollars.

In that cooperative spirit, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. should delay its scheduled Monday vote on modified waterfront plans, at least until it can come to some compromise between what it wants to do and the good, workable ideas of a group of well-meaning and informed citizens.

A groundswell for more public input is building. The Partnership for the Public Good and the Canal Side Community Alliance has called for extending the deadline four weeks, and Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, in a letter to the corporation, asked for a two-week extension. To ignore that fact really would prove the case of those who believe the process to be closed and exclusive, especially since there is no downside to putting off the vote.

The ECHDC has already been cooperative – not just in fact, but in spirit.  You can assail the ECHDC for many things – but a lack of inclusion, a lack of cooperation, and a failure to listen to or incorporate the input of the public is not among them.  This is a project that is already less than halfway completed after ten years of bickering and lawsuits.  When stuff is finally allowed to happen there, it comes quick and good.

Granted, the corporation has already extended the deadline on the vote, but the $39 million plan on which it is scheduled to vote — for a parking garage and canal slips — is tethered to the abandoned Bass Pro project. What will develop on the waterfront instead is not known. The vote is premature.

A couple of weeks ago, when the canal corporation said it would give the process time, it gave the public an opportunity to advance ideas. Now, it’s time to consider the best of those ideas.

The alliance has valid concerns about such issues as what they’re calling faux canals and underground parking in an area where parking appears plentiful. The corporation is making every effort to make the canals authentic and considers parking a key piece in building infrastructure necessary to attract businesses, but why not wait until a firmer plan is in place? We want to see progress, but progress as part of vision with community support.

That’s the big lie.  It doesn’t matter whether there’s a Bass Pro or not.  Is the Buffalo News – which literally sits across the street from Canal Side – suggesting that this project for the public good needs to be halted until there’s a new and revised, comprehensive, top-down plan in effect?  What, precisely, does the Buffalo News (or anyone, for that matter), think is going to get accomplished if the MGPP vote for parking and canals is delayed an additional four weeks?

Here is a map from the MGPP document that shows the three areas under consideration.  This MGPP process is not an opportunity to impose an arbitrary halt to a lengthy process at its very conclusion.

Click to enlarge

The editorial continues:

There is no money problem. The New York State Power Authority settlement provides for $105 million of bonding capacity, and there is no risk of loss. We have the resources to produce a rich and rewarding waterfront.

The corporation wants to move forward so that construction can begin in the spring and, truth be told, you can’t please everyone in a project of this magnitude. After all, it’s been nine years of wishing on a Bass Pro star. But there should be room for compromise. That will be harder to achieve if the corporation approves this premature construction project.

Informed citizens such as Mark Goldman, a well respected businessman, have advocated for an Ohio Street corridor. It would link Canal Side to the just-completed parkway at the outer harbor via a series of pedestrian accesses that would include aesthetic improvements and parks. It’s an idea that deserves consideration.

Not every idea should be embraced — a costly community benefits agreement is one — but by delaying this vote, the entire community will have the chance to move forward in creating the beautiful waterfront everyone wants.

Calling this – one level of underground parking and the re-watering of a replica of a long-gone artificial river – premature is ridiculous.  The problem with Buffalo isn’t our bad decisions like UB to Amherst, it’s our failure to make a decision.  Don’t believe me?  Just take a look at Buffalo’s skyline from the elevated I-190 one day.  Take a look at how little it’s changed in the last 40 years, then compare it to just about any other city in the country.  We can’t just pull the trigger on decisions, because we’re so dependent on public money, we crowdsource every minuscule thing, we agonize over past mistakes (i.e., nostalgia), all of which results in no change – positive or negative.

Assuming you think Goldman’s Ohio Street corridor is a great idea – and I’m not saying it’s not – what does that have to do with building one level of underground parking and carving out some more places for water in the Canal Side area?  What does that have to do with the strict design guidelines (here and here) that have been laid out?  The bit of water just south of the Aud block is to be used for skating in winter, and a focal point of the project in general.  Moving the Hamburg Drain (or installing the filtering system) further southwest would increase the cost of the project and result in higher liability costs, and the potential prevalence of “floaters” and other lake water pollution.

I know that ECHDC invited Mark Goldman and his brother for a meeting (because I saw them depart before last Monday’s public meeting).  I also know from a source that Goldman is not willing to compromise on his no parking/no “faux canal” demands.  So, Buffalo News, who is it who needs to be cooperative and inclusive?  I was given six 2-hour opportunities to come and address the ECHDC on this project – at what point did Mark Goldman and his crew afford me a similar opportunity? (Incidentally, I have emailed Goldman with my questions about this, and never heard back).

The Buffalo News is buying into a false argument made by people who are operating without any transparency or accountability – by people who purport to speak for the community at large when, in fact, they speak only for a small subset of part of a community.

Had the Buffalo News bothered to show up for the open houses, listen to what the MGPP is about, seen the plans, listened to the people who spoke, then it might be better informed.  Instead, it basically chooses to parrot what a well-connected but tiny group of people have told it.

When it comes to the discussion over a regional treasure like Buffalo’s inner and outer harbors, and their revitalization and reconstruction, the people of this region deserve much, much better.

(Note – I spoke with Micaela Shapiro-Shellaby from the Coalition for Economic Justice at the last Canal Side open house, who informed me that the Canal Side Community Alliance is not “led” by Mark Goldman. Chris has reached out to the CCA to find out what their position is on the called-for delay).