Tag Archives: Peace Bridge

Trucks to Lewiston? Good Idea!

27 Jan

The Sunday Buffalo News published a story about a ultra-top-secret plan to divert all truck traffic away from the Peace  Bridge and onto the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. A lot of customs brokerage jobs would have to be moved from Buffalo and Fort Erie to Lewiston and Queenston, but neighborhood concerns over diesel particulate would be assuaged. 

Funny, because here’s what I wrote in February 2008 – six years ago:

The Peace Bridge Expansion is Dead. That’s my prediction. It is never, ever going to happen. Not in my lifetime, not in yours. Frankly, I think that increased traffic capacity isn’t needed in Buffalo anyway. Why shove it down Buffalo’s throat if it so clearly doesn’t want it?

The Ambassador Bridge to Black Rock? Not going to happen. No one’s going to build a plaza and new interchange on the US side with the Scajaquada and 190 right there, particularly given the fact that the push now is to downgrade the Scajaquada to a boulevard of some sort.

While an ideal crossing would be across the river just south of Grand Island, so that it would connect up with the I-290 and I-190, that disturbs residential neighborhoods in Canada.

Instead, we should completely jettison the Peace Bridge expansion altogether and instead increase capacity at Queenston-Lewiston. That single span gets a tremendous amount of truck and vehicular traffic, and recently received an upgrade to five lanes. The Q-L bridge provides direct access on both sides of the span to a major highway; the 405 to the QEW on the Canadian side, and the I-190 on the US side.

If there was any semblance of forward-thinking on the part of the CVB, it would already have been in talks to develop and construct a gorgeous visitor’s center that is run locally – not from Albany. Lease some Thruway property from the Authority and give border crossers a reason to come to a whole host of attractions in Western New York. The fact that there is no “Welcome to New York” or “Welcome to WNY” center on this side of the border underscores just how backwards and simple our supposed tourism promoters are. They’re at Thruway rest areas, but not at the border. How patently stupid; you have to wait until you get to Pembroke or Angola – well on your way out of the metro area.

There comes a time when you just say “enough”. The Peace Bridge project has spent ten years in environmental review, design review, and negotiations over the now-dead shared border management. We can sit and wait another few years for a new administration to change its mind, but it’s been almost ten years now that nothing tangible has happened. The preservation community has drawn a line in the sand as far as the neighborhood that would be adversely affected by a new plaza on the Buffalo side, and we all know about Al Coppola’s threat to move his Pan Am house. What else could be more persuasive?

So screw it. Enough. Everybody wins.

Expand the Queenston-Lewiston bridge with a second, signature span across the Niagara River, right at the escarpment with a gorgeous view of the meandering river leading to Youngstown, and Lake Ontario beyond.

I think that the current Peace Bridge span should be replaced with a more modern, signature span, and that the current steel span should then be demolished. We should move forward with shared border management, which would allow US-bound traffic be pre-screened in Fort Erie with perhaps only spot-checks on the US side. The problem isn’t just neighborhood anger, the access to the I-190 is very poorly laid out, with the southbound ramp located about 1/4 mile west from the northbound ramp access road.

 

And it’s still a crime that we don’t have a visitor’s center to promote local businesses and attractions to Canadian visitors coming off the bridges, or really any tourism services of any sort, such as currency exchange. Ontario maintains one on the 420 in Niagara Falls, and another on the QEW near Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Let me know if I can help you with any other ideas. 

Shorter Esmonde

1 Jul

Shorter Esmonde? 

On Friday, Cuomo is pretty awesome, and he pulled out of this argument with the Canadians just at the right time, because he’s pretty awesome. 

On Sunday, Cuomo is an obstructionist punk who is horrible, and he caused a big fight with the Canadians, because he’s an obstructionist punk. 

Shorter Esmonde’s week in Cuomoland? 

When it comes to Peace Bridge and plaza expansion, I will feign interest in its progress, because my own positions on these topics swing around more than a drunken octogenarian driving the wrong way on the I-190 in the middle of the night. 

Shared Border Management: They Choose Not To

10 Jun

The United States Government claims that it just can’t implement any sort of shared border management with the Canadians along the length of the Niagara River. The American personnel from the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) allegedly cannot be permitted to work on the Canadian side of the border because of two factors – their firearms, and the requirement that American inspection personnel be able to stop, question, and fingerprint people who make a U-Turn before entering a US customs plaza that is on Canadian soil. Because liberty. 

The fact that Southern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area has millions of people, and represents a tremendous market opportunity for western New York, we are stymied by Washington’s and Albany’s unwillingness / inability to help integrate the region.  We can’t get shared border management approved when the real discussion should be about a customs union with Canada

Two solutions have been proposed for this very simple solution to the problem of Buffalo’s West Side and Front Park – the first is the “embassy” solution, whereby an American entry inspection plaza in Fort Erie is legally considered to be United States soil, and the second is the “airport” solution, whereby travelers are simply pre-screened by American personnel authorized through treaty to operate on foreign soil. Pre-screening takes place in myriad Caribbean and Canadian airports, so that flights from those countries can arrive at US airports and be treated as domestic ones, easing the burden on CPB here at home, and widening the number of airports that can be served. 

You know what else? Look at this picture: 

That’s a sign in the Dublin airport.  Dublin, Ireland, European Union. There are CPB personnel in Ireland – across the Atlantic Ocean – who are there to pre-screen travelers to the United States. They do it in Toronto, too. 

 

The shared border management idea was first proposed and rejected under President George W. Bush and his Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff in 2007. The Obama Administration killed the idea in 2009 after briefly toying with it earlier that year

If we can accomplish this across the ocean, certainly we can get it done across the Niagara River? 

Donny Kissinger

9 Jun

Only the severely deluded would agree that it’s a good idea for Buffalo and New York to enlist Donn Esmonde to mediate a high-stakes dispute between the State of New York and the governments of Canada and Ontario. What would we do without his measured tone and earnest concern? For starters, we’d probably have a bridge by now. After advocating for a signature crossing 13 years ago, Esmonde has spent his time since then criticizing everything about Peace Bridge expansion.

Peace Bridge Night -  Old Lights

Actually, today’s column is one, long concern troll.

Esmonde assigns every stitch of blame for the current fight over the bureaucracy and management of the bridge to Governor Cuomo and the American members. As if it doesn’t take two sides to maintain an unreasonable squabble, and as if the Canadians hadn’t had their share of bad behavior – including One saying sexist things against a female American bridge official.

Back in 2000, Esmonde was on the side of the New Millenium Group and the people in Buffalo who demanded not a twin span, but a signature bridge – a bridge that would stand out and be not only functional, but beautiful. The Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority (PBA) had decided in 1994 that it would build a companion span. Twenty years later, there is still the one steel bridge, and the American plaza still looks like an unwelcoming toll plaza. I wonder how Esmonde feels, writing about the same topic he did in 1997? Yet after pimping the signature span in 2000, he went to denigrating waterfront champion Congressman Brian Higgins in 2008.

When a bridge fell into Lake Champlain, Albany undertook an audit and review of other bridges. It deemed the steel Peace Bridge structure unsafe.

Why did Donn Esmonde support the lawsuit to bring about a “signature bridge”, and now supports people threatening lawsuits to block construction of the signature bridge?

Which is it, Donn? “Better bridge” or no bridge?

Well, it’s “no bridge“. Esmonde has spent the last decade lauding anyone with a white beard and a lawyer. We don’t need any peace bridge expansion, he now says.

After 20 years of plans, a new Peace Bridge will remain unbuilt — pragmatically, I think, in light of declining traffic and questionable economic boost.

Esmonde calls for the PBA to fix itself, and fast – to de-escalate the fight. But why do we need a separate authority for the Peace Bridge, on the one hand; and the Niagara County crossings on the other? Couldn’t the entire thing be made “lighter, quicker, cheaper” if we only had one authority for all the crossings? Is there something special about the Peace Bridge? Is there something inadequate about the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission that it couldn’t expand and change its name to “Niagara Frontier Bridge Commission” or something?

Donn Esmonde usually becomes verbally turgid over the phrase emphasized in the preceding paragraph. But after almost 20 years of waiting for increased Peace Bridge capacity, Esmonde says we shouldn’t rush these things. What?

And our own little Kissinger – how diplomatic has been towards the Canadians? How about this column he wrote just 2 years ago, expressing how “disillusioned” he was by Canadians down here for a hockey tournament, (what else?), and some drunken brawls (of course).

Whatever happened to the polite, humble, rule-respecting folks we thought we knew? Where were the civic-minded citizens who dutifully wait at the street corner when the traffic light is red, even when no cars are coming? Wherever you are, we want you back…

…I talked to workers at a downtown bar/restaurant that will remain nameless, to protect the place’s cross-border business. By tournament’s end, they had disdain for all things emblazoned with a Maple Leaf. The main complaint, and this is not new, is a lot of Canadian hockey fans are awful tippers.

“They would have a few beers and leave like a quarter or 50 cents,” said one bartender, who for job security reasons asked that his name not be used. “Servers said they were getting two-dollar tips on a $25 check.”

OK, chronically bad tipping is not cause for a diplomatic crisis. But multiply it by a few thousand visitors, and you leave behind a lot of irritation.

Donn Esmonde as diplomat. I’ve honestly never heard anything so ridiculous.

This is part of an ongoing AV Daily series, “Donn Esmonde is an Ass

 

Peace Bridge: Back to the 90s

7 Jun

STATEMENT FROM THE

WNY LEADERS FOR PEACE BRIDGE PROGRESS

Like most people in Western New York, we have spent the past two decades watching and waiting for a new, more efficient gateway between our community and Southern Ontario. Instead of progress, we have seen debate, delay and dysfunction. This project is too important to allow ego and personal differences to stall this project any longer.

Instead, we will let ego move the process forward!

The “Golden Horseshoe” around the western end of Lake Ontario has a population of 8.76 million people; that is 68% of Ontario residents and 26% of all Canadians. They come to Western New York to take in Sabres and Bills games, enjoy our ski resorts and other recreational opportunities, shop, and most importantly, to conduct business and enrich the economies of both sides.

The American government, addicted to security porn and anti-immigrant animus, has proposed and/or implemented every barrier possible to keep these people on their side of the border. Furthermore, the state of New York and the various and sundry governmental, quasi-governmental, and charitable entities have not yet decided to, e.g., set up a string of information center/rest areas on this side of the Q-L Bridge, Rainbow Bridge, or Peace Bridge to inform and direct Canadian crossers to WNY businesses, attractions, and communities.

For this population, the main crossing into the United States and the City of Buffalo is the Peace Bridge. More than 4.7 million cars and 1.2 million trucks crossed the span last year alone. The sheer volume makes the Peace Bridge one of Western New York’s most important economic engines, and to prevent the progress of improving the American side of the border crossing is to prevent the growth of business, recreation and friendly relations between the United States and our valued neighbor to the North.

Not only that, but if you expand the bridge and plaza capacity, you can minimize idling trucks and cars, the emissions from which are adversely affecting the nearby residents, according to some.

We need to take hold of our own destiny and move proactively toward embracing plans that will allow our great region, on both sides, to grow and prosper. The plan put forth by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State of New York is the best option to accomplish that. The Governor wants progress for Buffalo and Western New York, and as business people, residents and active members of this great community, so do we.

The Governor? Hasn’t Cuomo ham-handedly allowed his local proxies mercilessly to antagonize the Canadians on the Public Bridge Authority in recent weeks?

Governor Cuomo has promised a beautiful, more efficient plaza in which the PBA and our community could take pride, and one that would improve the border crossing process for both sides. Western New York needs to form a unified front behind the efforts of the people we elected to represent us. That is exactly what we are announcing today.

To be honest, I’m not so sure anyone has described a customs and inspection plaza as “beautiful”, or that anyone has been “proud” of such a structure. I mean, the new plazas on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge and Q-L Bridge are quite nice and efficient, but I think “beautiful” is a stretch. It would, however, be nice if people’s first impression of the United States when crossing from Canada was “hey, these people want me to be here and spend my money”. Instead, they resemble the angry, barely utilitarian, chaotic toll plaza on the Queens end of the Midtown Tunnel.

Western New Yorkers and our guests from Canada should not have to wait for years. They should not have to endure the traffic congestion of maintenance projects only to be followed by years of other projects that don’t actually help move traffic, especially passenger traffic off the plaza more expeditiously. New Yorkers and Canadians alike deserve a better, more functional U.S. Plaza faster.

We’ve gephyrophobically waited for years. I’m not so sure ego will overcome what ego has stalled.

The WNY Leaders for Peace Bridge Progress is a group of community leaders who have joined together to show their support for Governor Cuomo’s efforts to expedite the development of the Peace Bridge US Plaza in a way that maximizes the economic benefit to the WNY economy by reducing congestion and making the plaza more efficient and at the same time improving the quality of life in the immediate neighborhood. The committee is co-chaired by Leonard DePrima, formerly of LiRo Engineers and former Chief Engineer and Deputy Executive Director of the NYS Thruway Authority, Laura Zaepfel, Vice President at Uniland Development and Paul Brown, President of the WNY Building Trades Association.

Sounds like this was pulled together in response to this and this.

The WNY Leaders for Peace Bridge Progress

Co-Chairs: Leonard DePrima, Laura Zaepfel, Paul Brown

Cliff Benson Robert Gioia John Koelmel Jonathan Dandes Anthony Conte Rocco Termini

Mark Croce Doug May Alan Pero Paul Ciminelli Victor Martucci Sam Savarino

Robbie Ann McPherson Matt Connors Colleen DiPirro David Rivera Geno Russi

Joel Giambra Kelly Thompson Robert Kresse James Newman Rev. Michael Chapman

Isn’t that an interesting collection of political, development, charitable, and union leaders? It’s as if someone went around and wanted to ensure that this humble group of leaders had enough juice to offer credibility and a second look at the chronic Peace Bridge stasis.

As far as I can tell, however, the most palpable public health problem affecting the community-at-large is a dire case of Peace Bridge Fatigue. Any excitement or public desire for a signature bridge or a crossing that looks world-class rather than second-rate has been beaten into apathy by lawsuits, arguments, the Common Tern, and general political dysfunction. As I suggested last year, it may instead be time to simply demolish the Peace Bridge altogether.

This all seems so 1999. Thanks for trying, though.

Trucks Use Bridges

6 Aug

An expanded inspections plaza, moved farther down Front Park, will speed the inspections process and minimize truck and car idling at the Peace Bridge. Trucks, incidentally, use bridges, and advances in clean diesel technology in recent years, starting with the total introduction of ultra-low sulfur diesel a few years ago, means that the trucks now are far cleaner than they were at any time in history. 

Andrew Cuomo is in a position whereby he has to act in the best interests of the state – not one certain activist group or neighborhood organization or city or county or region. He’s determined that speedier, more efficient inspections are important for everybody. 

The bridge isn’t going anywhere, and the status quo actually does more harm to people than it needs to. If you want asthma rates to decrease on the west side of Buffalo, I don’t know why you’d want to retain the current, antiquated inspection plaza and not want some sort of change. 

Demolish the Peace Bridge

19 Jun

Buffalo and Detroit have a lot in common. They’re both big Great Lakes cities that have become shadows of their former selves. They share similar socioeconomic problems, similar planning problems, similar fiscal issues, and both harken back to the days of America’s industrial heyday. 

But while Detroit is developing an image for being the heart of the American auto industry and making no excuses for it, Buffalo is instead relying on a more effete reliance on architecture, places that “matter”, and emotion to build its image in the 21st century.  It’s the difference between these two videos: 

 

Where one is brash and unapologetically so, the other is maudlin. While one looks forward, the other looks backwards. It is as stark a contrast between visions for rebranding similarly situated cities as you’ll find. 

It’s time to demolish the Peace Bridge. Between Detroit and Niagara County, they’ve got it all under control. 

For the “looking forward” crowd in Buffalo, one of the bigger embarrassments is the 20 year story of the Peace Bridge. Our cross-border traffic with Canada isn’t only important for importing and exporting goods, it’s somewhat important for travelers whom Buffalo is seeking to bring in from Canada to visit museums, eat at restaurants, and see architecture. The fact that – 20 years on – the Peace Bridge remains today on the American side almost exactly as it did in 1990 is a civic punch line. 

We went from twin span to signature span to signature companion span to shortened signature companion span to, “hey, maybe we can build a larger inspection plaza to get traffic moving and reduce inbound backups on the bridge.” None of these is likely to happen.  Opponents of the bridge are against expansion because several buildings – which the Peace Bridge Authority already owns – will be demolished to make way for it.  

But one of the other characteristics that Detroit shares with Buffalo is a river crossing with Canada. While Buffalo wrings its hands over a bridge expansion, Detroit just approved construction of a new bridge to Windsor – and it’s even more controversial there because in Detroit a private company runs a bridge and is vehemently opposed to the competition.  Bridging our connections to Canada – or improving the ones we have – may not be something that’s critically important now, but it’s something that would position Buffalo for future growth and expansion of cross-border trade and travel. 

Congressman Brian Higgins has been fighting for Peace Bridge expansion, and released a statement yesterday that was practically chiding Buffalo for a missed opportunity – one that Mayor Brown is abetting

Congressman Brian Higgins stood by the Peace Bridge in Buffalo and called on Western New York leaders, residents and businesses to join him in the fight against the inertia.  Higgins used Friday’s announcement of a deal for a new international border crossing between Detroit and Canada as an example of how delays and obstruction are costing this community jobs and economic opportunity. 

 “While Western New York is finding ways to block, other communities are finding ways to build,” said Congressman Higgins.  “The complacency and resistance to change that has been pervasive in Buffalo for fifty years will continue to cost us if we don’t act now.”

 In an agreement between the state of Michigan and Canada announced June 15, the two governments will move forward on construction of a New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.  As a part of the deal, Canada will fund Michigan’s share of the project, up to $550 million, toward the $2 billion span. 

 A study released by the Center for Automotive Research found that the Detroit project will create approximately 12,000 jobs per year during the 4-year construction phase and another 8,000 permanent jobs will be created in the vicinity of the new bridge and the greater region as a result of new economic activity. 

 Congressman Higgins, a champion for the addition of new capacity at the international Peace Bridge crossing between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario, added,  “Incessant squabbling  only leads to inertia.  Be it the waterfront, the Peace Bridge or the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, it is time to fight against the fight and together fight for progress and all the good that comes with it”…

…Higgins asserted, “Public infrastructure is a public responsibility. In addition to historically low rates of borrowing, the “cost acceleration” of delaying road and bridge repair increases by 500% after only two years. Put simply, a $5 million bridge repair project will cost $25 million in 2014. The time to rebuild America is now, actually right now.”

Al Coppola was once a State Senator and most recently known for threatening to move the “Pan Am House” from Delaware Avenue to a location near the Peace Bridge so as to halt any demolitions. (Then-Assemblyman Sam Hoyt had some choice words in reaction to that scheme

Coppola claims he’s now running as a Democrat to replace Mark Grisanti, and penned this article for Buffalo Rising. In short, Mr. Coppola argues not just for halting the expansion of the Peace Bridge, but for getting rid of it altogether. He also gets in a dig at the Peace Bridge Authority, arguing that they want to destroy a neighborhood to build a bigger duty free shop. It’s always best to demonize your opponent, rather than just argue your own point. 

It wasn’t the idea of anyone alive to put an international bridge crossing smack next to a residential neighborhood, but that’s what we have. To argue about noise pollution or emissions now is to argue for its removal, not for the status quo. It may be time, therefore, to demolish the Peace Bridge and dramatically expand capacity in Niagara County to connect the 405 to the I-190. 

A signature bridge is never, ever going to happen. Not in my lifetime, not in yours. Neither is an expanded plaza. Neither is the park that the New Millenium Group – which was once a big proponent of a signature span – was promoting. 

The Ambassador Bridge to Black Rock? Not going to happen. No one’s going to build a plaza and new interchange on the US side with the Scajaquada and 190 right there, particularly given the fact that the push now is to downgrade the Scajaquada to a boulevard of some sort.

While an ideal crossing would be across the river just south of Grand Island, so that it would connect up with the I-290 and I-190, that disturbs residential neighborhoods in Canada.

Instead, we should completely jettison the Peace Bridge expansion altogether and instead increase capacity at Queenston-Lewiston. That single span gets a tremendous amount of truck and vehicular traffic, and recently received an upgrade to five lanes. The Q-L bridge provides direct access on both sides of the span to a major highway; the 405 to the QEW on the Canadian side, and the I-190 on the US side.

If there was any semblance of forward-thinking on the part of the CVB, it would already have been in talks to develop and construct a gorgeous visitor’s center that is run locally – not from Albany. Lease some Thruway property from the Authority and give border crossers a reason to come to a whole host of attractions in Western New York. The fact that there is no “Welcome to New York” or “Welcome to WNY” center on this side of the border underscores just how backwards and simple our supposed tourism promoters are. They’re at Thruway rest areas, but not at the border. How patently stupid; you have to wait until you get to Pembroke or Angola – well on your way out of the metro area.

There comes a time when you just say “enough”. The Peace Bridge project has spent ten years in environmental review, design review, and negotiations over the now-dead shared border management. We can sit and wait another few years for a new administration to change its mind, but it’s been almost ten years now that nothing tangible has happened. The preservation community has drawn a line in the sand as far as the neighborhood that would be adversely affected by a new plaza on the Buffalo side, and – let’s be honest – scary Al Coppola’s scary threat to move his shack to the west side is scary persuasive. 

So screw it. Enough. Everybody wins.

Expand the Queenston-Lewiston bridge with a second, signature span across the Niagara River, right at the escarpment with a gorgeous view of the meandering river leading to Youngstown, and Lake Ontario beyond. Maybe two spans, and we demolish the Peace Bridge.  This way, Niagara County can benefit from cross-border trade and traffic, and Buffalo can figure out ways to get Canadian visitors to make their way south from the outlet mall and west from the Walden Galleria. 


//

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Rewind: Good News for Buffalo (2004)

28 Sep

This is actually very good news for Buffalo. In my opinion, it’s tantamount to placing the cornerstone on the new Peace Bridge.

WASHINGTON – The United States and Canada on Friday announced a pilot project at the Peace Bridge that will shift U.S. Customs and Immigration officers to Fort Erie, Ont., where they will inspect all U.S.-bound cars and trucks.This means that the primary and secondary inspections of vehicles entering the country being done on Buffalo’s West Side will – at a date to be determined – be carried out at the big preclearance yard across the Niagara River in Canada.

Ideally, when the program is implemented, U.S.-bound cars and trucks will be able to roll across the bridge into Buffalo without stopping for tolls or inspections and proceed directly to the Niagara Thruway or into the city.

Besides making Buffalo a more convenient and economical entry point for commerce and tourism, the move will also sharply reduce pollution and noise from idling vehicles.

(Originally published on December 18, 2004).

All Quiet Along This Front

21 Sep

Anyone else notice that nobody is complaining about anything anymore?

Drawing courtesy Sven Yrvind at http://www.yrvind.com

Let me be more specific. While Washington is more shrill than ever, we here in Buffalo and Western New York seem to be more sedate. We’ve followed Jules’ advice and chilled this mother out. Not hope (false or not) for the future, but not resignation and apathetic despair either. Just . . . even keel. Whether this break is a lull, a calm before the storm, or more long lasting is impossible to know. But locally, nobody seems to be too riled up, and this is in stark contrast to the last decade.

Maybe it’s because the lightning rod projects have finally drawn towards a conclusion. Mark Croce, by all accounts, is pouring real money into the Statler and bringing it back. That was the last item in the Silver Bullet checklist of Buffalo. The Peace Bridge second span is dead. The Seneca Casino downtown is morphed into a smaller project, sans hotel, that seeks to embrace businesses in the growing neighborhood. Canalside is poking along, and most citizens seem more interested in enjoying sunshine on the water and a new concert series than get worked up over a couple hundred grand to over-priced Fred Kent and company. The Medical Campus adds new buildings every couple months, and UB 2020 has passed in an abbreviated form; the ink had barely dried on Cuomo’s signature and already the silence was deafening from all sides, for and against. Even Benderson’s “lifestyle center” on Maple died with a whimper. The next Silver Bullet checklist is currently being drawn up – for now it only includes new bridges across the Buffalo River to connect the Inner and Outer Harbors. Perhaps the collective bile will rise as new projects are added. 

Maybe it’s because the instigators have faded away, in victory, defeat or irrelevance. Paladino has mostly kept his turds out of punchbowls since his drubbing. Williams is out as Buffalo Schools Superintendent, Simpson is gone from UB, and Quinn from the ECHDC. I haven’t heard Tim Tielman’s name in months, and Goldman faded as quickly as the paint job on the Adirondack chairs. Esmonde took a (partial) buyout and no one except the insiders care if Lenihan follows the governor’s career advice or not.

Maybe it’s because shoes have yet to drop. The HSBC pullout from Buffalo seemed inevitable earlier in the year. Now First Niagara has a branch network and hockey arena to its name, and the first round of global HSBC cuts have passed us by unscathed. The tower HSBC occupies is in danger of emptying (Phillips Lytle moving two blocks if nothing else), but the main leases there expire in several years.

Maybe it’s because our political season is suddenly a snooze fest. Only six weeks out, Erie County residents may be excused for forgetting there is a County Executive race this November. In contrast to Senator Mark Grisanti’s race for a district that covers roughly the same territory, the recent special election to replace Sam Hoyt in the Assembly passed a week ago with barely a whisper. The local Tea Party groups stopped holding rallies at the waterfront, and no highway tolls are currently on the chopping block. We downsized our Erie County legislature with the help of a judge, and Maria Whyte finds herself stumping for upgrades to the county clerk’s office (Kathy Hochul presided over the Dark Ages?) instead of lighting evil fat cats on fire. We have a Governor who earns the begrudging respect of everyone in the room, and through pragmatic competent leadership, Albany’s tone has actually changed. Alan Bedenko’s coverage of petty politics in Clarence is as insightful as it is ordinary. A fascinating glimpse into crumb gathering to be sure, and effective at the ballot box, but the fish are so much smaller than what we’re used to.

Maybe it’s because no one of the above really matters all that much. It was a beautiful summer, the Bills are 2-0 (and so is my fantasy football team), and Terry Pegula has Sabres fans walking in a perpetual blissful dream world. The worst of the catholic church closings have passed, there are more urban gardens every year, the roads are full of construction workers (read: jobs), and Gordon Biersch has landed at the Galleria. Small improvements, from Riverfest Park to Buffalo River dredging to three-story brownstone renovations all over the city, are quietly creating a swelling avalanche of pebble-sized bits of good news.

Artwork by Christopher Carter

So the Jersey Livery renovation hasn’t happened yet. Neither has the Wingate Hotel of Doom. No one is chaining themselves to piles of bricks to thwart the wrecking ball. Instead, orphanages that I considered lost causes are undergoing rehab in forgotten corners of the city. The Tonawanda Powertrain workers are back, and GM is dumping in nearly a billion in new investment. The Great Recession was bad in Buffalo, but our 7.6% unemployment rate and tiny housing price growth is the envy of the nation.

Has this placated us? It’s not like every problem has gone away. We still have a caretaker, over-politicized mayor. We still have a shrinking population and blighted neighborhoods. A rash of industrial fires in residential neighborhoods have spurred the Clean Air Coalition of WNY to expose how little we know about air quality during major accidents.  But I hear little generally from the activist community locally. I’m not being asked to attend rallies to save anything, stop anything, or make anyone change their mind. 

Why? What do you think? Has the tone changed or have I missed it? I look forward to input and comments.

On Curses and Mind-Sets

12 Jul

It was Dan Shaughnessy, a sports columnist for the Boston Globe, who in 1990 popularized the “Curse of the Bambino” – that the sale of Babe Ruth from Boston to New York was responsible for the Red Sox’ failure to win a World Series – a curse broken in 2004.

In yesterday’s Buffalo News, Denise Jewell Gee suggests that Buffalo has its own curse – she calls it the “Curse of the Grand Announcement”.  It’s a story we’re all familiar with in this town – big announcement, lots of politicians, promises of big things beginning imminently, a lurch into the present. Peace Bridge, Bass Pro, Metro Rail, Bashar Issa, etc.

She’s right, of course.  We often make big announcements before all our ducks are lined up in the correct row, and invariably something goes wrong. Or the right people with the right connections complain effectively enough. Or the money dries up. Or the byzantine environmental regulations are invoked through litigation. Or we give up and crowdsource.

It’s a familiar refrain, but Gee concludes her piece thusly:

The reality is, each of these disappointments has been of our own making. We’ve chased after retail outlets not worth chasing. We’ve fallen for so-called developers whose talk was cheap. We’ve dilly-dallied on decisions until time or money ran out.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ve learned a thing or two from all these letdowns.

We’ve come to recognize that organic progress is far better than big dreams bound to go bust. We’ve learned to celebrate all we have, rather than all that’s planned. We’ve seen that a grand announcement is not nearly as important as a grand opening.

In Boston, 86 years of believing the Red Sox were cursed evaporated with a 2004 World Series win. But that hex mentality never marred the city’s image. Officials even managed to complete a Christian Menn cable bridge along with one of the largest public infrastructure projects in history—despite mismanagement and serious delays in the “big dig” highway project.

In Buffalo, it’s never been a curse. It’s a mind-set. And we’re finally breaking free.

We are? How so? I see no evidence of us breaking free from any mind-set.  If anything, the freshness of the news that there will be no new Peace Bridge is a palpable indication of the strength of that “don’t” mind-set.  The ECHDC is holding what they’re literally calling “crowdsourcing” workshops with respect to the proposed at-grade crossing from the inner to outer harbor. What is going to happen on the Aud and Donovan blocks is still unsettled. The Statler went from Issa to dead to possible floor-by-floor rehabilitation.  The Lafayette Hotel is due a renovation. Maybe. AM&A remains empty. We’re great at dreaming up stuff, bad at implementing it.

So, no. I don’t see any indication that we’re breaking free of any mind-set. If anything, it’s gotten worse.

Which brings me to another point.

Critical thinking and analysis has a place in the local blogosphere and Twitterverse, but when it happens, its practitioners are commonly derided as negative haters. The Bashar Issa fiasco is a perfect example. He came to town with nice clothes, smooth talk, daddy’s money, a lot of debt, no real accomplishments, and said stuff people wanted to hear. New tower! New Statler! Parking under Niagara Square! It turned out he was an Iraqi-Mancunian version of the “monorail” guy from the Simpsons.

Yet we were skeptical and critical, while others were pushing and publishing his BS completely uncritically. It came, therefore, as no surprise that he was sound and fury, signifying nothing. It came as no surprise that he’s now a bankrupt charged with gross negligence and manslaughter.

There’s a lot of snake-oil being sold in town, and there’s too many people around who are desperate for happy things and good news that the claims and promises aren’t vetted, much less criticized.  I see no indication that this is changing. It’s not a question of being “pro” or “con”, by the way. When a certain population in town is against Bass Pro or massive improvements to Route 5 on the Outer Harbor, they are cheered as visionaries, even when they’re quite obviously lying or making stuff up. When a crowdsourcing advocate for “placemaking” comes to town, our public benefit corporation for building out the waterfront is manipulated into taking him seriously and paying him six figures for a Powerpoint made up of fantasies and Google Image Searches. Yet when a different population expresses an opinion about regional development (or lack thereof), they are derided by the first group as haters, suburban malcontents, and ignoramuses.

No, the mind-set isn’t changing. If anything, it’s getting worse.