A polite golf clap is in order for Donn Esmonde, who here touts the heavy lift that Mark Goldman unilaterally assumed for himself late last year in promoting a snake-oil salesman’s unscientific, unproven “lighter, faster, cheaper” model of “economic development”. His Wednesday column about Canal Side is something I’m calling “congratubation”, or self-congratulation. Let’s read Donn and Mark pat themselves firmly on their own backs.
Of course, it’s working. It worked everywhere else. There’s no secret recipe or special formula. We have sun, sky and—most importantly— water. Just add a snack shack, put out some brightly colored Adirondack chairs, set up a kids’ space, mix in activities. All of a sudden, we have a down-town waterfront that people want to go to.
Yes, of course! It’s so simple, really. The highest and best use for that property is to cobble the streets, throw in some flexible lawns, erect a shack (and invite a bunch of politicos to cut its ribbon), and all done! And think of all the activities and sand-play that’ll take place down there in, say, February! It’ll be a veritable mad house when the winds whip in off the frozen lake and the lunchtime crowd eats its shack lunch al fresco whilst developing a nasty case of frostbite.
picture shack pictures
And consider all the other great and not-so-great waterfronts throughout America.
Even Yonkers has us beat.
Just like a lot of people thought we would, once we got past our magic-bullet fixation. There’s no need to overthink it. To oversubsidize it. To overbuild it.
“It’s ironic,” said Mark Goldman, the activist/entrepreneur whose brainstorm last year changed the waterfront course. “The major economic-development success story in our community this year involves $3,000 worth of Adirondack chairs.”
Apart from being a one-shot boon to Adirondack chair suppliers, manufacturers, and wholesalers, what economic benefit, exactly, is derived? Adirondack chairs are wonderful, don’t get me wrong. They let people who forgot their own chairs to use a publicly supplied chair, sit back, and watch something happen. Or relax. Or hang out. It’s all very nice, but there is no economic activity whatsoever being generated from “sitting back”. Who’s getting paid? Who’s selling something? Who’s buying something? Who’s employed? What economic transactions are taking place thanks to people loitering relaxedly in an Adirondack chair?
UPDATE: Here’s an interview we did with the ECHDC’s President, Tom Dee, on the day the snack shack opened:
Monday afternoon, more than 100 people walked or lounged at Erie Canal Harbor. A warm breeze ruffled a line of colored banners. Boats glided by on the Buffalo River. Folks lined up for sandwiches and ice cream at Clinton’s Dish—named for the governor who, at this site in 1825, opened the canal that transformed America. (Maybe someday we’ll get a sign that commemorates the fact.)
Oh, my heavens! Over 100 people?! How will we control these throngs if they persist?
And on Clinton Dish’s opening day, I too lined up for lunch. For 20 minutes. By the time they got around to scooping out Perry’s for a whopping gaggle of 6 (SIX!1!) kids, my lunch hour was already all but over. I had time to leave with a bag of barbecue chips and a Diet Coke. But it was an authentic and real bag of chips and bottle of Coke. It was unsullied by subsidized big-box chips or car-oriented Cokes. These were hand-delivered, artisanally manufactured chips and Coke that keep Buffalo unique and real, not fake like Cleveland or Boston.
Am I laying it on too thickly? Well, I’m sick of being pissed.
It has been nearly a year since Bass Pro, after years of arrested development, mercifully cut bait. It has been eight months since the landmark gathering at City Honors School, when Fred Kent of the Project for Public Spaces outlined a “lighter, quicker, cheaper” philosophy of waterfront development. The event, organized by Goldman, underlined what progressives had pleaded for years: Get over the heavy-subsidy, magic-bullet, lots-of-parking fixation. Instead, create a place where people want to go, and let human nature—and market forces— take over. Step-by-smaller-step.
Call this the Summer of Sensibility. The snack stand and mini-“beach” and Adirondack chairs and kids’ space and random activities—from yoga to Zumba classes—were spawned in focus groups and in public forums. The Erie Canal Harbor board, bereft of a plan after Bass Pro’s bailout, followed the people’s lead. Citizens committees—one includes Goldman, preservationist Tim Tielman and Buffalo Rising’s Newell Nussbaumer —guided the board’s hand. Finally, we’re getting the waterfront we deserve.
That’s funny. In my opinion, Fred Kent and the PPS are guilty of defrauding the taxpayers of New York State, and our public benefit corporation, the ECHDC of thousands of dollars. They accomplished absolutely nothing that couldn’t have been accomplished for a few hundred dollars. I can do a Google image search for “waterfront fun”, too. I can cobble together an unwieldly Powerpoint presentation, too. I can make stuff up out of thin air like, “the Power of 10”, too. I can run a meeting where people put sticky notes on blow-up renderings, too. And I would have done it for a fraction of what PPS did. What a great scam.
The last time Esmonde praised Kent’s scam, I wrote this:
That’s why Donn Esmonde giddily wrote this column a few days earlier, during one of the PPS’ “let’s talk benches” mixers.
BTW, here’s Kent’s Google Image Search, if you missed it the first time. You paid for it.
“You can build a store anywhere,” Skulski noted. “Why would you want to stick it by the water, and take up this space? It goes against the whole point of a waterfront.”
Esmonde is being disingenuous here. No one has been talking about building a store of any kind on the grassy portion of the Central Wharf for about four years. (Click here for a post I wrote last year, which links to just about everything I’ve ever written about Bass Pro, ever.) Bass Pro was most recently supposed to go on the Aud block, which as of this writing remains a giant pile of gravel and a puddle.
Amen. Granted, nobody is yet printing money at Erie Canal Harbor. But, at little cost and with a lot of imagination, we’re creating a downtown waterfront where people want to be. Where people go, commerce will follow.
Really? How? To whom do I apply to open a business? A storefront? To park a cart of some kind? Whom do I contact for a permit? Whom must I bribe in order to grease the skids? What are the specific requirements for creating any economic activity at Canal Side? Where can I find the real estate or leasing listings for properties at Canal Side? How is commerce supposed to follow where there’s no plan in place for commerce to take place? Well, I’m sure Donn knows. But Goddamnit, NO CHAINS!
“This is creating demand,” Goldman said, “instead of using massive subsidies to create supply, and hoping that the demand follows.
What difference does it make? If an Adirondack chair and a snack shack is such a massive draw, as Esmonde and Goldman congratubate themselves about, (during about 4 months of a 12 month year), wouldn’t a Bass Pro (or other retailer – say, LL Bean) draw in even MORE people? What about a cafe? A bar? A development where businesses could execute leases and sell things, or bring people to offices, or build apartments?
“It is not just people having picnics, it is good economic-development strategy,” Goldman added. “You start small, and it snowballs. By next summer, you’ll see private businesses lining up to come down—instead of asking for big, fat subsidies.”
Lighter, quicker, cheaper. Already, it’s working
Notice the palpable absence of any discussion from either Goldman or Esmonde about what happens when the snow starts flying. Which here could be any time between October and April.
Buffalo, you’ve been punk’d.