In journalism, one needs presence of mind. And it also helps to be in the right place at the right time. Such was most definitely the case for a former Buffalo Rising intern living in San Francisco. Recently visiting the offices of planning firm Perkins + Will, hired last year by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation to develop plans for Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, our alert former intern spotted something that looked vaguely familiar. Uncertain at first, he realized the renderings he was seeing were a sort of Extreme Makeover: Buffalo Outer Harbor Edition. Except for the familiar line of the water’s edge, and the familiar downtown skyline in the background, he barely recognized anything in the images. More transmogrification than transformation, this was Outer Harbor City, writ large.
Not knowing our former intern’s Buffalo connections, Perkins + Will staff proudly showed off their plan, which they said they will unveil in Buffalo later this year. Ever alert, our former intern, pretending to take multiple selfies (not considered unusual behavior for a Millennial), managed to capture most of the images. The film was overnighted to Buffalo, and as we worked feverishly under the red light in the Buffalo Rising darkroom, we were astonished by the images that began to emerge. We are showing them to you here, unaltered.
We hear your reaction, which was similar to our own.
Needing confirmation, we first reached out to Sam Hoyt, Regional Vice President for Empire State Development, ECHDC’s parent organization. Sam was nonplussed by our inquiry, but, knowing his audience, made his case for the new plan. “With the architectural afficionados who write for and read Buffalo Rising, I’m sure you’re familiar with Daniel Burham’s quote, “Make no small plans, for small plans have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Advised that Burham’s quote was made with respect to the Columbian Exposition, Hoyt responded, “well, we might have to scale it back a bit. But the Governor gave us a quote of his own: “go big, or go home.”
Rober Gioia, Chairman of ECHDC, was not as forthcoming. He would not confirm what our former intern had spotted on one of the drawings: one of the towers identified as the Oishei Foundation Tower. He would also not confirm what our former intern described as a giant, translucent statue of Shark Girl atop one of the towers – lit at night, and visible from Toronto.
A surprisingly upbeat assessment came from Jay Burney, President of the Friends of Times Beach, who was at first reluctant to admit his involvement in developing these new plans. As it happens, he told us, some of the economic spinoff from this massive construction project will be used to purchase snazzy new IKEA birdhouses for all the permanent inhabitants of Times Beach. Further, Mark Hamister will be creating a Hyatt Place for migratory species, and a Staybridge Suites for the longer term visitors. A Hilton Garden Inn for Butterflies is also in the plans.
But what of this plan’s regional impacts, and compatibility with the Queen City Hub plan? Describing these images to Dr. Robert Shibley, Dean of the UB School of Architecture and Planning, we could almost hear the shock on the other end of the phone. While we were counting out loud the number of towers, a faint gurgling sound could be heard on the line. When we finished, there was a moment of gentle weeping. Finally, Shibley told us, in no uncertain terms, “NO ONE who graduated from OUR program works at that firm. That is all.”
When will these plans get their big reveal in Buffalo? “We don’t have a timeline for a public meeting yet,” Sam Hoyt told us. “It’s largely dependent on the availability of green dots, which are on backorder. As it happens, our forums last year put a severe strain on the national supply.”
At least there’s no stadium there.