Tag Archives: tourism

Welcome To Buffalo, You Philistines

19 Mar

By Patrick Blake via the AV Photo Daily Flickr Group

I literally cringed while I read this. Not figuratively – but “for real”. 

The title of the piece itself is cringeworthy in its clumsiness – “Welcome to Buffalo, folks, you’re in for a nice surprise”. People will be swarming into town to watch the basketball.  Many of them have never been here. Certainly some are thinking, “Buffalo? Really?” For those reasons, I wouldn’t at all blame the local convention & visitors’ bureau from retaining the services of an ad agency to develop a slick handout to direct NCAA spectators to places and things to do whilst not watching the basketball. 

But the Buffalo News’ most insufferable nominal columnist, Donn Esmonde, couldn’t resist getting into the act. Knowing Buffalo, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if they took today’s column and reprinted it in the “welcome to Buffalo NCAA people” brochure. Esmonde can’t help himself – he is a scold even when trying to put a welcoming face on an embarrassing downtown.  And it reads like a 7th grader’s book report. 

Congratulations, NCAA visitors. You have drawn the long straw, hit the proverbial jackpot. An extended weekend in Buffalo may not seem like an ideal destination. Yet what awaits you is not just a basketball-filled 72 hours, but a journey of discovery.

Welcome to Buffalo, the best-kept civic secret in America. By the time you leave Sunday, you will have been enlightened, transformed, rebirthed and metamorphosed. OK, maybe we can’t promise a complete epiphany. But we can guarantee you a good time – and I suspect your perception of our city will change for the better.

The set-up here is interesting because it jokingly oversells what these visitors are going to experience, which is somewhat limited in scope.  They’re not coming to Buffalo to come to Buffalo, they’re coming here for the basketball, to eat food, drink beverages, and to sleep.  Everything else – wings, Falls, transformation, enlightenment, rebirth, metamorphosis – is secondary. Maybe tertiary. 

They don’t call it the City of Good Neighbors for nothing. Here is the happy convergence of quality of life, culture and history, wrapped around a smaller-city, Midwestern-style bonhomie. You will have no problem soliciting dinner suggestions from locals or driving directions – which may include a simple “follow me.”

Yet the games will be played at the First Niagara Center in the cold. The radius of walkable destinations between games is limited, and it’s more likely that people will end up at the Buffalo Creek Casino than diving in head-first into our “bonhomie”. 

Hope springs eternal for the heads of cultural institutions, but few hoops fans will spend their spare time perusing Picassos at our art museum, checking out our Olmsted-designed parks system or marveling at our collection of Frank Lloyd Wright masterpieces. So we will stick to visitor basics: Food, drink, what makes Buffalo special and What to Do on Game-Free Friday.

That’s actually pretty self-aware. Esmonde is right – they’re not here for parks (the temperature will be quite cold this weekend) or architecture. They’re here for the basketball.  

Esmonde goes on to discuss the Buffalo wing and our very late last call, pointing out Chippewa Street as our binge-drinking strip of note.  He also gives an approving nod towards the dram shops on Allen. Then…

Buffalo is no Styrofoam Sun Belt burg, and downtown drips with character – much of it visible from the Metro Rail cars ferrying fans to the arena. The reddish-orange, terra cotta 1896 Guaranty Building was one of America’s first skyscrapers. The invention of structural steel made possible Louis Sullivan’s masterwork and enabled the vertical growth of cities.

The yellowish dome of the M&T Bank building is actual 23.75-carat gold leaf. The last roof regilding cost a half-million dollars, so don’t try this at home.

Up the block from Lafayette Square, the art deco City Hall poses a broad-shouldered, “bring it on” challenge to whatever (yes, we get a little snow) blows in from Lake Erie.

Hey, visitor from the Sun Belt – please allow our glib, local asshole of a part-time columnist to denigrate where you live! Ha ha! Welcome to Buffalo, folks from New Orleans, Orlando, Miami, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tucson, and other “Styrofoam Sun Belt burgs”! On the one hand, it shows me that Esmonde is a horrible traveler, if he goes anywhere at all other than his suburban sprawl home in Florida. Each and every one of the aforementioned cities in the “Sun Belt” are drenched with culture. It might be different from that we have in Buffalo or the Northeast, but it’s worth finding and is no less fascinating than some dreary history lesson about scooping grain or working in a steel mill. It takes interest and effort. 

How deranged do you have to be to puff your city by denigrating someone else’s? 

History doubles-down barely a court-length from the First Niagara Center doors. The pedestrian bridge at Buffalo River’s edge – near the World War II destroyer USS The Sullivans – spans the Erie Canal’s western terminus, where DeWitt Clinton in 1826 opened the waterway that transformed America.

The hulking grain elevator across the river is a remnant of the Great Lakes trade that built Delaware Avenue’s “millionaires’ row” of mansions. Hang a right when leaving the arena to find handful of bars and restaurants, tucked into canal-era buildings in the revived Cobblestone District. And yes, visiting Milwaukee fans, we haven’t – unlike you – taken down our elevated, waterfront-stifling Skyway (yet).

Again. Visitors don’t give a shit about the Skyway. They don’t care why it’s there, why it’s not taken down, or anything of the sort. The Skyway is certainly an eyesore, but it and the elevated 190 – on or under which visitors will have to tread to get to the First Niagara Center –  isn’t the sine qua non of Buffalo’s downtown decline. If you’re writing this for visitors, keep our civic debates out of it. No one cares. “Where” Magazine in your hotel room isn’t replete with civic debates about elevated highways, but food, drink, shopping, and attractions. 

There is natural wonder, as well. The partly frozen splendor of Niagara Falls is just a 25-minute drive up Interstate 190. But you can’t get to the glitzier Canadian side unless you packed a passport.

The days of getting waved on by customs officials after flashing a driver’s license are long gone.

Once an insider’s town of nook-and-cranny bars and neighborhood restaurants, Buffalo now offers more obvious charms. The reclaimed 1904 Hotel @ The Lafayette – with in-house bars and restaurants – is the jewel of a host of downtown building resurrections.

Funny thing that – we’re endlessly impressed with ourselves for taking an old flophouse and turning it into something urbane white people would want to visit. An old building with bars and restaurants? Why they even have that in “Styrofoam Sun Belt” cities!

Chippewa Street’s emergence a generation ago gave Buffalo a go-to bar/restaurant district. The Avant is an upscale hotel with high-end condos. Yet downtown remains a work in progress. Cranes hover over the embryonic HarborCenter hotel/restaurant/ice rink complex outside the First Niagara Center doors – the brainstorm of Sabres owner Terry Pegula. Behind a nearby construction fence, workers are replicating the old canal path that will mark an entertainment district.

They don’t fucking care. You already mentioned Chippewa Street as our local binge-drinking vomitorium, and the Avant is special for us, but not for visitors. To someone from out of town, the Avant is no more or less worthy of mention than the Hampton Inn at Chippewa and Allen. The HarborCenter isn’t yet open and will confuse the hell out of people relying on Google Maps to help navigate the area around the arena. 

More hotels are in the making. Swing by the next time the tournament swings through, to see the finished product.

Until then, enjoy the wonder that we think is Buffalo. Despite what you might have thought, you drew the long straw.

The only line missing is, “I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it”. 

Buffalo stands on its own merits (and demerits). Allen Street is great. Chippewa might be great for some. But if we could stop insulting other places to make ourselves feel better about Buffalo, that would be great. 

As an aside, I read every one of Esmonde’s columns. That’s usually about 2 per week. I don’t think I’ve written a commentary about any of them since September when I exposed his undisclosed chumminess with a quoted source and his sprawl-tastic Florida home. I certainly could have – he’s insufferable 99% of the time – but didn’t. I wasn’t going to write about this, either, until I got to the “Sun Belt” line. Who in their right mind insults the supposed, perceived, subjective inauthenticity of other cities? For what purpose? For a smug sense of self-satisfaction – parroting the “for real” and “sense of place” bullshit marketing buzzwords that we actually use now in real life to market this city to prospective visitors? 

Buffalo as a place to visit stands and falls on its own merits and demerits. If you want people to visit and to like it, don’t be a prat about it – just get to what’s to like.  

We were once stranded in Dallas because while en route from California to Boston, our destination was hit with a 30″ snowstorm. We ended up stuck for 3 or 4 days and we were lucky enough to have the scratch to afford a rental car and a hotel room. So, we explored Dallas. This was 1996, so there were no smartphones and we didn’t have any sort of internet access. We got ideas for things to see from memory (Book Depository, Southfork) or from brochures we found in the hotel (Fort Worth Stockyards, museums in the city), and just from exploring with no set destination in mind. Had I read something in a Dallas paper denigrating Boston, I’d have been pissed off and thought, “what a bitter, inhospitable place”. 

So, I don’t have a problem with Esmonde or anyone else writing a column welcoming basketball fans from around the world. But to criticize an entire swath of the US as inauthentic in order to sell your city as “real” is outrageous and insulting. My animus for Esmonde is well-known and well-documented, but I honestly don’t wake up twice a week rubbing my hands together like a Hanna-Barbera villain in anticipation of how I can bitchslap him in a blog post. 

Our downtown is an embarrassment, but small pockets here and there are getting better. But a visitor doesn’t give a shit about how, say, the Lafayette came about or how it’s not as bad as it was. They just want to know where it is that’s fun, cool, or interesting to go. Does the Lafayette have a nice restaurant? Swell! How do I get there? Do I walk? Is there parking? Do I take a cab? Do I take the trolley? Where does that trolley go, incidentally? Is there a goddamn bus map I can have? Are you running a shuttle bus to get me from the arena to a destination, and then back again in time to catch my next game? If not, is that bus with that car salesman on the side of it in any way reliable? How often do they come? When is the next one coming? In my cookie-cutter Sun Belt city, the bus stops are sheltered and there’s a sign that tells you in real time when the next one will stop here. 

The last thing they’re thinking about is Louis Sullivan, a replica “canal terminus” to nowhere, (in mid-30s weather and rain), and whether Buffalo is “authentic” or not.

America’s Best Designed City

2 Oct

This is a very nice video, beautifully shot and edited. While I have some issues with its content, I’m wondering who, exactly, is its intended audience? It reinforces for people the notion that you’re not a moron for wanting to live here which is, in and of itself, valuable, but at the end it implores an unidentified person to come and “see it emerging”, and to “feed our enthusiasm and give us courage” and that you can come and “get involved very quickly” and that it’s open to “new ideas”. I beg to differ on that latter point. 

Billed as a movie about the “best designed city” in America, it’s sponsored by a lot of organizations that employ/ed the people being interviewed, and goes off on a few tangents about how we made mistakes with respect to the Kensington, the Scajaquada, the 190, and the Skyway. 

What is the intended audience here? Visitors? People looking to move here? City residents as a love letter to themselves? I don’t get it. Yes, downtown has some gorgeous buildings – separated by massive surface parking lots and no reasonable parking plan, despite a city planner being featured in the video talking about “streetcars” and removing the 190. Yes, Elmwood is nice and walkable. Yes, Larkin is a very nice development that is removed enough from the downtown core that it has a London cab to shuttle workers to where other things are. Yes, Buffalo has made a lot of progress on certain things in the last decade or so, but the majority of residents and neighborhoods live in abject poverty, fear, and dependent jobless hopelessness. Downtown, Elmwood, and its immediate surroundings are touted prominently, but the majority of the city and her residents are not mentioned, except to blame boarded-up east side houses on the Kensington Expressway. 

Buffalo is still a poor field-office city. It’s still a city that is dependent on the charity of foundations set up by the ultra-wealthy families of long-gone industries that used to employ people. Buffalo is still a place that needs a Trico factory more than it needs an Oshei Foundation to tell it what to do. 

Anyway, John Paget is a very talented filmmaker and he made a very nice video. I think it could have used a writer, though. 

Canalside & a Sense of Tacky Place

10 Jan

Both Chris and I have written extensively over the past several years about what’s going on at the Inner Harbor. (Unfortunately, links will have to wait).

In late 2010, the planning for Canalside was co-opted by a crowdsourcing process that provided all of the ills of central planning with none of the decision-making efficiency. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a facile “placemaking” exercise by uncredentialed huckster Fred Kent of the Partnership for Public Spaces, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation retained consultants to help flesh out the historical/cultural aspects of the Canalside project.

While the district had historically been a wetter, be-bricked version of Mos Eisley, the “history” that will be reproduced at Canalside was always going to be sanitized through contemporary biases.  While Chris and I advocated for the notion of giving people things to do and see, we were vilified for our suburban-colored glasses and our cultural, architectural, and artistic ignorance.

We merely traded a political planning elite for a cultural planning elite.

And the cultural elite’s Cultural Masterplan is out & embedded below.

Initially, Canalside will feature a Children’s Museum, which will fill a gaping hole in our city – one that Explore & More temporarily filled by bringing certain exhibits to a tent at Canalside during the temperate months. It was like the #Occupy version of a children’s museum. But another feature is something Mark Goldman personally lobbied for incessantly – a “solar powered carousel”, and an interpretive “how Buffalo fed America” look back at the times before the St. Lawrence Seaway and interstate network.

When it comes to the historical significance of the canal terminus, there’s a fine line between education and nostalgia porn.

Longer term, the plan is in deep Niagara Falls fail territory with a “4D theater production” depicting a balloon ride, which will “immerse visitors in a ‘you are there’ journey, with 4D effects such as falling snow, wind gusts, rumbling seats, scents, surround sound…”  The cost of re-making the “MOM” ride at Massachusetts’ Jordan’s Furniture and the 4D rides in the Falls will be $25 million, plus operating costs of about $1.3 – 1.7 million per year.

$25 million to take something that was supposed to be “authentic” and give one a “sense of place” and turn it into sideshow tack and a snack shack. This entire placemaking exercise has been an absolute crock of crowdsourcing nonsense that has let dozens of unelected people with tiny constituencies promote their personal biases and prejudices in the name of the entire community.

They sold us on “authentic”, and “lighter, quicker, cheaper”. We’re getting fake, phony tack. Where’s the sense of place?

Does this follow the 2004 Master Plan?


Sense of Place if Buffalo is Jurassic Park


CanalSide Cultural Masterplan Final Report

A presentation to accompany the report is here:

Cultural Master Plan Presentation(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

On a side note, renderings of a summertime and wintertime Aud block at Canalside look quite inviting. Let’s stick to this:

Artist Rendering of Aud Block in Summer with Public Canals

Artist Rendering of Aud Block in Winter with Public Canals

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Market Buffalo By Dissing Cleveland? Brilliant!

17 Jun

Here’s what Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, the chairwoman of the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors’ Bureau (or whatever its name is now), had to say about what a rousing success and great idea “Buffalo: For Real” is:

It is not intended to be local … It is not intended to create civic pride. It is intended for a targeted market that we think has a lot of value…

…“Unlike Cleveland that really just has the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to hang its hat on, we’ve got so many other assets to build off of,” Gallagher-Cohen said.

Setting aside how conceitedly horrible the “Buffalo: For Real” introductory video was – the video that was designed specifically to define the underlying “marketing” campaign, denigrating another rust belt city seems hardly the best way to promote Buffalo.

Ask any average American if they’ve heard of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Chances are they’ll not only have heard of it, but they’ll probably also be a fan of at least one inductee.

Now ask any average American if they’ve heard of the Darwin Martin House, or the Albright-Knox. What they’ll have heard of is snow, wings, Bills, and Sabres. Maybe rust and decline, if they’re particularly well-informed.

Cleveland has 400,000 residents in its city proper. It has NBA Basketball, NFL Football, and ML Baseball – all within the downtown core. From its Wikipedia entry:

Cleveland is home to Playhouse Square Center, the second largest performing arts center in the United States behind New York’s Lincoln Center. Playhouse Square includes the StatePalaceAllenHanna, and Ohio theaters within what is known as the Theater District of Downtown Cleveland. Playhouse Square’s resident performing arts companies include Opera Cleveland and the Great Lakes Theater Festival. The center also hosts various Broadway musicals, special concerts, speaking engagements, and other events throughout the year. One Playhouse Square, now the headquarters for Cleveland’s public broadcasters, was originally used as the broadcast studios of WJW Radio, where disc jockeyAlan Freed first popularized the term “rock and roll“. Located between Playhouse Square and University Circle are the Cleveland Play House and Karamu House, a well-known African American performing and fine arts center, both founded in the 1920s. Cleveland is also home to the Cleveland Orchestra, widely considered one of the finest orchestras in the world, and often referred to as the finest in the United States. It is one of the “Big Five” major orchestras in the United States. The Orchestra plays in Severance Hall during the winter and at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls during the summer. The city is also home to the Cleveland Pops Orchestra. There are two main art museums in Cleveland. The Cleveland Museum of Art is a major American art museum, with a collection that includes more than 40,000 works of art ranging over 6,000 years, from ancient masterpieces to contemporary piecesMuseum of Contemporary Art Cleveland showcases established and emerging artists, particularly from the Cleveland area, through hosting and producing temporary exhibitions. The Gordon Square Arts District on Detroit Road, in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood, features a movie theater called the Capitol Theatre and an off-off-Broadway playhouse, the Cleveland Public Theatre.

Click to enlarge

That’s just the fine art stuff. The entry for other tourism attractions includes:

…the Cleveland Botanical GardenCase Western Reserve UniversityUniversity HospitalsSeverance Hall, theCleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and the Western Reserve Historical Society. Cleveland is also home to the I. M. Pei-designed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located on the Lake Erie waterfront at North Coast Harbor downtown. Neighboring attractions include Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Great Lakes Science Center, the Steamship Mather Museum, and the USS Cod, a World War II submarine. Cleveland also has an attraction for visitors and fans of A Christmas StoryA Christmas Story House and Museum to see props, costumes, rooms, photos and everything referenced to a yuletide film classic from the mind of Jean Shepherd. Cleveland is home to many festivals throughout the year. Cultural festivals such as the annual Feast of the Assumption in the Little Italy neighborhood, the Harvest Festival in the Slavic Village neighborhood, and the more recent Cleveland Asian Festival in the Asia Town neighborhood are popular events. Vendors at the West Side Market in Ohio City offer many different ethnic foods for sale. Cleveland hosts an annual paradeon Saint Patrick’s Day that brings hundreds of thousands to the streets of downtown. The glass house at the Cleveland Botanical Garden recreates a Costa Rican rain forest.

Fashion Week Cleveland, the city’s annual fashion event, is one of the few internationally recognized fashion industry happenings in North America. The show is considered by many to be the best in the Midwest—perhaps second only to New York for fashion weeks in the US. In addition to the cultural festivals, Cleveland hosted the CMJ Rock Hall Music Fest, which featured national and local acts, including both established artists and up-and-coming acts, but the festival was discontinued in 2007 due to financial and manpower costs to the Rock Hall. The annual Ingenuity Fest, Notacon and TEDxCLE conference focus on the combination of art and technology. The Cleveland International Film Festival has been held annually since 1977, and it drew a record 66,476 people in March 2009. Cleveland also hosts an annual holiday display lighting and celebration, dubbed Winterfest, which is held downtown at the city’s historic hub, Public Square.

And what about that Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

  • Generates more than $107 million annually in economic impact.
  • Continues to draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to Cleveland each year; 90% of visitors to the Rock Hall come from outside of Cleveland.
  • Is the single, unique culture asset that differentiates Cleveland from other cities.
  • Has the highest attendance among halls of fame.

Try looking that information up for the Darwin Martin House.


Click to enlarge


I’m not saying Buffalo sucks.

I’m saying Cleveland doesn’t suck.

For the region’s person-in-charge-of-attracting-visitors to basically insult a city 2 hours down the 90 and fronting the same lake is just ridiculous.  Someone please put some grownups in charge of our local convention and visitors’ bureau. Please someone depoliticize it, hire professionals based on merit and stop the embarrassment.


Toronto Trending. For Real.

4 Jun

Here’s Toronto’s latest tourism effort. “Toronto Trending” uses Twitter and live Foursquare checkins to show what’s literally trending second by second.

Shame they didn’t crowdsource a video about architecture and the city’s past glories, like “real”, “authentic” places do.

Knee Jerk? Not Real.

1 Jun

Having proudly derided “Buffalo: For Real” here, I was interested to read this defense of the now-infamous slogan, penned by one of its pro bono creators, Joe Sweeney from local ad agency Travers Collins.

First, it speaks to Buffalo’s authenticity. After conducting some significant research, VBN realized that “cultural tourists” are the folks they should target with this new brand—people who visit a place to learn something, to feel the weight of history, to be inspired by human expression. People who would be intrigued by the prospect of seeing work by Wright, Sullivan, Richardson, Picasso, Kahlo and Burchfield, in a Rust Belt city known mainly for chicken wings and snow. “For Real” speaks to them directly, positioning Buffalo as a place where all of the sights are genuine, and none of the parks are themed.

Second, the line implicitly references the rampant skepticism that’s out there about our city. For far too long, when we’ve told out-of-towners that we love it here, they’ve responded incredulously — “For real?”

Now we have a comeback. For real, we love this place. For real, it’s beautiful. For real, it will move you.

I’m still having trouble deciphering what an “authentic” sight, is as compared with an inauthentic one.  But apart from the silly existential argument – if I can see it, isn’t it “real” and “authentic”? – the reason why this branding was so ripe for mockery has to do with something Buffalo is great at:

Even when we think we’re promoting and puffing the region, we do it in an apologetic way.

Excuses, excuses. We’re not as great as we once were, but we’re too poor and depressed to have torn it all down to make way for new stuff! We might have a dead downtown, but hey – no chains!

But these lines, earlier in the piece, stuck out:

I get the criticism, to an extent. Lord knows we should be critical of anything purporting to help our city. If we didn’t make our voices heard, we might have a fishing superstore dwarfing our historic waterfront. Plus, it’s tempting to make fun of a new “slogan,” especially when it’s for a place that’s a go-to punch line for bad comedians.

I think “purporting” is the key word in that passage. That video and this slogan merely purport to help the city. But they don’t. For the very select few who love old, dead buildings and architecture, they’ll love this campaign.  I’d be willing to bet that lots of people would come to Buffalo for a day trip or weekend from within a 200 mile radius if they knew there was something to do. (Wing Fest, Allentown Art Festival, etc.). I’d be willing to bet that efforts to attract people already in Niagara Falls or Niagara-on-the-Lake would also be lucrative and easy.

We have crappy signage, poor tourism information at or near the border crossings, (Ontario has staffed welcome centers off the QEW and 420), and some sort of ridiculous conceit about being “real”. We’re critical of this campaign because the campaign sucks, not because it “purports to help the city”.

And because we “made our voices heard”, there’s absolutely nothing – no fishing store, no nothing – on the Inner Harbor Canal Side parcels right now. Just some benches, some grass, some ruins.

I hope this kind of knee-jerk pessimism isn’t the lasting legacy of this marketing effort, because I really like “For Real.”

And another thing. It wasn’t “knee-jerk”; it wasn’t reflexive pessimism. It was a carefully thought-out, considered negative reaction to something silly.

Buffalo: It Gets Better #buffslogan

11 May

Yesterday morning, Visit Buffalo Niagara (f/k/a the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors’ Bureau) released its new branding idea for Buffalo.

Buffalo For Real.

According to news reports, this was “developed by a volunteer team of local advertising and marketing executives” and will promote the region’s “architecture, culture, museums and historical sites.”

County Executive Chris Collins has pushed throughout his administration to wrest control of the CVB and install his own hand-picked choices. Not surprisingly, he’s thrilled with their work-product, saying that “Buffalo For Real” is “exactly what this community needs at this point in time…It covers all of the treasures we have.” Drawing a parallel that no one’s ever drawn, he added, “We’re not Disney World. We’re not trying to be Disney World. I look at this branding campaign, and I say maybe I need to go see what this is all about.”

Sites such as the Olmsted Parks, the Roycroft campus in East Aurora and the Darwin Martin House can be powerful magnets for the empty-nesters and the highly educated “bifocal” class that are drawn to architectural and cultural attractions, Gallagher-Cohen said. That also includes travelers interested in gardening and those partial to independent local restaurants…

…”For people in that targeted demographic, we have the Disney World of cultural travel. Among that group, we have something to sell,” Gallagher-Cohen said. “You should come to Buffalo because you can also see Niagara Falls.”

Astonishing as it is to see how Chris Collins will be petulant and combative even when he’s pleased with something, his political ally, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown added, “This campaign pulls that all together…The product is as good as the community we are branding.”

The branding wasn’t done by a professional PR or advertising firm working pursuant to a paid contract. It was done by a committee of volunteers “on a shoestring“. I don’t doubt the professionalism or sincerity of the people who came together to dream this up, but there’s a reason not everything is designed by committee, and there’s a reason why PR and advertising agencies charge clients fees. If the politicians behind Visit Buffalo Niagara were serious about promoting the region in a professional way, they’d likely have solicited pitches for a campaign, and selected and retained their favorite.

There’s a video to accompany and introduce this new branding campaign, too:


It’s beautifully shot and produced. It makes the city look a lot prettier than it generally does. But I hate this video. Viscerally. I hate the Sarah Palin-lite “real America” conceit. I hate the constant repetition of “we were awesome once, we’ll be awesome again” and “we’re right on the cusp of a rebirth” type language. The subtext of that is, of course, that since we’re in an interregnum between periods of past and future greatness, we’re pretty mediocre right now. The plodding narration of what amounts to a long apologia for the region is tired, repetitive, and its content is jejune. Conceits, dull, repetition, a backhanded insult, and chock full of wistful feelings and nostalgia.

I’m so sick of hearing how great and important Buffalo once was, especially when it comes to promoting tourism. Who cares about how good it once was? I want to know what’s good NOW. If you’re someone looking to pop down to Buffalo from the Falls, or a day trip from a city that’s within a 3 or 4 hour radius of here, you need to know what there is to do NOW.

I didn’t like “Sense of Place” when it came out, and this new “Buffalo For Real” video reminds me a lot of the video that Mark Goldman commissioned to promote his personal vision for Buffalo’s waterfront.

In response, Twitter blew up yesterday with proposed slogans for Buffalo that are more appropriate than “Buffalo For Real”. A scan of the #buffslogan hashtag will reveal what was discussed (Buffalo: Like Canada Without the Free Medical; Buffalo: Let’s Pretend it Works), and the movement moved virally eastward, where Rochester-based tweeps came up with #rocslogan. (My entry was: “We Invented Wegmans. You’re Welcome“. Sarcasm and gallows humor is a great way to vent frustration at poor marketing choices and years of political, economic, and social stasis. Naturally, a few people got upset about “poisonous cynicism” and “downers” or “haters“.

Buffalo For Real is stupid. It’s stupid because if you add some punctuation, it becomes a negative slogan. (Buffalo. For Real?) It’s designed to market the region to one specific subset of traveler – old people who like to look at architecture, and to dine out at indy restaurants. It is almost exactly what Brian Castner referred to as the “Donn Esmonde plan” for promoting Buffalo in a piece he wrote about a year ago.

I love Buffalo and I’m an inveterate day-tripper. I have little kids and we don’t much give a crap about looking at buildings, instead preferring to see and do some fun stuff. In Cleveland, we go to the zoo, a museum, and do some shopping/browsing/walking. In Toronto, we go to the ROM, the AGO, the zoo, the CN Tower, and take strolls along Yonge or Queen West or the Kensington Market area. When we visit these types of places, we don’t much consider cities’ past or future greatness. We don’t much consider their political, economic, or social worries, much less pay attention to apologia for them. But if someone told me that a trip to Cleveland is a trip to “real America”, I’d think that to be quite obnoxious and presumptuous, implying that other places aren’t “real” or “authentic”.

Nostalgia and authenticity are what we fall back on to promote this region. Too bad they’re only important to small subsets of locals and travelers alike. A professional, apolitical convention and visitor’s bureau could probably come up with a reasonably effective way to market the region to all sorts of potential travelers, not just the older art ‘n architecture buffs. It’s designed to help the city-based intelligentsia feel good about Buffalo, and promotes the things that they hold dear. Hell, it even excluded our lovely, family-friendly zoo.

I’d also like to know why the CVB’s Twitter account features a picture of “Karen”, the woman who posts its Tweets. Why doesn’t it show something, oh, I don’t know, like Buffalo?!

The whole thing is thrown together and embarrassing. People will continue to visit, but it will mostly be expats and these “cultural tourists” everyone’s trying to attract. People will continue to visit, but it will be in spite of the CVB’s efforts, not because of them.

Obligatory Legalization of Marijuana Post on 4/20

20 Apr

Happy 4/20!  For you nerds out there who don’t know what today is, click through for the Wikipedia entry on the term which is maintained by the team from High Times magazine.

4204:20 or 4/20 (pronounced four-twenty) refers to consumption of cannabis and, by extension, a way to identify oneself with cannabis subculture. The notable day for these is April 20.

Since today is the national holiday for weed smokers everywhere, it seems natural to have an adult conversation about the legalization of marijuana and the positive effects such a decision would have on the local and regional economy.

Now, I’m not a regular consumer of marijuana, it’s just not my thing.  But I’m cool with people who do.  I also see the obvious economic benefits of legalization, especially in New York State.  Governor Andrew Cuomo projects that New York State will face a $2 Billion deficit in fiscal year 2012-2013.  This deficit remains after draconian cuts in the 2011-2012 budget lowered the projected deficit by $13 Billion.

The choice for Cuomo and the NY State Legislature is simple, either hike taxes on what revenue sources are left (us) or cut spending to the bone.  Since this is New York, cutting the budget beyond the 2012 cuts is not a realistic option.  How about a third option?  Why not write some legislation which would result in new taxable entities and products?

Step 1.  Legalize marijuana.

Step 2.  ???

Step 3.  Profit!

Leading financial minds and economists such as Milton Friedman, Nobel winner George Akerlof, George Soros, and Howard Margolis put out a study detailing the economic impact of legalization. They estimate that if just the same people who use marijuana now continued to use it once it was legal, the legalization would generate/save $12BN annually on a national level.  The study does not even account for the anticipated increased uses of medical marijuana, the industrial adoption of commercial grade hemp or the likely increase in recreational pot smokers/users if it were legal.  If you factor in those things, it pushes the numbers tenfold higher. Basically, it is a $120BN, annually renewable resource waiting to be tapped.

Of course, these estimates are based upon national economic figures, usage rates and such; but tremendous economic value could be derived from being the one state to legalize marijuana.

The study by Friedman notes that New York spends an estimated $564 Million annually in total marijuana prohibition costs (enforcement, judicial, incarceration), one of the highest rates in the nation.  The study also estimates that New York State would be one of the largest economic beneficiaries of a legalization plan, generating an additional $65 Million annually through the imposition of a low marijuana consumption tax.

Assuming that many of the prohibition costs are “legacy” costs in that the apparatus, personnel and capital expenditures related to enforcement can not be written off in one year, we’re looking at a 5-7 year draw down of prohibition costs while consumption tax revenue pours in.

$2.5 Billion in lower total costs for New York State over a five year period while generating $325 Million in revenue?  Sign me up.

I could write more, but I don’t want to sound like some high school debate club contestant detailing the economic benefits of hemp as a replacement for paper, plastics whilst marveling at the incredible tensile strength of hemp rope.

However, we are at a critical juncture in our collective history.  A time in which we need to be re-evaluating our consumerist culture, our massive reliance on credit and other issues too numerous to mention.  One of those issues is whether or not the continued prohibition of marijuana in this day and age makes sense. It has become a hot issue because many states are facing significant revenue crises and legalization is a way to raise new tax revenue and reduce the cost of arresting, prosecuting and housing marijuana criminals.

So, the discussion we need to have in this country is about the public health costs, taxation, changes in drug enforcement funding, changes in employment law, legalization or decriminalization and a multitude of different factors related to this change in public policy.

Let’s get over our ideological xenophobia and stereotypes and have a real discussion about the issue.

Urban Re-Renewal

14 Dec

Take a vacant mall a block away from one of America’s natural wonders, and turn over 1/3 of it to a culinary institute?

A culinary institute would be a great idea for a vacant mall.  The Summit Park Mall.  The Rainbow Mall, by contrast, really ought to be razed.  It hasn’t been actually used as a proper mall for about a decade, and it’s little more than a concrete Berlin Wall separating the rest of the city from the Falls.  It makes Buffalo’s Adams Mark look good.

It’s typical, isn’t it, that New York makes you pay to see the Falls.  You can drive around Goat Island for free, but even during the denuded winter, you won’t catch a glimpse of water falling over a cliff.  You have to pay to park your car and walk over to the Falls.  On the better-tended Canadian side, you can drive along the brink of the escarpment and see both Falls for free.  If you choose to get out and walk around, you can.  But you don’t have to.

I guess it’s time to concede the fact that people won’t come to the New York side to check out the Falls partly because we have our hand out and don’t make it easy.  Canadians do, however, come to the American side in their millions to go shopping.  So, let’s embrace that and make it easy for them to cross, to park, to shop, and to see the Falls if they choose to.

The Wintergarden is gone, so should its adjacent “mall”.  The areas in yellow are frankly a waste.  For people to walk from the Falls to the Seneca’s casino, they get to walk between some déclassé hotels  and the side of a “convention center”.  There’s nothing to stop and do along the way.  Just a pretty cobbled path to go spend some money at a Seneca exclave. Everything in the area in yellow, bounded for the most part by Niagara Street, Rainbow Boulevard, and 3rd Street, is either a waste of that space or second-class, and we have mid-20th-century urban renewal ideas to thank for that.  60 years ago, that area was a pretty thriving downtown.  The cost?  The Niagara Community Forum breaks it down:

Hooker (glass cube) Headquarters $13,200,000
Currently empty from the 3 to 9th floor

Convention Center $43,000,000
Never lived up to expectations
Taken over by Seneca Casino

Falls Street Faire/Falls Street Station $23,000,000
Used briefly. Falls Street Faire was redone into
a Conference Center for an additional 18Million.
Falls Street Station is partially occupied by TeleTech

Splash Park $12,000,000
Part of Niagara Venture (Falls St. Faire, Falls St. Station,
And Niagara Splash Park). Used as a parking lot by the
Seneca Casino.

Wintergarden $7,800,000
Torn down. Once separated Falls Street East and West.

Turtle $4,000,000
Native American Center. Currently unused.

Rainbow Centre and Parking Ramp $12,000,000
Centre currently empty. Ramp never solvent.

City Parking Ramp $3,400,000
Gone. Surface parking lot.

A failure, by any measure.  First off, I would ban surface parking lots from the area in yellow.  That means you, Comfort Inn.  A few new and modern, intelligently placed parking garages should be constructed to serve that area.  Then, as the Niagara Community Forum suggests, the area in yellow should be transformed into an area where people would want to frankly come and drop some money.  The outlets on Military Avenue may have some great shopping, but remember that Canadians will drive all the way down to Cheektowaga to shop, as well.  Restoration of the original city grid would be a good start, and Paladino’s condo tower can be sort of an anchor for the whole project.

Frankly, what’s needed is something that competes with Canal Side.  A bit flashy, but more low-key than the cheese of, say, Clifton Hill.

(Photograph from National Harbor, MD)

(Also, why exactly isn’t Niagara Falls State Park a National Park?)

Pam & Jim Get Married, eh?

25 Sep

The local tourism folks and the Niagara Falls people have been all atwitter about the fact that Pam Beesly and Jim Halpert – two fictional characters from TV’s The Office – are getting married in Niagara Falls, NY.

The team never once considered the Canadian side of the Falls, Berti said. “It never even crossed their minds.”

The funny thing is that they have a phony wedding website up, and it has a “things to do in the area” section.

With the exception of the Maid of the Mist, which is binational, every single “thing to do” is located on the Ontario side.  Waterpark, butterfly conservatory, Bird Kingdom, Casino Niagara, Floral Clock, Lundy’s Lane Historical Museum – like I said, everything’s on the Canadian side.

Except for one.  Dave & Busters.  They listed Dave & Busters – a Chuck E Cheese’s for adults.  There’s only one in the Niagara Falls “area”.  It’s at the Eastern Hills Mall in Clarence.

I’d say that the people in charge of Niagara Falls, NY tourism should take this all as a lesson.  They got a boon – a popular TV show sets a big event in town, but there’s nothing “to do” in the area.  Not even the hot-weather ice rink made the cut. But a Clarence restaurant did.