The Buffalo News’ Tacky Sign

No way this is in the 2004 Master Plan.

The Buffalo News building has the good fortune to be across the street from Canalside. The News moved into its current location in 1973, and the building is, from street level, somewhat imposing – concrete and institutional, like a Communist-era Warsaw apartment block. That was all well and good for the time when it was kitty-corner from some surface parking and the old, ugly, Donovan Building, but now it’s surrounded by new, shiny things like the Courtyard by Marriott and the other Marriott with 716 and the rinks in it – Harborcenter.

The more we celebrate history, the more it helps Canalside. – Donn Esmonde

So, the Buffalo News building is, I suppose, something of a brutalist anachronism. Tolerable, but unfortunate.

But just this week, something tacky happened.

There’s been a recent outcropping of these LED advertising billboards in town – one on Oak Street inbound, another on the 190 in Black Rock, and now this on the side of the Buffalo News. When I saw the unlit sign on the side of the building this past weekend, I thought that the News might be trying to get a sort of Times Square vibe at that corner, like some sort of haphazard effort to transform that particular corner into a modern-day Shelton Square. But instead, it just looks vulgar.

The historic elements are what gives everything around it credence and value. Fads and businesses come and go. History has a generation-to-generation appeal. That’s why it’s so disappointing that this stuff hasn’t been done. – Tim Tielman, to Donn Esmonde

It reminded me of an article that the News’ own self-righteous retired columnist Donn Esmonde wrote in April 2003. In a three-peeves-in-one blog post, Esmonde excoricated WGRZ for the chain link fence topped with barbed wire that then surrounded its parking lot fronting Franklin Street. He wrote,

Thousands of visitors here for last weekend’s Frozen Four hockey championship were drawn to the Chippewa bars. They raved about our great downtown buildings. And they noticed, in the heart of downtown, the prisonlike fence around the Channel 2 parking lot.

The cyclone fence topped by rings of razor wire wasn’t welcomed when it went up six years ago. It hasn’t improved with age, as the Chippewa boom attracts more people and events like the Frozen Four bring out-of-towners.

Downtown is safer than ever, but the razor wire suggests it’s a combat zone. It doesn’t just startle tourists and less-hearty suburbanites. Restaurateur Mark Croce has sunk more than a million bucks into three places near Channel 2, including his upscale Chop House. Diners coming for a $30 steak first feast on the Attica ambience next door.

“I’ve had countless (patrons) say (the fence) is ridiculous for this part of downtown,” said Croce.

Despite numerous pleas to lose the razor wire, Channel 2 General Manager Darryll Green just says no. He says it protects his people, trucks and satellite equipment.

“You’ve got empty buildings on Main Street,” said Green. “Our fence isn’t the problem downtown.”

True. But it’s not helping. It belongs in a factory district, not on a thriving nightlife strip.

Green says the station can’t afford the security cameras and guards that work for other businesses. He’s open to other suggestions. We’d hate to think it’s time to pass the hat for the local NBC affiliate.

That was long before Esmonde went on to champion the placemaking plan for Canalside, emphasizing green space and history and “lighter, quicker, cheaper“, and “flexible lawns”, and solar powered carousels. It was all supposed to be special – it was supposed to be like the very epicenter of our unique “sense of place” and authenticity.

Yet here is the Buffalo News – the paper that employed him and continues to pay him – throwing a cheap, tacky LED advertising sign on the side of its building.  Mind you, the News didn’t slap that cheap piece of trash on the side of the buiding facing the 190, but right on the corner facing Canalside, where all the people looking for their flexible lawns, a sense of place, and maybe a Bass Pro will see it.

If WGRZ needed shaming over its barbed wire fence, then the News needs some shaming for uglying up Canalside.

And it’s not just the garish, cheesy sign – how about all of that prime street-level real estate that is completely empty on the News’ ground floor? If you’re going to take advantage of your building’s proximity to a new local downtown attraction, why not put that space to use? As it stands now, you have a brutalist fortress of a building with an empty ground level and the sort of tasteless LED signage you might expect in downtown Minsk or Ulan Baator.

But maybe we’ve solved part of the problem for One Seneca Tower.

We can improve any part of Buffalo by slapping a cheap LED “advertise here” sign on the side of something. Does this all follow the 2004 Canalside Master Plan? The guy in the tree suit probably wants to know.

It’s nice that history shapes the look and feel of Canalside. It’d be even nicer to finally make more of the real history that inspires it. – Donn Esmonde.

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