Tag Archives: outer harbor

Picking One’s Battles: Part 1

7 Oct

Forget for a moment about the things that the media are telling you to be absolutely terrified about – ebola, ISIS, drought, global warming/climate change, Russia, Ukraine, flights from West Africa, genocide, etc. After all, while all of this stuff is going on, most Americans either think it’s an Obama-led plot, or are more concerned with who did what on Dancing With the “Stars”. 

Locally, our outrages are much more pedestrian in nature. 

We don’t get incensed, and we don’t do jack squat in response to a devastating report about poverty in Buffalo. Well, we do tend to moralize and lecture the victims of poverty, while others identify at least one of the root causes

But I can tell you two recent points of civic outrage that are not at all important, in the wider scheme of things. One is the Labatt ad affixed to a dilapidated grain elevator, replacing what appears to be peeling and chipping lead paint.  The other is the notion that anything that might be labeled “the indoors” be built anywhere on the Outer Harbor. 

A scan of preservationist message boards reveals that some people are simply outraged by the idea that a locally-headquartered national beer importer would so crassly deface our lovely blight. (Query: if it was PBR cans, would that be ok?) A Change.org petition has 132 signatures, is being promoted by a guy from Dutchess County, and calls this location “downtown”. The petition alleges that the Labatt cans violate up to three codes or regulations. 

The petitioners claim that Alcoholic Beverage Control Law 83.2 prohibits this display. Untrue. Any reasonable reading of that language reveals the prohibition to signs posted by a retailer on “retail licensed premises”. This location is not a retail licensed premises for on-site alcohol consumption.  A claimed second code violation alleges that the Labatt ad is illegal because it can be seen from a park with a playground in it.

The city code cited, 452-4, prohibits any alcohol advertising, “in any publicly visible location on or within 1,000 feet of the perimeter of any school premises, playground or playground area in a public park.” The 333 Ganson location is just about 1,000 feet from the boundary of Conway Park itself, which contains a playground. It is almost 1,500 feet from the “playground” or the “playground area in a public park”. 

Finally, the petitioner cites a city code having to do with “accessory signs”.  It doesn’t appear to me that the cited sign ordinance applies to a sign that is a part of the building itself, but instead deals with billboards and other types of signs that are separate and distinct from the adjoining structure.

But all of this boils down to personal taste – trying to shoehorn dubious statutory violations into the argument is a weak substitute for just saying you don’t like it; that we can do better. One person wrote that if we let this Labatt ad stay on the grain elevator, “we’re getting the city we deserve”. I honestly can’t fathom how putting a dilapidated commercial structure to commercial use poses an existential threat to Buffalo. 

You don’t have to like the ad, but unless you own the building, who cares what you or I like? 

Our second moral outrage has to do with the Outer Harbor. Every single plan for the Outer Harbor incorporates bucketloads of parkland. The problem is that in Buffalo, at that location, parkland is basically unusable much of the year, unless maybe you go fishing through holes in the ice or enjoy cross-country skiing with acute wind chills. The notion that there be something indoors on the Outer Harbor is, apparently, haram. 

The rhetoric against the ECHDC-promoted plan has been as bombastic as you’d expect it to be. The process was flawed!  Sure, there were three public hearings/meetings, and they were conducted like all of these types of meetings are – Green Code, Placemaking, One Region Forward – but this one was flawed! ECHDC’s plan will harm the ecosystem! The effort wouldn’t, of course, be complete without noted civic horror Donn Esmonde weighing in, complete with allusion to “lighter, faster, cheaper” from the Placemaking rip-off

So, what could they possibly be planning? Singapore-on-the-Lake? An endless sea of Waterfront Villages? A suburban office park surrounded by parking, like Larkinville? 

Nope, this. This is what they’re planning.  

I don’t know about you, but there’s a lot of green on that rendering. Looks like Times Beach’s ecosystem is preserved. Most of the construction would be in small clusters, away from the shore.  

There are plenty of things to be outraged about in Buffalo. These two don’t seem to be among them. 

#Placemaking #Buffalo

12 Sep

 

Look at me! I’m an urban planner! 

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Everything from the Outer Harbor to #BringBackOurGirls

13 May

Remember last year, when I began a semi-weekly excoriation of Donn Esmonde and posted things about the Clarence schools budget crisis/vote? I’m sparing you the ugly details this year because I’m putting on my dusty activist hat and making sure the perfectly reasonable budget that the school board passed unanimously is passed next Tuesday, and also campaigning for a school-friendly slate of candidates. This is why posting here has been lighter in recent days. That, and the fact that there’s nothing new under the sun.

For instance, it was late 2004 when my blog transitioned from one that focused on national politics into one that looks more closely at local matters. Since that time, local political blogs of all partisan stripes have come and gone, but I’m still here.  The first local thing that really got me going on a roll a decade ago were three competing plans for Buffalo’s Outer Harbor that the NFTA was pimping. They ranged from bucolic park-like setting to mid-density brownstone to what I called “elevator to the moon“. Of course, nothing came of any of them and in 10 years we’ve seen the Outer Harbor be the focus of patented Buffalo inertia and hand-wringing.

The best we’ve done has been to improve access to the area, and even that was met with false yelling about  how Route 5 was a “wall” that separated downtown from her waterfront, never mind the river and grain elevators you had to get past before you ever reached the road.

So, if I wasn’t currently concentrating on schoolkids and their futures, I’d be writing about this:

1. The Outer Harbor: it’s a state park! It’s a sports complex! It’s the location of the Bills’ new stadium! It goes to show you that there’s nothing new under the sun. 10 years down the line, we’re still arguing over what to do with a patch of dreadfully contaminated real estate on a chilly lake.

A few weeks ago, Pat Freeman, the sports director for WUFO was on Twitter and Facebook urging people to contact  Governor Cuomo and urge him to back the museum/stadium on the Outer Harbor. Someone even got a hold of my cell phone number and the same message was – unsolicited – texted to my phone on two occasions.  And Facebook messaging.

Freeman blocked me after I asked him how and why he got my number. Suffice it to say that it’d be swell if the city or Erie County Harbor Development Corporation would put whatever property won’t be a park on the market and sell it, complete with a comprehensive plan and mandated architectural standards.  Government’s job should be to pave the streets, wire the electric, put in the plumbing, and extend the light rail.

2. David Torke is one of the bloggers who’s still at it 10 years later. He’s morphed into a preservationist activist, so he’s totally in with that local clique. I recall some years ago, he would take people on tours of the East Side, where he lives, and show them how owners of properties – the city in particular – would let them become uninhabitable solely through neglect. He’s revived the “tour de neglect”, and the News’ Colin Dabkowski joined one this past weekend.  On on the one hand, it’s good to open people’s eyes to the problems plaguing a huge swath of the city that’s seen little of the incremental good news we have on the West Side. On the other hand,

Most of the conversation focused on buildings; there was very little talk about the East Side’s current residents, many of whom could be negatively impacted by the kinds of development strategies now being enacted or proposed.

You help the East Side of Buffalo get better by addressing the pervasive socioeconomic difficulties present there. The East Side isn’t a crisis of architecture, but of poverty. We can’t – and shouldn’t – be concerned with the potential we see in buildings until we address the potential in people. It will be people, after all, who will ultimately help to change the East Side, and it’s addressing poverty and violence that need to be in the forefront. Like the annual invasion of the relatively affluent to a poor neighborhood to get drunk on Dyngus Day or shop at the market in someone’s grandparents’ neighborhood, a group of affluent, privileged white faces biking through a neighborhood should be focused first on people, not on cornices. This, to me, is the fundamental flaw in all the planning and preservation activism in Buffalo.

3. A local bar owner is planning on bringing a branch of the iconic Bavarian Hofbräuhaus to downtown Buffalo. Seeing as how Buffalo likes beer, sausage, and boiled cabbage, this has some potential. You’ll just have to learn to pronounce “dirndl“, now. No word yet on how a German chain might affect our sense of place or authenticity.

4. Camille Brandon is apparently one of the Democrats who is planning to run for the Assembly seat most recently kept warm by creep Dennis Gabryszak. In the News’ article, our own local political Snidely Whiplash, Steve Pigeon, just can’t help but to suggest that he might bring in his acolyte, Kristy Mazurek,  to run as well. But if you pay close attention, note that both Erie County Democratic Committee chairman Jeremy Zellner and his chief rival, Frank Max, are backing Brandon. Any effort by Pigeon to insert Mazurek into the race – and the brutally defamatory race that would ensue – would go a long way towards maintaining the Democratic infighting on which Pigeon thrives.

Make no mistake, Pigeon’s insertion of Mazurek has more to do with preserving Tim Kennedy’s Senate seat than the useless Assembly.

5. Much of the natural gas located in the part of the Marcellus Shale that’s in New York isn’t as marketable as what Pennsylvania has. Because of the fracking boom that’s scarred, among other places,  the Pennsylvania countryside, the price of natural gas has plummeted. There are too many unknowns, and the people shilling for drilling are likely overstating the potential economic benefits for New Yorkers. I think that fracking in New York is inevitable, but I hope they regulate how it’s done and ensure that people know what chemicals are being injected into the rock in order to extract the gas. It’s not worth it, e.g., to sacrifice clean drinking water for a short-term boomlet of natural gas.  Although it has to do with coal, not natural gas, use West Virginia’s Elk River disaster as a cautionary tale.

6. A Muslim terrorist group in Nigeria kidnapped 276 schoolgirls and is supposedly selling them off into slavery. Nigeria doesn’t have an especially competent government, so there haven’t been any credible attempts to do something about this. People are trying to bring attention to this tragedy through social media, using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.  Even Michelle Obama tweeted a picture of herself holding a piece of paper with the message on it.

Of course, because Mrs. Obama got involved, the right wing is politicizing it. They mock the notion of hashtags and efforts to inform people about something horrible that happened.

But it wasn’t Michelle Obama’s idea. It’s not her thing. It was started by a Nigerian lawyer.

It’s thanks in large part to an initially uncoordinated campaign launched by local Nigerian activists that the girls’ disappearance didn’t continue to fly under the radar at major news providers. The campaign began on April 23 with a single tweet by Nigerian lawyer Ibrahim M. Abdullahi, the first to use the now viral #BringBackOurGirls tag, amid what he calls “complete dissatisfaction” with his government’s response to the incident.

As Abdullahi watched a live address on that date by former Nigerian Minister of Education Obiageli Ezekwesili, he tweeted a phrase she used as follows: “Yes #BringBackOurDaughters #BringBackOurGirls declared by @obyezeks and all people at Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014.”

The lawyer and activist tells DW it is a “great joy” and “heartwarming to know that [the campaign] has gone so global,” as #BringBackOurGirls today nears three million uses on Twitter since April 23. In the Nigerian capital of Abuja, Abdullahi says a group of around 20 campaign volunteers has expanded into more than 100 individuals. They meet daily to monitor progress on finding the girls and follow how the viral campaign is developing.

I don’t get what’s so wrong about this. Suddenly, people are talking about it. British Conservative PM David Cameron even joined in. The point is that the online effort has brought much needed attention to what happened in a part of the world that Americans especially tend to ignore completely. Conservative mocking of #bringbackourgirls is, in effect, saying that we shouldn’t raise awareness about horrible things that are taking place. With this crowd, no matter what Michelle Obama does, she’s just the President’s fat wife who is micromanaging kids’ lunches or whatever. At least #bringbackourgirls brings attention to something worthwhile. #tcot is just a typical conservative circle-jerk of hatred. I suspect that conservatives on Twitter won’t be abandoning #tcot, though.

And An Elevator To the Moon

23 Oct

Not real, authentic (This Stadium Matters; Stadium, For Real)

Way back in late 2004/early 2005, one of the first Buffalocentric topics about which I decided to write was an NFTA debate that was then brewing over three competing plans for Buffalo’s beleaguered, forgotten Outer Harbor. Eight or so years later, it remains almost equally beleaguered, with some aesthetic and functional improvements in access, but still amounting to grass and weeds. Eight or so years later, the NFTA still controls it, while the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation and the City of Buffalo bicker over who should control its development, and the contracts and jobs that go with it. 

What else have we seen? We’ve seen that while civic debate focuses on extremes, we are capable of reaching compromise when necessary. For instance, attracting a Bass Pro to the waterfront – it wasn’t at all a bad idea. Putting it in the Aud, on the Aud site, or even right up against the water at the foot of Main Street – none of those were per se bad ideas. But Bass Pro isn’t coming, and that, too, is OK. We don’t need it, but it wouldn’t have hurt. On the other side of the argument, we had the armies of preservation demanding green space, no buildings against the water, “authenticity” as defined by them, and now a fetish for defunct grain elevators and warehouses that haven’t been demolished because there is no one to pay to demolish them – haven’t been used because they are economically difficult to justify re-using. In spite of the Fred Kent placemaking sideshow scam, Buffalonians seem pretty happy with the compromise Canalside being built, the Pegula hockeytorium, and the other incremental – but, finally, visible and palpable – improvements being done to the Inner Harbor. 

So, we look again to the Outer Harbor and we have a new proposal being trial-ballooned whereby we build a billion-and-a-half-dollar stadium for the Buffalo Bills with a retractable roof, a new convention center, a hotel complex, and 5,000 parking spots. Of the silver bullet proposals to come down the road, this is the silveriest, bulletiest of them all.  This has a former county comptroller candidate involved in commissioning an epic set of images showing off our newest Elevator to the Moon, complete with a sports museum to be built and run by the people behind Rochester’s Strong Museum of Play. 

Neighborhoods crumble under the weight of economic decay and desperation, and we have $1.5 billion to spend on playing catch? We struggle to make ends meet with Medicaid funding, heating assistance, and day care for the working poor, and we’ll throw a billion dollars at a hotel and Buffalo Skydome? Is there even a local corporate sponsor who will buy naming rights, or will we just name it after Ralph Wilson, too? Renovating the Ralph is estimated to cost $200 million, which is also a tremendous sum of money for this area, and even that is a deal not yet done. For decades this region has been trampled underfoot by opportunistic politicians with toxic policies, and we have yet to devise an attainable vision for the future and a concomitant plan to get there.  But, hey – domed. Stadium

Functionally, the Outer Harbor is a geographical bottleneck – accessible by Skyway or on Route 5 from the South or in from Tifft Blvd from South Buffalo.  Three points of entry to get to 5,000 parking spots to service a stadium for 72,000 people. Arithmetically, the people behind this proposal think that the state will pony up $400 million, and that the NFL will provide between $200 to $400 million. That leaves a gap of $700 to $900 million that needs to be filled by private investment and, presumably, county money. That kind of money approaches the county’s entire annual budget. As a practical matter, the soil on the Outer Harbor is toxic and in need of multimillion dollar remediation. 

But we’re still debating the likelihood that the Bills stay in this region after their owner inevitably passes away in the near future. The team is more than just a sports franchise – it’s a powerful symbol reminding Buffalo that it was once in the major leagues; a legacy we cling to by a thread.  Does this area have enough idle money lying around to (a) enable local investors to buy the Bills and keep them here when Wilson dies; and (b) fund a massive stadium project for the Outer Harbor, which would effectively prohibit any other kind of development from happening there? 

So here we are, with a massive silver bullet pipe dream to try and keep our disappointing football team in town. A shiny object to raise the hopes of the few not yet beaten down by inevitable cynicism; something to occupy hours’ worth of inane AM talk radio chatter, with angry people talking angrily about their anger over money and the crappy team. This has the appearance of being aspirational, but is really evidence of desperation. If we give the Bills this nice new home, maybe they’ll stay. Maybe they’ll stop sucking. On the other hand, we’ll have the self-appointed masters of authenticity decry any proposal involving sports, parking, roadways. We’ll have arguments about how we should spend a billion dollars to improve storefronts on Grant Street, or maybe to spend on more ancillary projects at the Darwin Martin House. We’ll hear how Buffalo is “real” and “authentic” and that this monstrosity does nothing to further enhance our standing as a tertiary stopover on the cultural tourism checklist. We’ll ultimately argue over how many trees and painted Adirondack chairs are available on the grass, whether the water taxi will be able to accommodate gameday crowds, and hey, how about a solar-powered carousel? 

But let’s cut through all the hype. The people proposing this have two things – a corporate entity and some diagrams. They haven’t talked to the Bills. They haven’t talked to the NFL. They haven’t talked to the State. They haven’t talked to ECHDC. They haven’t talked to the NFTA. They haven’t even taken a survey of the local population to vet the idea of a billion-dollar domed stadium on the Outer Harbor. So far, they’re scheduled only to speak with the City of Buffalo – an entity that has, and would have, no say in the matter whatsoever. We haven’t yet figured out how we’re going to fix up Ralph Wilson Stadium, and we’re already talking about out-Torontoing Toronto’s downtown Rogers Centre. 

This ought to be fun. 

 

 

The Outer Harbor. Again.

11 May

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

Parkland Edition

Mixed-Use Version

Elevator to the Moon Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outer Harbor

1 Dec

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

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

Somewhat unfortunately, they still are.

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.

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.

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.

Shorter NFTA

22 Oct

Shorter NFTA:  Despite our decades-long track record of sitting on outer harbor land and doing nothing with it, we will not turn it over to ECHDC until we are satisfied that ECHDC will not sit on that land for decades doing nothing with it.

Shorter Shorter NFTA: We know fail.