Work is heating up on a Detroit project that has the city buzzing about its riverfront development. According to The Detroit News, the city is expecting the first phase of the $65 million, 270-apartment complex to be completed in the near future. The mixed use project is considered to be upscale in nature, with apartments going for around 1.5K to 2K a month. It’s an interesting story how the ball finally got rolling on this property, despite repeated failed attempts to develop over the years (see Detroit News).
While Buffalo’s waterfront has certainly seen some advancements as of late, with some private mixed use development being created along the Buffalo River (Savarino, Paladino), there has yet to be any sort of critical infill that has led to a concentration of projects – something that many people are hoping will one day take place at Canalside (see Erie Canal Harbor Master Plan – 2004)…
…and the Cobblestone District, which would help to enhance/spur additional mixed use projects along the Buffalo River. We are still waiting for this now dated development vision to come to fruition, but that doesn’t mean that we should’t be looking at the big picture, which includes expansive opportunities along the Buffalo River that will one day jibe with mixed use developments at various other waterfront destinations.
To date, Buffalo is still considering the expansion of a scrap operation that happens to be situated along the Ohio Street Corridor (or Boulevard). According to Rachacha, the scrap operation has gone before the City’s Common Council, and is seeing some opposition. You think? This is what he came away with, after attending a public meeting and other proceedings:
When I first heard about the community meeting last month to see the proposal for a new scrap operation at the end of Ohio Street in the Old First Ward, I was actually cautiously optimistic. I’d heard that the project included the possibility of improvements related to the Buffalo River, and anything had to be better than the horror show that has been on this riverfront parcel for years. I mean, until recently, Google Earth’s images showed the previous operation, Gerdeau Ameristeel, on fire.
The ultimate fate of this parcel is crucial for many important waterfront-area investments the community has made, is making, and will make in the future. Neighboring Silo City, the Ohio Street “Greenway,” Tifft Nature Preserve, Buffalo Harbor State Park, Revitalization of Terminals A&B, Freezer Queen, cleanup of the Buffalo River and nearby City Ship Canal, and whatever else will be happening on the Outer Harbor (this is the last parcel on Ohio Street before Route 5).
So anything that might improve the existing situation sounded like a plus.
But by the end of the meeting I and others there had plenty of concerns. First, I noticed the project and the business seemed oddly familiar. It turns out that it was a “recycled” (so to speak) proposal that had been pushed in the Black Rock/Riverside area a couple of years ago. At that time, the company had hired former County Executive Joel Giambra as a lobbyist. This time, their lobbyist was former Erie County Commissioner of Environment and Planning Larry Rubin. Why, I wondered then and now, did this company need to hire a lobbyist?
While I don’t know Larry Rubin well, and don’t have an opinion on the man, I was surprised that he treated some of the questions and questioners from the community in a rather dismissive manner. To one questioner, he responded “I don’t understand the purpose of the question,” and took another question. I could hear the frustration among some of the neighborhood residents and leaders, who felt that they weren’t getting their questions answered.
I saw a red flag wave when Larry and the company representative wouldn’t say that they wouldn’t use the Buffalo River to move materiel.
But for me, the kicker was when I attempted to photograph a display board, and Larry covered it up and told me I couldn’t photograph it. At a public meeting. Fortunately, the board was in the paper packet of one of the stakeholders they’d met with privately, who gladly allowed me to photograph it.
The photograph that Larry Rubin didn’t want you to see is here:
In the month since the meeting, the concern and consternation in the community about this project has only grown. State and local elected and public officials to whom I’ve reached out not only aren’t sold on this project, but some consider it highly inappropriate given recent investments in the area around the site.
And community leaders, as well. On Monday I heard the following from Laura Kelly of the Old First Ward Association:
While I applaud Nickel City Recycling (776 Ohio Street) for coming to speak with us last month, it seems that their story is changing every day.
At last week’s Valley Meeting, their attorney was suddenly talking about 120 trucks per day on Ohio Street.
Not only that, but we only have their word that they will do any improvements, environmental protection, or public access on the River front.
And that word seems to change with every meeting.
Please call Councilman Franczyk at 716-851-4138 or email firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible to express any concerns you might have.
I know I have many right now.
There was another Council Committee meeting yesterday.
And the Valley Community Center, headed by Peg Overdorf, has been circulating information in the neighborhood:
Yes, Buffalo still has a working waterfront. But this project is not water-dependent. A representative at the community meeting from Buffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper said that the project is not appropriate for the area, and I agree.
One economic development official I contacted offered to work with the business to find a more appropriate location for what they want to do.
They ought to pursue that offer.
Note: although Councilman Franczyk is engaged in this issue, and represents most of the Old First Ward, the proposed project is south of the river, so technically in the South council district. Which means that it’s also helpful to include Councilman Scanlon on any communication:
Christopher P. Scanlon
South District Common Council Member
Phone: 716-851-5169 ♦ Fax: (716)851-4294