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“The Bass Pro Plan Without Bass Pro”

Wanting to educate myself as much as possible prior to this weekend’s big Canal Side visioning session, I decided to sit in on the public hearing Wednesday night for ECHDC’s “Modified General Project Plan” (MGPP) for the Inner Harbor, and development of Canal Side.

According to a statement handed out at the hearing:

The MGPP will allow EDHDC to continue making progress on the Inner Harbor.  Development of the Canal Side project will move in phases, with public infrastructure improvements to the Aud block comprising Phase 1.  This infrastructure will allow for greater public use of the site, while providing a range of opportunities for future development of the site.

“The development of our waterfront will play a crucial role in determining Western New York’s place in the 21st century economy,” said ECHDC Chair Jordan Levy.  “This MGPP will allow us to continue making progress on the Inner Harbor, beginning with the construction of a new system of public canals and towpaths.  The public infrastructure will provide tangible benefits for the people of Western New York, while at the same time allowing for flexibility in establishing what shape final development will take.”

“ECHDC expects to award bids on the Design/Bid phase in January, 2011.  The cost of this first phase is approximately $51 Million, and construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2011.  No other changes have been made to the GPP, and the primary purpose remains the same: to develop a blighted area of the city of Buffalo by transforming it into a vibrant, mixed-use development that will attract visitors, feature year-round activities, and generate substantial private economic development activity.

As best I can determine from this statement, from the hearing, and from reviewing documents on the ECHDC web site, the MGPP looks like the same Canal Side plan that was built around Bass Pro, except with Bass Pro excised from the picture like an out-of-favor politburo figure.

Not knowing what to expect from the hearing (I find that, in general, public hearings often attract a handful of “regulars”) I was pleasantly surprised to find several dozen folks present when it was called to order.

After a brief, upbeat presentation, the floor was opened up for speakers.  Often, I find comments at public hearings tend to be a bit dry, especially if the speaker is reading prepared remarks rather than impromptu.  But from the very first speaker I was hearing some great stuff–and very quoteable–so I began taking notes to share it with you all.

A skyway runs through it1.png

Selected comments were as follows

Meghan Connolly of Partnership for the Public Good:

  • This plan is simply the Bass Pro plan without Bass Pro.
  • Parking without a purpose–spending all this money for parking, but we don’t know what it’s going to be for.
  • It’s as if ECHDC is building parking for the ghosts of Bass Pro parking.  An area of the city that already has a glut of parking.  EDHDC will have control over parking and revenues, giving ECHDC an incentive.
  • Reject the current MGGP and develop a new MGGP that incorporates the results of the citizens’ planning process that is currently ongoing also community benefits agreement.

Louis Clay [no Dice], employee of HSBC:

  • I’m an eternal optimist.  I believe that when a community stops doing the wrong things, that’s a step in the right direction.  No casino, no Bass Pro, bridges we don’t need.
  • Be original, and be bold.  A historic district is nice as far as it goes, but I’m not sure how well that works under the skyway.  If an old industrial city like Bilbao, Spain, can build something of great beauty, why can’t we?  We’re known for our architecture, so let’s hold a design competition.  Quoting local artist: “If you know where you’re going, why bother–?”  Do something bold.

Henry Baxter, founding member of the Canal Society of New York State:

Historic aspects of the project are a concern.  Like idea of representing the Erie Canal, the Prime Slip.  Including a canal barge will be good.  But what we need is more detail of how it will be done.  Also, including a water wheel and cascade are not historic.

Richard Berger, speaking for Campaign for Greater Buffalo:

  • Campaign has been reviewing MGPP and meeting with EDHDC.  Attended cultural resources session.  The Campaign is very interested in the project and assisting with it. 
  • This is not a plan, and we have a lot of work to do.  It does not reflect present intention of ECHDC.  For example, schedule B.  Have been told there will be no water wheel, yet it’s still shown.  They’re developing project plan, esp. for historic district around commercial slip.
  • The street system announced last week is non-historic, and undercuts the compatibility with the US Department of the Interior’s guidelines for historic districts, and may need to be redone.  One of the streets that had been planned for a pedestrian way has been widened, especially around the skyway piers.
  • The plan is premature, and it would be better done in several months, after the community has a better sense of how this will be built out.

Deborah Williams (speaking for herself):

  • Doesn’t want the modified plan to go forward.  She doesn’t know why work is still going forward even after Bass Pro.
  • She believes that the 2004 project plan should be followed.  At every turn, ECHDC is showing disdain for the people’s plan.
  • Public authorities across the state need to see the public as a partner, rather than as an enemy.  The streets project that was done was a colossal waste of money and wasn’t well done.  The public shouldn’t have to keep fighting our public authorities.  This is a paternalistic development model.  The public is not here to create bad things for ourselves.

Dan Sack, Campaign for Greater Buffalo:

  • I was here 15 years ago speaking to Horizons, basically about the same things.
  • Recommends rejection of MGPP, in favor of a return to the 2004 master plan–which is not available on the ECHDC web site (but elsewhere online).
  • On the video [press announcement of cobblestone streets], Levy says that the street project followed the 2004 plan, but if you read the plan you see that’s not correct.
  • This is just one example of how the 2004 plan isn’t being followed, even though the chair says otherwise.  For example, there are detailed drawings showing how some parcels should be built out, “when funds are available.”  Well, funds are not available, but instead money is being spent elsewhere.
  • Also, example of how 2004 plan calls for residential upstairs throughout the historic district, yet current plans show residential only in area near the large commercial slip parking garage.  Yet Levy insists residential is included.
  • An issue about ECHDC’s ability to override certain local regulations.

Peter Dow, chairs cultural steering committee for EDHDC (includes representatives of several large cultural organizations, put together at the invitation of ECHDC):

  • He wrote a piece for the Buffalo News lamenting the inclusion of culturals in plans.  Led to conversations with Levy and Quinn, who suggested forming a committee.  Held dinner at Garret Club to present ideas to ECHDC.  They put out an RFP which was won by Lord of Toronto and Applebaum.
  • In his experience the Corp. has been responsive to issues brought to them by the committee.  He feels we’re now at a very exciting time for our waterfront, and that the Corp. genuinely wants to hear from the community and create something that will be very exciting.

Linda Galvin (?), a “Buffalonian by Choice” since 1979:

Buffalo has a rich history, and we have shown the world how to live on many occasions (canal, electrification, etc.) including efficiently, effectively, sustainably.  We’re not including the sun and we need to, in order to be sustainable.

Marie Peronne, Architect:

Believes in all the social input, but we need a balance between idealism and realism.  Phased implementation makes sense.  We need to provide a shovel-ready location for construction.

Rich/Meg Hilliman, Spirit of Buffalo:

  • Have been in operation at Canalside for 2 years now.
  • Critical need for signage–it’s the #1 complaint by everyone who comes to the Spirit of Buffalo.  Second is the lack of parking.  These are ways to show the public that we want them there.
  • Remind people that the reason folks come to the Central Wharf is the water–that water (Lake Erie and the Buffalo River).  It’s also an incredible teaching resource.

Margaret “Peg” Overdorf, Executive Director, Valley Community Association:

  • She just left the site of Buffalo Riverfest Park.  Phase 1 to be completed this Spring, Phase II later in 2011.
  • Vision is for a walkway from the observation tower all the way to the Buffalo River and City Ship Canal.
  • People don’t care whether it’s granite or Medina sandstone, they just want to see something get done.  She agrees with those who have said we need to move projects forward and get them done.  By the time you figure out your project, come on down to mine, because we’ll be done.

Steven Halperin:

  • Process is disheartening.  People seem to listen politely, then go do what they planned anyway.  There is no opportunity in the meeting for any meaningful interaction.  He is glad that folks like Mr. Dow have had meaningful interactions with ECHDC, but what about those without connections?
  • The community doesn’t feel like it has a seat at the table.  Decisions should not be made in this way, through a process like this.  A public authority insulated from our control, should reach out and work closely with us.  Hunch is the project would be much improved.

Julie Barret O’Neill, Buffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper [recently appointed by Governor Paterson to ECHDC]:

  • Wants to express a couple of things:  We come at this process from different perspectives.  She wants to understand how the project and process have come to be this way.
  • The Corp. has acknowledged that they need to improve their process, and she is looking forward to that.
  • She has deep respect for the community, knows how smart the community is.
  • We need to work together–motor on!

On that note, let’s indeed motor on to smoother water, hopefully leaving behind the treacherous rapids, shoals, eddies, whitecaps, malestroms [insert fav navigational hazard metaphor here] that have marked our tortuous course toward a better waterfront.  Be sure to get in on

Aspirations and Inspirations: Imagining the Buffalo Waterfront

with the Project for Public Spaces at City Honors, tomorrow, from 2PM to 4PM.

Note: a phone call to ECHDC Public Affairs to get a reaction to these comments was not returned by “press time.”

Written by RaChaCha

RaChaCha

RaChaCha is a Garbage Plate™ kid making his way in a Chicken Wing world. Since 2008, he's put over a hundred articles on here, and he asked us to be sure to thank you for reading. So, thank you for reading. You may also have seen his freelance byline in Artvoice, where he writes under the name his daddy gave him [Ed: Send me a check, and I might reveal what that is]. When he's not writing, RaChaCha is an urban planner, a rehabber of houses, and a community builder. He co-founded the Buffalo Mass Mob, and would love to see you at the next one. He represents Buffalo Young Preservationists on the Trico roundtable. If you try to demolish a historic building, he might have something to say about that. He is a proud AmeriCorps alum.

Things you may not know about RaChaCha (unless you read this before): "Ra Cha Cha" is a nickname of his hometown. (Didn't you know that? Do you live under a rock?) He's a political junkie (he once worked for the president of the Monroe County Legislature), but we don't really let him write about politics on here. He helped create a major greenway in the Genesee Valley, and worked on early planning for the Canalway Trail. He hopes you enjoy biking and hiking on those because that's what he put in all that work for. He was a ringleader of the legendary "Chill the Fill" campaign to save Rochester's old downtown subway tunnel. In fact, he comes from a long line of troublemakers. An ancestor fought at Bunker Hill, and a relative led the Bear Flag Revolt in California. We advise you to remember this before messing with him in the comments. He worked on planning the Rochester ARTWalk, and thinks Buffalo should have one of those, too (write your congressman).

You can also find RaChaCha (all too often, we frequently nag him) on the Twitters at @HeyRaChaCha. Which is what some people here yell when they see him on the street. You know who you are.

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