Led by Chippewa Street pioneer Mark Goldman, a group of Buffalo residents and taxpayers has brought a lawsuit to stop State money from subsidizing the proposed Bass Pro-centered development at the Erie Canal Harbor. The suit was filed Monday in New York State Supreme Court by attorney Arthur J. Giacalone on behalf of Mr. Goldman, Scot D. Fisher, Bruce L. Fisher, Susan M. Davis, Stephen C. Halpern, and Elizabeth P. Stanton. Defendants include Bass Pro Outdoor World, LLC, Empire State Development Corporation and its subsidiary Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, the New York State Power Authority and various other government entities.
The lawsuit claims that the $35 million subsidy offered to Bass Pro violates the prohibition in New York’s Constitution against a gift or loan of state funds to a private enterprise. It also argues that the State Power Authority has disregarded its own guidelines by offering a $105 million “industrial incentive award” to a project anchored by the proposed Bass Pro retail store.
Underscoring the unhealthy relationship between the various “economic development agencies,” the lawsuit also contends that an impermissible conflict of interest existed when the Chairman of the State Economic Development Power Allocation Board, who is also a high-ranking official with the Empire State Development Corporation, voted to accelerate funding of the Canal Side project and transfer NYS Power Authority money to the entity that employs him.
Mark Goldman, proprietor of the legendary Calumet Art Café and author of books on Buffalo history, explains his involvement in the litigation: “We have initiated this lawsuit because we believe that the defendants, by offering public money to a private corporation, have acted in violation of the New York State Constitution. We also believe that the efforts to give public funds to Bass Pro are a serious abuse of power that could, if allowed to stand, corrupt the democratic process. We have taken this action because we care deeply about our community and how decisions regarding its well being are made. It is clearly not in the best interests of our community when a small coterie decides, on its own and simply because it wants to, to give the public’s money to a private entity.”
Scot D. Fisher, president of Righteous Babe Records and the redeveloper of the Asbury Methodist Church with international recording artist Ani DiFranco, said, “We worked hard to help save the historic terminus of the Erie Canal. If private investors want to invest their own money to create businesses near our harbor front, that’s great — but the thousands of people who signed petitions to preserve our heritage didn’t sign on to public subsidies for private business.”
Others joining the suite include Bruce L. Fisher, ArtVoice contributor and Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Studies at Buffalo State College; Stephen C. Halpern, a political science professor at SUNY at Buffalo, an author of books on civil rights and liberties, and a practicing lawyer; Susan M. Davis, Associate Professor of Economics at Buffalo State College; and, Elizabeth P. Stanton, professor of occupational therapy at D’Youville College.
Attorney Giacalone has built a career as the go-to NIMBY lawyer in WNY. He has been retained by residents and others to fight a Tops market, a Town of Aurora Walmart, senior housing, a soccer field, Amherst’s deer control efforts, Panos’ expansion, Children’s Hospital’s helipad, expansion of the Lancaster airport, the Elmwood/Forest hotel project, a new elephant pen at the Buffalo Zoo, and others.
Giacalone also has previous experience along the waterfront. In the late 1980’s, Giacalone was retained by Western New York Regional Environmentalists and Concerned Homeowners to put a stop to the planned Pavillion project in Waterfront Village. The $113 million proposal by Essex Investment Group would have seen a 12-story office, hotel and retail complex built on ten acres of land next to what is now Templeton Landing. Giacalone’s suit was rejected in 1990, but the project was done in by a crummy economy.
Buffalo Pundit’s take documenting Scot Fisher’s involvement with Babeville and the public monies that project received, sans lawsuit.
ECHDC Chairman Jordan Levy isn’t pleased, see Mark Sommer’s story here.