Tag Archives: new buffalo

A Long Hard Look

30 Mar

The sobering census figures for the Buffalo Metro region and all of Upstate New York should give us all pause, and induce a significant amount of self reflection. Judging by the disappointing comments from our local elected leaders, and pablum vignette coverage from the Buffalo News, none of this is yet occurring.

First, the local facts. Despite my sincere and secret hopes to the contrary, the City of Buffalo’s losses have not stopped, and hardly seem to have slowed, losing approximately 31,000 people (11% of the population), 27,000 of which were white. Erie County also lost 31,000 people, and gains in population in Clarence and Grand Island were offset by losses in Cheektowaga and Tonawanda. While it may be tempting to say that Erie County’s loss could be explained by the loss in Buffalo, there is no way yet to accurately generalize about the migration trends and determine how fair of a statement that is. Niagara Falls lost a similar percentage (10%) of population, and overall, the entire metro area lost 35,000 people.

Second, the under-reported facts for the rest of Upstate. While the cities of Rochester and Syracuse lost population, their metro areas grew. Overall Rochester inched up, offsetting city losses, and some of its counties were near the top for the state for growth. Metro Syracuse grew by 1.4% overall, and the city itself shrank by far less than expected. Albany grew by 4%, or nearly 100,000 people.  Utica, Schenectady, and Troy all grew as well. Even Binghamton held its own.

My inescapable conclusion from these data, the new reality that I see us faced with, is that metro Buffalo is no longer part of a broad upstate trend. The chains binding Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany are breaking, if not already shed. We can no longer blame our population depression on the state – its unbearable high taxes, bad business environment, and policies unfriendly to all but New York City. The other areas of upstate have found a way to overcome those challenges and grow. We have not. There are no more scapegoats – we have no one to blame for our losses but ourselves. We are now uniquely bad in New York.

Albany has made a convenient foil to pass our problems off on. Byron Brown and Chris Collins mouthed the same tired excuses when the census numbers were announced. But Rochester, Syracuse and Albany face the same hurdles, and they have turned the corner while we dither and fight the long defeat.

I will start the self-reflection, if our public figures so far refuse to. I see two main truths we must first confront before we can move on to solve this problem. First, at the most basic level, people find our oldest urban environments less and less pleasing to live in. They vote with their feet, despite pleas about the benefits of city and/or Buffalo living. For this point, I see little distinction between Buffalo and Lackawanna, Cheektowaga or Tonawanda – the line on the map matters politically, but less so when it comes to the age and desirability of the housing stock or population migration. Those that wish to leave and can clearly are. Less people are moving in. Fewer and fewer people find our city (not New York, not upstate, but our city) a satisfactory place to live. Why?

The second truth is that the valiant efforts of Buffalo’s boosters and promoters have been superficially successful but fundamentally in vain. What do I mean by this? Buffalo has succeeded in reinventing its image as an architectural destination. You can’t go a week without reading about Buffalo’s magnificent masterpieces in national media. Likewise, community organizers are succeeding in rebuilding rotting homes, bringing hope to downtrodden neighborhoods and converting lands to urban farming. Developers are bringing loft apartment living to downtown, UB and Kaleida are building a mecca health and research campus doing national work, non-profits have reinvested in and revitalized our historic park system, festival organizers are making national tourism events out of gardening and chicken wings, and entire neighborhoods (such as the Hydraulics) are being reborn from the ashes. All of these hard working, principled, well-intentioned organizers and leaders have successfully completed their projects. They have changed the “spirit” of Buffalo. And yet. And yet the combination of all these efforts is not enough to convince more people to live here. At the most fundamental level, we still fade away. Why?

I say we must address these two questions – the dichotomy of the undesirability of the urban space and the success of individual revitalization projects and programs – to finally move our community towards growth. “Why is growth even required”, you ask? “I love Buffalo just the way it is.” As I have argued before, the Buffalo you love will not be present much longer without growth. Growth means we stop all gnawing off the same bone. Growth means one more dollar for the Albright Knox doesn’t have to mean one less dollar for Shakespeare in the Park. Growth means a job for me without taking one away from you. Growth increases the size of the pie so the Broadway Market, our numerous historic churches and inner-city neighborhood development aren’t all hanging on by the flimsiest of threads. Growth encourages investment. Growth enables healthy risk. Growth lets us all exhale.

We aren’t yet close to Growth. But Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany already are. Why?

Paladino? It’s All Our Fault

15 Oct

Bruce Fisher wrote another screed about everything that’s bad about Buffalo. I’ll save you the time of reading it yourself. What is bad? In “Paladino Country,” everything.

I don’t want to write, and you don’t want to read, a blow by blow rehash and rebuttal of Bruce Fisher’s article. His facts are selective, his analysis blinded, and his solutions few. A couple simple examples: Medicaid is 20% of the county budget, but Bruce cites a figure of 5%. How? Who knows. He claims county investment in the arts yields a 60:1 return, as if the arts exist only on the county’s whim and for its funding, and no donors, members, foundations, federal and state grants, or (least of all) patrons keep the arts flourishing here. He boldly states that the region has grown economically in the last decade, when every statistic (population, per capita wealth, average wages, total jobs, unemployment rate) is worse. He clearly wants traditional economic growth, but rails against federal, state and local infrastructure projects, new private home construction, “big box” retail, downtown retail, cross border tourism and trade, and speculative real estate development. Tell us, Bruce, what is left?

It should go without saying that if you were in a position of power to implement your ideas, and those ideas failed spectacularly, then you are no longer allowed to have a respected opinion on the subject. I don’t want to hear from Clinton on how to destroy Islamist terror networks, I don’t want to hear from Bush on how to remake the Middle East, and I don’t want to hear from Bruce Fisher on economic development or good government models for Western New York.

That being said, I will agree with his sentiment, implied in his mercifully next-to-last paragraph – it’s all our fault:

Change is upon Upstate. Shrinkage will continue. The region’s comparative advantages—namely, fresh water, cheap land, extensive pre-built infrastructure—need stewardship over the next couple of decades. What’s needed now is a leadership . . .

In other words, if we screw this up we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Buffalo could rightly feel the victim of macro-economic, cultural and technological forces up til now. Buffalo flourished because of developments outside of its control (canals, railroads, factories), and declined over the last fifty years for similar reasons (globalization, automation, air conditioning). This powerlessness is part of our collective psyche, and even feeds narratives like “Wide Right” and “No Goal.” We got screwed out of the Stanley Cup in 1999, and it wasn’t our fault. It happened to us.

That changed with the idea of New Buffalo, which my colleague Alan Bendenko recently mourned the death of. New Buffalo was as much about the realization that we could control our own destiny as it was about promoting the positive. Buffalo would no longer be the victim, and had a shared vision of success and progress. I noted recently that with the death of New Buffalo, few agree on what “success” looks like anymore.

The frustration, exasperation, anger and resentment over the failure of progress in Buffalo is accurately captured in Bruce Fisher’s piece. Because now, as it was a century and a half ago, macro-economic forces are lining up in Buffalo’s favor. Do we have the vision, gumption, and ability to steal success from the maw of decline? How many of you are shaking your head “No” right now? How many laughed at the question?

If energy, climate change and a mobile workforce are the prime drivers of the 21st Century, then Buffalo is in a position to thrive. A significant built environment, (potentially) cheap green power, roads and infrastructure to accommodate a doubling of the population, affordable housing, cool weather to drive down the energy costs of living and working, vast fresh water reserves, and an existing hub of high tech manufacturing, the roads and rails to move goods, and an international border to ship them over. What are we doing now to leverage those advantages?

Yahoo is reducing its energy use at its new data center by 40%, and its percentage of energy devoted to cooling by much much more, because it anticipates it only needs to run the air conditioning a couple days a year, due to a new layout and chicken coop design. Verizon may be following. How many more? What is Western New York doing to try to attract companies that require cool temperatures and fresh water? Or companies that want Buffalo as part of its corporate image (like Labatt, in some ways) – snow tires “tested in Buffalo.”

Call me cynical, but landing Yahoo seems more like a happy accident than a plan come to fruition. New York State has onerous taxes and regulations, but IDA’s take care of the first half of that problem, and structural macro-economic advantages can overcome too much paperwork. In any case, nothing is stopping Buffalo from having an updated Smart Code. Nothing is stopping us from consolidating town and village governments . . . or school districts, for that matter. And more money (state, federal and private) is available than ever before for Great Lakes cleanup, historic rehabilitation, and parks and recreation – all themes that play to our strengths. 

We are at a cross roads where not only does Buffalo have geographical advantages, but a Great Recession has caused a Great Reset. The 18-45 age set, which does work and builds wealth, is increasingly mobile and have few barriers to where they live. How do they see Buffalo? What are we doing to lure them? Our banks are international leaders and national players. Our universities are a net importer of students and growing. Will we leverage our other resources? If we don’t, it’s our fault, and no one else’s.

So how do we get back to Carl Paladino? Bruce Fisher mixes the ideas of Buffalo’s failure with Paladino’s ascendency, but Carl’s existence and hereto success can not be pinned purely on Western New York, no matter the 93-7 win in the Republican primary here.

Carl Paladino can only exist as a force because of a nexus of New York State’s dysfunction and the wretched swamp that is American politics. Don’t you pine for the days when we had a smart, successful governor who simply cheated on his wife with a prostitute? What were we thinking, wanting him gone? It seems almost quaint that Spitzer would resign over a little tryst, when we now have a horse porn forwarding, possibly racist, possibly homophobic, definite philanderer making a serious run, and his opponent (no squeaky clean pol himself) can get away with saying “Look at that guy!”

Paladino’s extremes are conscionable to voters because American politics is replete with politicians asking for sex in bathrooms, asking for sex from their underage interns (same and opposite sex), and getting serviced in the Oval Office. Buffalo gave Paladino his wealth, America’s political climate enabled him and provided the opportunity, and the horrendous state of New York allowed him to flourish. Thus enters the only possible defense of Paladino: since it is now possible to ignore any amount of porn, cheating, and awful statements, who is more likely to cut the state budget and lay off union workers? No reasonable person can claim the most mainstream of New York Democrats has in his gut the natural inclination to cut taxes (instead of raise them), and cut benefits (instead of increase them). The vote in two and a half weeks pits those upset enough about New York’s state to ignore any personal indiscretion or public verbal failing, against those who are not.

New Buffalo 2005 – 2009

4 Sep

I started blogging in late 2003, and started focusing on local issues about a year later – after John Kerry lost the presidential election. Soon after that, in early 2005, George Johnson contacted me about Buffalo Rising – it was then a print publication that was starting a blog, and they were going to cover “New Buffalo”. George even made these handy widgets that said, “New Buffalo” and were used to promote not just Buffalo Rising, but the idea that Buffalo was finally shedding its rustbelt image of failure, and that great things were coming. They were just around the corner. This time, we’re going to get it right.

Some, like Christopher Byrd, say it was stupid to think it ever existed. We at WNYMedia.net promoted the notion that there wasn’t a “new” or “old” Buffalo, but One Buffalo. I had bought in to the notion of there being a “new Buffalo” because I know first-hand how dramatically a city, a region, and a mindset can change. The city I grew up in, White Plains, was once a typical little suburban city with a bustling main street (Mamaroneck Avenue), and you had your drug stores, Woolworth’s, movie house, music store, donut shop, photography store, Macy’s, etc. Then they built the Galleria mall, and Mamaroneck Avenue started looking dingy and forgotten. But in the last decade, a massive transformation took place right downtown in the shadow of a newer, fancier mall – Mamaroneck Avenue is booming again and features names on it like “Target”, “Ritz-Carlton”, and “Trump”.

Likewise, when I first moved to Boston it was a lot like Buffalo. Clinging to past glories, still thinking it was the hub of the universe, gritty but progressive thanks to a massive yearly influx of young, energetic people with disposable incomes. Now, it’s Boston.

Buffalo? I think the idea of “New Buffalo” is dead. The time of death, in my estimation, was the moment Byron Brown was re-elected Mayor of the City of Buffalo in 2009. He’s had 5 years to do something palpable to change not just the city for the better, but also its culture of back-scratching and backbiting. But it’s only gotten worse. And if you think about it – who’s out there who could take that job and possess, much less articulate, a coherent, credible vision for Buffalo’s future? We always come back to: no plan, no vision, no goals, no aspiration. Just make sure Goin’ South and Grassroots get their promised jobs, and STFU.

New Buffalo existed, after all, in the aspirations and hopes of people who love this area and want to see it grow. People who are here not because they have to be, but by deliberate, conscious choice. People who know it’s good elsewhere, and want to make it good here, too.

My goodness, January 2005 was filled with hope. And that’s just one example. Half a decade later, and Tom Suozzi is no longer going to be in elected office, much less Fixing Albany or its 3 men in a room. The Brennan Center’s simple recommendations for legislative and rules reform haven’t been completely implemented, and Albany pols don’t seem energized to make those changes. Revitalize Buffalo? Gone. WNY Coalition for Progress? Gone. Kevin Gaughan’s push for regional, metropolitan government? Gone in exchange for downsizing town boards and consolidating towns & villages.

We cheer small successes and are mentally and emotionally numb or immune to our disappointments. But as far as movements of the young and plugged-in, the big trend seems to be to get together and pow-wow about social media. You know who’s not using social media? The Erie County Legislature, the administration running the City of Buffalo, the Mayor of the City of Buffalo, the Buffalo Common Council, your town/village/city government, and most likely your representative in the State Senate/Assembly/town or city council. And if they were using social media, chances are they’d use it for one-way announcements rather than conversations about WNY and its government.

The red/green budget crisis seemed like a cathartic moment when we would finally get our political, economic, and social act together to jettison the past and work towards the future. Didn’t happen. The same fights get fought by the same people. Some who seemed as if they could be positive actors for change turned into raving, indecent lunatics. Others gave up.

New Buffalo as a concept may be dead, but plenty of people and organizations are taking little steps towards making a better WNY and a better life for them and others. Buffalo isn’t just a place, it’s something of a state of mind.

Buffalo needs goals, a plan to reach them, and leadership to steer us through the plan. When those three things converge, then we’ll have a truly New Buffalo.

Pulling in the same direction: “Progress” in New Buffalo

4 Sep

The varying moods induced by the slate of Buffalo news this summer– Canalside setbacks, potential flight of HSBC bank, and the death of UB 2020 to mention only a few – have highlighted the various goals of tribal Buffalo in 2010. That the same bit of news could cause both despair and victory cheers in such numbers and to such depth shows a distressing fracture. Not everyone will agree all the time, on everything, nor should they. But it wasn’t that long ago that the community was pulling on the same rope in the same direction far more often. Note the recent obituary on the death of the idea of New Buffalo – many can not agree that the patient is even dead, much less what the idea meant when it was alive.

What is the definition of “progress” in this town? I thought I used to know. I moved back in 2007, unknowingly at the height of “New Buffalo” and accidently in the middle of Old Home Week (nee Buffalo Homecoming, nee Citybration). I didn’t know “New Buffalo” was the name of the feeling, but I did know the hope and optimism. It was one factor that got me to move a family here.

Courtesy Treasure Frey at stuartbrown.com

Now, not so much. Instead of a generally agreed upon view of progress, or at least the idea that the city could walk and chew gum at the same time, allowing us to pursue multiple threads simultaneously, it seems we’ve become divided into a number of camps.

– The Old Building Camp (Tielman, Esmonde, BRO) says that keys to Buffalo progress are rotting away in front of us as we speak. Fix up the nice old architecturally significant buildings we have, and other cities wish we had, and we’re on the road. This view is well summarized by David Steel, one of WNYMedia’s frequent commenters, who identified a list of projects in Alan Bedenko’s article as reasons for optimism. Out of his 35 projects, 25 were rehabs or additions to older buildings.

My issue with this approach is that it pays more attention to the building than its contents. The building is just the container: its the tenants, and the jobs/wealth/impact they generate, that will cause progress in Buffalo. It is telling that the developers of Buffalo (Termini, Brown, Montante, Savarino, Paladino) trip off the tongue faster than the business leaders (Rich, Jacobs, Wilmers is Chairman at M&T (who is the CEO?), I had to look up how to spell First Niagara’s Koelmel).

– The New Building Camp, smaller in size but no less vocal, says that old building conversions are nice, but they are a natural part of city development, and are not a big deal. That we praise them so loud and so long is sad, small, and kinda pathetic. What we should be looking for is New Buildings that indicate a willingness to take risk, require fewer government subsidies, have a potential return of real money, and show a increased demand for CBD space. When Carl Paladino finally builds 50 Court Street, says lefty (another regular commenter), come talk to me.

But to me both the Old Building Camp and New Building Camp have a similar problem: if one focuses on the contents of the package, and not the package itself, it is a less-than-rosy regional picture. The Larkin Building filled with Kaleida, First Niagara, law firms, and others from the local area. The Larkin is a win if you consider moving a corporate HQ from Pendleton to Buffalo a win, and success is measured based upon traffic across the city/suburb line. Even if you are city focused, Avant grabbed a law firm from a Buffalo historic building, construction of UB’s medical campus downtown just moves programs from University Heights, and the future high profile moves of Phillips Little and HSBC to Canalside (allegedly) just move workers several city blocks. Some projects are considered successes before they even have tenants: the only occupier of the new rehab at the Genesee Gateway is the State Dept’s new Passport office, a development coup of a couple dozen low paying government jobs, and the rest of the building is not yet spoken for. The Hautman-Woodard Institute and NY Center of Excellence for Bioinformatics are beautiful and terrifyingly empty, a shade of their possible capacity.

It is the same or worse for housing. A City of Buffalo Common Council member confessed to me in confidence that he is not a fan, generally, of large housing rehabs, such and Frizlen’s and Termini’s warehouse and school conversions. Why? Because 15 new housing units in a neighborhood means 15 abandoned houses nearby. No one is moving from Atlanta, or Syracuse, or even Cheektowaga for most of these units. They are moving from a house a couple blocks away.

New buildings, old buildings. I care what’s inside.

– Frustration with the previous two camps yields the Coalition of Enough Already, which does not want just anything built, but does want SOMETHING to happen. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to satisfy all. It shouldn’t do more harm than good. But simply building a Peace Bridge, or Canalside, or a Casino, or anything larger than $30 million, would show a change in attitude and general competence of leaders of all types: political, business, government.

– Moving on from the Construction is Progress camps, our own Chris Smith is vocal advocate for the Good Government Camp, which says what we really need are less corrupt politicians, policy leaders, new ideas, good schools, and a regional plan that leverages our assets. Good government hears the news that the new data center Yahoo built in chilly Lockport uses less energy for cooling, from 54% of all energy used by the datacenter to 1% (!), and makes a plan to capitalize on it. I am sympathetic to the idea, and to the broken hearts of so many that thought Mayor Brown, and a new wave of average citizens getting involved, would make this actually possible. I am now more cynical about this possibility than any of the others.

– The Grass Roots Camp says all your fancy buildings, and money, and politics is crap, and always will be, and while you cry over spilt milk on Canalside or some budget hearing, real people are making a difference every day. Poster children include PUSH, Urban Roots, the Wilson Street Farm, Buffalo ReUse, MAP, taco trucks, Sweetness_7 Cafe, carriage rides in Delaware Park, and yoga down at Canalside.

I have been accused of being dismissive of such things, and perhaps I am. I think all are wonderful projects in their own right. I just don’t confuse any with progress in Buffalo. That so many people do is sad, and says how far Buffalo has fallen, but speaks nothing ill of any of the projects themselves. But I feel jobs and growth will allow Buffalo to progress far more, not just in economic areas, but to fight poverty and improve our general quality of life.

– Let me add in one more camp, not yet represented. It’s the camp I am in. How will we know when Buffalo is “progressing?” Growth. I am waiting for the census data to show Buffalo, or WNY, or even some demographic segment of any decent size, is larger now than it was in the past. Even if that growth is year over year, much less over the decade. Buffalo is getting smaller, greyer, poorer, and suffers a lack of Brain Gain of national proportions. Growth creates markets for buildings new and old. Growth brings new people with new ideas that can flush out some of the old guard politicians and interest groups. Growth can justify new bridges, new casinos, new shopping areas, and new housing downtown. Growth changes the brand. Growth gives me a job without taking one from you. Growth gives out two foundation grants instead of one. Growth can cause its own problems, but for a region already as spread out and empty as ours, many of those problems simply don’t exist.

But why do we need the camps at all? Should not a healthy city be able to restore old buildings, build new ones, make better schools, and attract new businesses simultaneously? In fact, is it not those attributes that define a healthy city. Perhaps that is the objective proof we need that Buffalo is not healthy, even if it was momentarily in the recent past.

In Buffalo, we all chew off the same bone. It’s a zero sum game. Money for Larkin means less money for something else. The Wendt Foundation said yes to the Genesee Gateway project, and thus no to something else. Which is why more and more people are becoming members of a second camp, in addition their first identified above: the Nihilists. Saying yes to PUSH means saying no to Canalside. Saying yes to downtown means saying no to the Seneca Casino. Saying yes to the new Courthouse means saying no to the Statler. Saying yes to subsidized housing means saying no to UB. Saying yes to old buildings means saying no to the Peace Bridge.

It is not new for government, business and non-profits to have to make choices with limited resources. It is new for one group to fight another’s project with as much energy as they pursue their own.

Bashar Issa and The Statler: A Lesson For Buffalo

28 Feb

issa

“Cherish the past, adorn the future, construct for the future” – Bashar Al-Issa

When Bashar Issa exploded on the scene in June of 2006, we were all pretty excited that one of the most beautiful buildings in Downtown Buffalo was to be renovated by an out-of-town developer with money and vision.

statlerhotelbuffalo

Issa was exciting.  2006 was the peak of the “hopeful years” when it seemed Buffalo was ready to slough off it’s usual skepticism and embrace a project.  We were trying new things, we lost a few pounds and we were looking for Mr. Right.  Issa’s decision to buy the Statler and and invest $80MM to make it a world class hotel and condo project seemed a validation of the things we all knew about Buffalo.  Someone finally came along and told us we were pretty.  At first, even a cynic like me was taken with the guy.

By January of 2007, I started to have my doubts about Issa.  He hadn’t announced much of a plan for the Statler, and was immediately invested in drumming up national support for the project with his interest in buying the Central Terminal, his master plan for the City of Buffalo, his 48 Story City Tower and his Statler on The Sea.  He was trying really hard to look successful without accomplishing much.  I grew suspicious as the hero worship grew to a fever pitch with weekly updates from another local website as to the proclivities of Mr. Issa.  I thought we were investing too much in his mere presence.  We were like a girl who didn’t want to think that her boyfriend could possibly be a douchebag, even though she was starting to see his real self.  My comments from January of 2007:

When the Statler is completed and I see cranes in the air around the site for the Buffalo City Tower, I’ll thank Mr. Issa for his efforts. Until then I’ll applaud Rocco Termini, Sam Savarino, Carl Paladino, Ben Obletz, Paul Ciminelli, and Carl Montante for completing projects that make Buffalo a better place to live, work, and play.

I hope that issuing a simple “Welcome to Buffalo, Mr. Issa” will suffice…

I think we know that from this point, it was pretty much all downhill.  There were project delays, incremental progress and the completion of new elevator doors and discussion of new windows at the hotel seemed to be enough to throw New Buffalo into a near orgasmic fit.  “He loves me, he really loves me!!!”

While a Jake Halpern article in the Wall Street Journal seemed to upset many locals, Halpern turned out to be quite prophetic, the friend who finally sits you down and tells you your boyfriend is sleeping with six of your sorority sisters:

The danger is that Buffalo’s optimism regarding Mr. Issa will become a kind of clinging, desperate hope. This hard-luck city is always looking for redemption: redemption from poverty, from four straight Super Bowl losses, from the loss of the steel mills, from the bad stereotypes about the weather, and from the opportunists who, like myself, move away from the city in its hour of need.

This need makes someone like Mr. Issa more appealing because it casts him as a hero in the classic American storyline. He’s the sheriff sauntering into town who, in John-Wayne-like fashion, will restore justice, dignity and prosperity.

The problem is that waiting for a John Wayne figure can create complacency and obscure the reality that redemption will not come easily or at once in the form of deus ex machina.

Progress slowed to a crawl and whispers began that Issa was in way over his head.  By January of 2008, the bloom was off the rose as the progress had ground to a halt and Mr. Issa’s workers walked off the job site due to low pay and unsafe working conditions.  News began to leak from his properties in England that he was having cash flow problems and that someone had died on one of his job sites.  Allegations of poor working conditions existed there as well.  By the fall of 2008, Issa announced his intention to sell the hotel and sold the plot of land for his invisible skyscraper.

invisible_skyscraper

After all of that, Issa had a deal worked out with a Canadian firm to buy The Statler, but he fucked that up, too.

Now, here we are in February of 2009 and The Statler Hotel will probably be put into receivership.  The catering and event planning company which occupies The Statler has outstanding claims, is losing business and the building is bleeding money.  In fact, the lights might be turned off next month if some sort of resolution can’t be arranged.

Day-to-day control of Buffalo’s floundering Statler Towers could be in the hands of a court-appointed receiver as early as Tuesday.

Longtime Statler manager John Gingher testified the Statler is running at a deficit of as much as $75,000 a month, with just $19,000 in cash on hand. He told the court there is a strong probability the 18-story Niagara Square landmark could “go dark” within 30 days due to a pile of more than $1 million in bills, including some $400,000 owed to utilities.

Quite the sordid tale, eh?

Did Issa set out to fail?  Of course not.  I’m sure he saw an opportunity to get a great building on the cheap that he could renovate and flip for cash.  He would create artificial demand by announcing big plans to an uncritical local press.  He would build public support working his PR through that uncritical press and either pump and dump the property for a short term gain or eventually finish it and hopefully break even by operating a hotel and selling a few condos.  I tend to think it was more a function of the former than the latter, but that’s just me. In retrospect, why did we think that a privately financed $80MM project could provide the necessary return in a downtrodden market?  Were we high?

Alan, Marc and I are usually mocked for being negative when new projects are announced.  While others tend to focus on the design of new projects and lend a critical eye in that manner, we openly wonder if the project is feasible.  Does the project have the right funding?  Does the market support the project?  In this case, we didn’t do it soon enough.  Would it have made a difference if we did?  I don’t know, but I think we overinflate our value if we assume we would have.

So, when projects are announced and pretty diagrams drawn in Google Sketchup are unveiled, forgive me if I am skeptical.  I think we all need to be skeptical.  We need to be supportive of new ideas, yet critical.  As a community we should not be cheerleaders because someone validates us.  We should hold people accountable, measure progress and demand results.  We shouldn’t play the patsy for a snake oil salesman who is looking to make a buck with his Daddy’s money.