Let’s Talk About the Eastern Hills Mall

Rendering of the "Amherst Town Centre"

Rendering of the “Amherst Town Centre”

I’ve lived in western New York for almost fifteen years – all of them in the Northtowns. I have visited the Eastern Hills Mall countless times – mostly to pick up something quick that wasn’t worth a trip to another municipality. As land values surrounding that mall have gone up and people have moved into East Amherst, Williamsville, and Clarence, I’ve waited for someone to invest some money into that place and make it at least nice.

New owners a decade or so ago put a new sign up on Transit and brought in a Dave & Busters, an Orvis, and even a Brooks Brothers 346 store. There’s a Gap, a Spencer’s, and a handful of other stuff, but it’s like an appendix – it’s there, but if you lost it you’d never know the difference. Dave & Busters is leaving, Brooks Brothers is gone, and Orvis is your go-to place for overpriced fishing supplies and $100 casual shirts.

I’ve seen some pretty nice re-dos of old malls – the Yorkdale in Toronto comes to mind. But the Eastern Hills Mall is tired and unpleasant. It’s a sad mall surrounded by crumbling surface parking that’s used more often for Transitown’s overflow inventory and teaching motorcycle operation rather than accommodating thousands of putative disappointed shoppers.

The Eastern Hills Mall needs to be demolished, at least in part. In its place, the owners should build the region’s first lifestyle center. That’s what the owners of the Nanuet Mall did in Rockland County a few years ago, and the difference is night & day.

Both the Eastern Hills and Nanuet Malls were built around the same time – ca. 1970. Here’s what Nanuet used to look like:

And here’s what the Eastern Hills Mall looks like today:

And here’s what the Nanuet Mall looks like now, reconstituted as the “Shops at Nanuet”:

In Nanuet, they turned the old anchor stores – Macy’s and Sears, for example, into free-standing department stores, but tore down the mall and transformed it into a little walkable neighborhood. It’s got sidewalks, angle parking, the buildings are built to the curb, and you can walk around just like in the olden days.

I realize it’s not the Elmwood Village or even East Aurora or Main Street in Williamsville. It’s manufactured, it’s fake, and it’s a managed shopping center property. It’s still a mall, albeit one designed like an old-fashioned downtown. As malls have become less popular, many have been reconstituted into “lifestyle centers” – something popular throughout the country, but non-existent in WNY. Benderson, now based in Florida, owns and manages many lifestyle centers down South. It proposed one for Maple in Amherst where the gun range used to be near UB, but the neighborhood killed that, so now it’s just overgrown weeds.

Here are renderings that Benderson commissioned for what was going to be called the “Amherst Town Centre“. It would have boasted not only retail, but a hotel, second-floor office space, and a residential component- a true mixed-use development, and it would have been a first for WNY and introduced our strip-mall obsessed region to something new. One was also proposed for Clarence on Transit at Miles, but both projects died sometime before 2010. Clarence has a strict master plan, and re-zoning can be a difficult maze to navigate.

Aside from being more aesthetically pleasing than an early 70s mall with 80s upgrades, lifestyle centers tend to cater to upscale consumers, and the Eastern Hills Mall is surrounded by some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in WNY. They require less real estate, and generate more revenue per square foot.

So, Glenmont MDC Eastern Hills LLC, if you’re reading this, tear it down and build something that isn’t horribly ugly. Build it closer to Transit, replace some of that disused parking with something – anything (trees? park? ice rink facility?) and drag Transit Road into the 21st century.

Carl Paladino Has Important Things to Say About Things

54478a6ec38aa50812eeb979
Carl Paladino ran for governor of the state of New York.

The market has improved for residential development. It’s fairly good right now for apartments…Young people – and it’s just a trend thing – they’ve had it with … mowing lawns and all that. They want the urban life they see on TV, and to live approximate to things

Carl Paladino is a wealthy developer who is well-respected in the community.

Paladino said he hopes the mostly vacant Commodore Perry housing complex nearby will eventually be torn down.

“We’re just praying that they don’t rehab those apartments and put people back in them. Hopefully, they will get rid of the whole thing and tear it down. That Perry Street has caused a lack of interest in any development there.”

Carl Paladino is an elected school board member who has his finger on the pulse of goings-on in WNY.

“They made a big mistake by making [Ohio Street] into a two-way highway when it should have been a four-lane. It’s a terrible mistake. You can’t park a car. And if you’re on it and stuck in traffic, you can’t even turn around. And they’re talking about it being one of the feeders to the Outer Harbor,” Paladino said.

Carl Paladino is on the board of Buffalo Civic Auto Ramps, which is so forward-thinking and consumer-oriented that its ramps take only cash, even in 2014.

“How many people are riding bikes in this community? For four or five months a year you can’t ride a bike in the snow. If you want to ride a bike, do it on the sidewalk. That’s why they have sidewalks,” he said.

It is against the law for adults to ride bicycles on the sidewalk. It’s a sidewalk – not a sideride. Just shut up and run your company. No one gives a shit about your lunatic crackpot opinions.

Buffalo’s Outer Harbor: From Brownfield to Question Mark

Most everyone agrees that the Outer Harbor should primarily be set aside for parks and recreation. This includes the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, as well as local preservationist, environmentalist, and planning activists. But as with any proposal that has even minimal complexity, there is a Buffalonian blood feud brewing when it comes to the issue of development.

For over half a century, the people who run the airport, buses, and trolley also owned the land on the Outer Harbor. It fell into decay, disrepair, and parts of it were an environmental catastrophe. Anyone who cared agreed that the land was being poorly managed, and that it was a squandered opportunity.  In just the last few years, all that has changed, but it hasn’t been easy.

For instance, when improvements were made to access the Outer Harbor in recent years, the same people now fighting the idea of construction on the outer harbor were railing against enhancements to access it, claiming silly things, e.g., a bermed Route 5 off the Skyway represented a “wall” between Buffalo’s downtown and her waterfront – never mind the river and the grain elevators.

The Outer Harbor has now become an attractive, if unfinished, parkland enjoyed by thousands of people every year. The fought-over improvements to access Fuhrmann Boulevard, the attractive streetscape, and the new bike paths, beaches, and parks are the reason why. What was once a barren, poorly accessible wasteland is now an improved, accessible parkland.

Today, we’re debating whether people might someday live there, and whether there might be things to do there besides recreate. I’ve long advocated for careful development on the Outer Harbor to give people an opportunity to live, work, and play along one of the most attractive spits of waterfront land in America.

In the inaugural issue of the Public, Bruce Fisher makes the argument against development on the Outer Harbor, citing everything from the weather and wind to tax policy and housing values.  It was the weather that led a Giambra administration to recommend the construction of a domed amusement park just a decade ago.

About the weather and wind – Buffalo and her waterfront are not the most inhospitable places in the world. People live and buildings are constructed in the wind and cold throughout the world. If you take Fisher’s argument about how inclement the winter weather gets out there, then one would have to question the sanity of anyone living in places like Moscow, Helsinki, Stockholm, Reykjavik, Oslo, or other locations with climates as harsh – or worse – than our waterfront’s. After all, we’re talking about building attractive shelter, not a beachfront resort.

Fisher’s argument is more persuasive on the tax policy and housing demand front. He chips away at the notion that residents on the waterfront will contribute to the tax base, pointing out how guys like Paladino build new developments with massive tax breaks. However, an influx of residents to Buffalo’s waterfront contributes to local economic activity in other ways. Sales taxes and other fees for goods and services will find their way to Buffalo rather than wherever these hardy, weather-immune pioneers came from.

Fisher’s strongest point touches on the crisis of property abandonment throughout Buffalo. There are thousands of units of vacant, absent, or dilapidated housing throughout Buffalo’s neighborhoods, and prioritizing high-end luxury buildings on the waterfront when we have this other problem is, at best, unseemly. But the property we’re talking about on the waterfront is different from an east side bungalow in a few salient ways, not the least of which is the real estate mantra: location, location, location.

What of that location? Listening to opponents of development on the Outer Harbor, you’d think that ECHDC was planning to mow down all the wetlands and parks and put up a sea of parking lots and concrete bunkers. But look at the renderings – there’s nothing but parkland all over the place, even in the ECHDC plan. The most contentious proposal involves construction along the Buffalo River, opposite Canalside.  What’s there now, you ask? A parking lot for people’s drydocked boats and their cars; an eyesore.

Here’s a presentation showing the three alternatives that the ECHDC proposed. Almost all of the building they’ve been talking about is on parcels that are now either parking lots, drydocks, or dilapidated concrete parks. The impact to greenspace is de minimis.

Here is one of the ECHDC proposals. The development is limited to those areas that are already concrete lots, and it creates a huge swath of new publicly accessible parkland.

Here’s another view of what the ECHDC is proposing. This seems to track “Alternative B”.

For the areas they’re talking about developing, they’re already marred by crap. ECHDC seems to be saying, let’s replace the crap with something attractive and usable.

I think Fisher’s piece contributes positively to a debate that we should be having about reuse of the Outer Harbor, and the abandonment point is an interesting one. But right now the choices being pushed to the public are to either build nothing at all, or accusing ECHDC of wanting to build a sea of Waterfront Villages out there to encroach on Times Beach Preserve. However, that’s not what’s happening.

But why would we prohibit any development on these dilapidated, eyesore parcels in perpetuity based on current real estate and economic conditions? Cities all over the world have re-shaped their waterfronts in part due to the introduction of things to do and places to go. If the conditions are inhospitable in the winter, some shelter makes sense. Expanding Metro Rail down to the Outer Harbor makes sense. Even if ECHDC was to simply plan and zone the buildable parcels, get utilities down there, and then let private developers have at it through a transparent public auction, would that be a net negative for Buffalo?

Maybe now isn’t the best time to build out there, but someday it might be. We should be careful about planning how it happens, but it should be allowed to happen.

Picking One’s Battles: Part 1

Forget for a moment about the things that the media are telling you to be absolutely terrified about – ebola, ISIS, drought, global warming/climate change, Russia, Ukraine, flights from West Africa, genocide, etc. After all, while all of this stuff is going on, most Americans either think it’s an Obama-led plot, or are more concerned with who did what on Dancing With the “Stars”. 

Locally, our outrages are much more pedestrian in nature. 

We don’t get incensed, and we don’t do jack squat in response to a devastating report about poverty in Buffalo. Well, we do tend to moralize and lecture the victims of poverty, while others identify at least one of the root causes

But I can tell you two recent points of civic outrage that are not at all important, in the wider scheme of things. One is the Labatt ad affixed to a dilapidated grain elevator, replacing what appears to be peeling and chipping lead paint.  The other is the notion that anything that might be labeled “the indoors” be built anywhere on the Outer Harbor. 

A scan of preservationist message boards reveals that some people are simply outraged by the idea that a locally-headquartered national beer importer would so crassly deface our lovely blight. (Query: if it was PBR cans, would that be ok?) A Change.org petition has 132 signatures, is being promoted by a guy from Dutchess County, and calls this location “downtown”. The petition alleges that the Labatt cans violate up to three codes or regulations. 

The petitioners claim that Alcoholic Beverage Control Law 83.2 prohibits this display. Untrue. Any reasonable reading of that language reveals the prohibition to signs posted by a retailer on “retail licensed premises”. This location is not a retail licensed premises for on-site alcohol consumption.  A claimed second code violation alleges that the Labatt ad is illegal because it can be seen from a park with a playground in it.

The city code cited, 452-4, prohibits any alcohol advertising, “in any publicly visible location on or within 1,000 feet of the perimeter of any school premises, playground or playground area in a public park.” The 333 Ganson location is just about 1,000 feet from the boundary of Conway Park itself, which contains a playground. It is almost 1,500 feet from the “playground” or the “playground area in a public park”. 

Finally, the petitioner cites a city code having to do with “accessory signs”.  It doesn’t appear to me that the cited sign ordinance applies to a sign that is a part of the building itself, but instead deals with billboards and other types of signs that are separate and distinct from the adjoining structure.

But all of this boils down to personal taste – trying to shoehorn dubious statutory violations into the argument is a weak substitute for just saying you don’t like it; that we can do better. One person wrote that if we let this Labatt ad stay on the grain elevator, “we’re getting the city we deserve”. I honestly can’t fathom how putting a dilapidated commercial structure to commercial use poses an existential threat to Buffalo. 

You don’t have to like the ad, but unless you own the building, who cares what you or I like? 

Our second moral outrage has to do with the Outer Harbor. Every single plan for the Outer Harbor incorporates bucketloads of parkland. The problem is that in Buffalo, at that location, parkland is basically unusable much of the year, unless maybe you go fishing through holes in the ice or enjoy cross-country skiing with acute wind chills. The notion that there be something indoors on the Outer Harbor is, apparently, haram. 

The rhetoric against the ECHDC-promoted plan has been as bombastic as you’d expect it to be. The process was flawed!  Sure, there were three public hearings/meetings, and they were conducted like all of these types of meetings are – Green Code, Placemaking, One Region Forward – but this one was flawed! ECHDC’s plan will harm the ecosystem! The effort wouldn’t, of course, be complete without noted civic horror Donn Esmonde weighing in, complete with allusion to “lighter, faster, cheaper” from the Placemaking rip-off

So, what could they possibly be planning? Singapore-on-the-Lake? An endless sea of Waterfront Villages? A suburban office park surrounded by parking, like Larkinville? 

Nope, this. This is what they’re planning.  

I don’t know about you, but there’s a lot of green on that rendering. Looks like Times Beach’s ecosystem is preserved. Most of the construction would be in small clusters, away from the shore.  

There are plenty of things to be outraged about in Buffalo. These two don’t seem to be among them. 

SolarCity and its Impact

A lot has been written in the past week or so about the SolarCity project in South Buffalo. A lot of it has to do with OMG THAT’S LIKE $300k PER JOB. It’s being sold as an excessive investment for dubious return.

Here’s something to consider: the state of New York is not paying a subsidy to SolarCity. Under its contract, SolarCity will create approximately 3,600 brand-new high-paying jobs in Buffalo alone.  In order to do that, the state is buying the equipment that SolarCity will use to manufacture its products, and building the factory facility. The state will own it all.

While it’s well within the populist fashion of the times to decry public-private partnerships such as these – especially given examples where the private beneficiaries fail to uphold their end of the job-creation bargain with impunity – the simple fact is that municipalities compete with each other for this type of project, and Buffalo needs to be able to compete. 

It’s not just about 3,600 jobs. It’s about the economic activity that each one of those well-paying jobs generates

Let’s backtrack for a second and talk about supply-side/trickle-down theory versus demand-side/trickle-up; I believe in the latter and not the former. 30+ years ago the country started a grand experiment, simply put that lowering the tax burden on the very wealthy would result in them amassing more wealth, and that this would “trickle down” to the economy-at-large and create great wealth for everyone. It was what George H.W. Bush in 1980 called “Voodoo Economics”. Yet the country has stuck with this notion that easing the tax and regulatory burden on the rich would bring about great things for the middle and working classes. It simply didn’t happen. In fact, the working poor stayed that way, and the middle classes have borne the brunt of this experiment in terms of less pay for more work. 

Think of it this way – we heard a great deal in the last few Presidential elections about the vaunted “job creators” – these magical John Galts who have amassed great success and wealth and who demand less regulation and more tax relief (and none of this “Obamacare” nonsense) in order to … well, it gets a bit fuzzy at this point. 

It gets fuzzy because lax regulations have simply led to poor oversight and environmental catastrophes like the chemical spill in West Virginia last year. Arguably, the public cost in money and suffering that resulted from that disaster far exceeded the cost properly to inspect and enforce health and safety regulations in the first place. 

But with respect to the ultra-wealthy “job creators” in this country – let’s say I have a fortune of $150 million. With that sort of money, my opportunity to participate in the economy is limitless. Many of the people with this sort of money pay a fraction of a percent of their income to the authorities as compared to the nut you and I pay, because the tax code is designed by these people to help these people. Let’s say, instead, that I actually earn a paycheck rather than amass a fortune through inheritance or investment, and that I make $4 million per year. Technically, I’m supposed to pay 35% or so of that money to the IRS, but through creative accounting and other loopholes, we can whittle that down substantially. But even if, hypothetically, I paid the full 35% nut to the feds, I’m still bringing home $2.6 million. What does that mean, in terms of the trickle-down theory? That I won’t get a Maybach and instead opt for an S600? That I’ll have to cut back on my NetJets account? Seriously, what is it about $2.6 million versus, say $3.4 million that will adversely affect my ability to spend? Whether you earn $2.6 or $3.4 million, you’re making all the money in the world and you can buy anything you need, and everything you want. 

By contrast, if you put an extra few thousand dollars in the pocket of someone who’s working class or middle class, you just added a new appliance, or a better car, or a nicer vacation. By giving tax relief to the middle class, you can suddenly give average people more freedom to participate in the economy, and they’ll spend it – everyone benefits.  We could simplify the tax code tomorrow and the economy would skyrocket. OK, everyone earning over $500,000 pays 35% straight up, regardless of income source – paycheck or capital gains. Anyone making $200 – 500k pays 25% straight-up. Anyone making $100k – 200k pays 17%. 50k – 100k, you pay 10%, and if you earn less than 50k you pay zero.  Add a VAT and you’ve just funded universal health care. 

But I digress. 

The state’s investment of $350 million from the Buffalo Billion and $400 million in conditional loans (payable if SolarCity does not meet milestones and goals as set forth in the agreement), will result in a massive trickle-up boost to the local economy.  You will have 3,600 households suddenly better able to afford to participate in the local economy, buying goods and services throughout the region. And let’s not forget that SolarCity has contracted to invest $5 billion in this project over the first 10 years, we’re not looking at some sort of idiotic handout. 

Although 3,600 jobs will be here in WNY, there will be 5,000 SolarCity jobs created throughout upstate New York.

Now, witness what some are now trying to peddle. Namely, local embarrassment Carl Paladino. Here’s an excerpt from an anti-Cuomo, pro-Astorino email he sent Thursday: 

Aside from the misspellings and factual inaccuracies (read: lies), Paladino claims that Texas doesn’t subsidize or incentivize businesses moving to Texas. Well, not every business wants to locate in an overheated place that doesn’t spend money on infrastructure or education.  But the idea that Texas doesn’t do economic incentives is simply a lie.  It takes a few simple clicks of the Google machine to find the Texas website where its incentives and subsidies are set forth. Now, Paladino would have you think that Musk went to Texas simply because it’s an overheated, be-rednecked Galt’s Gulch, right? Wrong

In Texas, Musk said the outpouring of support from local residents and government officials — who are supporting the project with at least $15.3 million in state funding — was significant: “We want to be in a place where we’re truly wanted,” he said.

By the way, Elon Musk – the guy in charge of SolarCity – recently located his SpacePort in Texas, but located his Tesla battery plant in Nevada. Part of the reason? Nevada’s business climate is more liberal than Texas‘. Also, Nevada and Texas competed against each other to land the Gigafactory, and Nevada’s package of $1.25 billion in tax breaks and incentives beat whatever Texas’ proposal was

The deal with SolarCity is different. The state (via SUNY) will own the factory and equipment, and SolarCity will be allowed to use it – for free – for 10 years. This will create 3,500 local high-tech jobs; 21st century jobs. Again – SolarCity will be investing $5 billion of its own money. If they don’t live up to their promises, SolarCity will be up to $412 million in debt to the state.  SolarCity maintains a big chunk of the risk, and isn’t getting a direct cash subsidy. 

Over 3,500 new, high-paying local jobs and all the economic activity that each one of those jobs generates is huge for this region. This is a big risk and a big expense, but you don’t undo 50 years of decline through recklessness or fear. 

#Placemaking #Buffalo

 

Look at me! I’m an urban planner! 

IMG_8274.JPG

IMG_8275.JPG

IMG_8276.JPG

IMG_8277.JPG

IMG_8281.JPG

IMG_8280.JPG

IMG_8279.JPG

IMG_8278.JPG

 

IMG_8285.JPG

Everybody’s Dancing in a Ring Around the Sun

1,000 jobs for Buffalo. Maybe more.

Not 19th century dirty jobs, but 1,000 jobs that are part of the new green economy. This could be the best news that Buffalo has received in decades, because this is a real thing involving real jobs. SolarCity is buying Silevo. 

Last November, Governor Cuomo announced that the state would build a “hub facility” for high tech and green energy businesses at RiverBend, as part of his “Buffalo Billion” plan. One of the two California companies to locate at RiverBend is “Silevo”, which would join with another company to invest $1.5 billion and locate operations in Buffalo. 

RiverBend is in South Buffalo, located on the site of the former Republic Steel and and Donner Hanna Coke facilities. The city is literally replacing its defunct, dirty industries with clean, green, state-of-the-art ones. At the November presser, Silevo was introduced thusly

Silevo is a California-based company that develops and manufactures silicon solar cells and modules, with an already established manufacturing plant in China. Phase 1 of Silevo’s project, with a $750 million investment which will create at least 475 jobs, involves a 200 megawatt production facility sole establishing its sole North American manufacturing operations at RiverBend.

The state investment of $225 million through Empire State Development would set up the necessary water, sewer, utility, and road infrastructure, as well as 275,000 square feet of building.  The state will also set up the equipment, which would be owned by the SUNY Research Foundation. No money was being paid directly to the companies.   

Zheng Xu, CEO and Founder of Silevo said, “Inspired by the bold leadership and demonstrated commitment of Governor Cuomo, and buoyed by the strong regional infrastructure and highly skilled workforce present in Western New York, Silevo is excited to bring its next phase of high-volume manufacturing operations to the United States with our new location in Buffalo. Working closely with the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, we look forward to accelerating innovative and cost-effective solar module technology that will position both Silevo and New York as leaders in driving the next wave of solar adoption in homes and business nationwide.”

 Yesterday, Tesla Motors and SpaceX wunderkind Elon Musk announced that his SolarCity venture was buying Silevo for $350 million

Peter Rive, SolarCity chief technology officer and co-founder, said the $350 million acquisition will lead to a factory in Buffalo, N.Y., and create more than 1,000 jobs within the next two years.

The plant will be “one of the single largest solar panel production plants in the world,” according to the post, and it will be followed by one or more even bigger facilities in subsequent years. Rive said he hopes SolarCity will eventually create several thousand panel-making jobs.

On Twitter, Musk’s personal feed posted “SolarCity to build the world’s largest advanced solar panel factory in upstate New York” with a link to the blog post…

…Until now, SolarCity has purchased its solar panels from other manufacturers. Rive said the acquisition will finally allow the company to make its own photovoltaic panels.

Synergy!  The Buffalo News notes

That initial plant at RiverBend was envisioned to have the annual capacity to produce enough solar panels to generate 200 megawatts of electricity. But SolarCity executives said they were interested in expanding the capacity of that plant to be five times bigger than the original plan.

“At a targeted capacity greater than 1 gigawatt within the next two years, it will be one of the single largest solar panel production plants in the world. This will be followed in subsequent years by one or more significantly larger plants at an order of magnitude greater annual production capacity,” SolarCity said.

SolarCity executives said they view the Silevo acquisition as a key step in their efforts to reduce the price of solar energy systems to the point where they can compete with electricity generated from fossil fuels without the lucrative subsidies that now are needed to offset the higher costs of solar panels.

By combining Silevo’s technology, which is more efficient at generating electricity than most other solar panels on the market today, with lower production costs from the economies of scale that come from high-volume production, SolarCity executives said they believe they can make solar systems more affordable.

“What we are trying to address is not the lay of the land today, where there are indeed too many suppliers, most of whom are producing relatively low photonic efficiency solar cells at uncompelling costs, but how we see the future developing,” the blog post said.

“Without decisive action to lay the groundwork today, the massive volume of affordable, high efficiency panels needed for unsubsidized solar power to outcompete fossil fuel grid power simply will not be there when it is needed,” said the post.

Chinese companies and manufacturers dominate the global market for solar modules. Silevo and SolarCity intend to challenge that dominance by building the largest module manufacturer in the United States in South Buffalo.  

On the SolarCity company blog

[Silevo] modules have demonstrated a unique combination of high energy output and low cost. Our intent is to combine what we believe is fundamentally the best photovoltaic technology with massive economies of scale to achieve a breakthrough in the cost of solar power.

and

Given that there is excess supplier capacity today, this may seem counter-intuitive to some who follow the solar industry. What we are trying to address is not the lay of the land today, where there are indeed too many suppliers, most of whom are producing relatively low photonic efficiency solar cells at uncompelling costs, but how we see the future developing. Without decisive action to lay the groundwork today, the massive volume of affordable, high efficiency panels needed for unsubsidized solar power to outcompete fossil fuel grid power simply will not be there when it is needed.

The Buffalo plant’s planned capacity would be large enough to challenge the Chinese market with a superior product

SolarCity’s chairman who is also chief executive of Tesla Motors, said the goal is to produce solar panels capable of generating power “cheaper than coal or fracked gas power.”

Imagine a factory in Buffalo producing something that could render hydrofracking and Tonawanda Coke the NRG Huntley plant obsolete, and 1,000+ jobs, to boot. SolarCity does not yet operate in western New York, but it leases solar systems to homeowners and businesses. 

As solar systems improve in terms of energy production and storage, adoption will grow. SolarCity is setting itself up to dominate the market with a superior system that will save people money and provide sustainable, renewable energy. This is a huge deal for Buffalo and the country.  

Rejected “Trico Saved!” Headlines

Krog Wipes Away Controversy

Monument to Lost Jobs Saved

Docs Nixed, Bricks Fixed

Trico “Really Ties the City Together” 

This Hotel Matters

Trico Saved #ForReal

Mayor Brown Makes Decision

As an aside, Krog intends to demolish the older, stone icehouse portion of the Trico building. I’d be shocked if he didn’t get massive pushback from genuine preservationists on that point. I’m sure he’ll just need to retain the right people as “consultants” on the job and any potential problems will dissolve. 

Seven Hundred and Sixteen TeeVees #ForReal

(716) 1 theaterI’m disappointed that the (716) Bistro won’t have 40′ TV screens and is settling for 38-footers. Perhaps I’ll file a lawsuit to block the proposal. My favorite part of the reveal was this paragraph, which was in the Buffalo News

The restaurant’s walls will be decorated with graphics that tell the history of the numbers 7, 1 and 6 throughout the history of sports. Its bathrooms will feature mirrors that have TVs embedded within them. And, in addition to the 38-foot TV screen, there will be 55 more big-screen TVs throughout the restaurant.

Watching the embedded mirror TVs after taking a piss is all well and good, but what about during the piss itself? Can we expect supraurinal plasma screens? What about on the inside of the doors to individual stalls? Going number 2 can take minutes rather than seconds, and patrons can’t miss a minute of sports action! Will the hand dryers have TVs?

Who knew that Tully’s was a restaurant decor trend-setter? 

But seriously, I don’t have a problem at all with a big hotel/hockey/restaurant project across from the First Niagara Center and Canalside, and down the block from Helium. It’s high time that area became the city’s entertainment district, and as much as we can make fun of the acid-washed  dream that is (716), let’s be clear on one thing – HarborCenter is the Bass Pro project, (without the public cash). 

Although it won’t be selling waders, rods, reels, and shotguns, it is a large-scale, expensive destination project that will attract people year-round. The (716) restaurant isn’t going to be fine dining, nor is anyone pretending that it will. It will likely feature a wide panoply of the finest deep-fried dishes, making you wish you owned the exclusive Pitco Frialator distributorship for western New York. It’ll be an over-the-top mega-sports bar to which people will drive 30 minutes to ignore their friends and get drunk while watching – and screaming to – an endless bank of TVs, wearing $120 hockey jerseys, and hopefully not drive home. 

It might not be your cup of tea or mine, but what HarborCenter is doing is, on balance, a good thing for Buffalo.

Trucks to Lewiston? Good Idea!

The Sunday Buffalo News published a story about a ultra-top-secret plan to divert all truck traffic away from the Peace  Bridge and onto the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. A lot of customs brokerage jobs would have to be moved from Buffalo and Fort Erie to Lewiston and Queenston, but neighborhood concerns over diesel particulate would be assuaged. 

Funny, because here’s what I wrote in February 2008 – six years ago:

The Peace Bridge Expansion is Dead. That’s my prediction. It is never, ever going to happen. Not in my lifetime, not in yours. Frankly, I think that increased traffic capacity isn’t needed in Buffalo anyway. Why shove it down Buffalo’s throat if it so clearly doesn’t want it?

The Ambassador Bridge to Black Rock? Not going to happen. No one’s going to build a plaza and new interchange on the US side with the Scajaquada and 190 right there, particularly given the fact that the push now is to downgrade the Scajaquada to a boulevard of some sort.

While an ideal crossing would be across the river just south of Grand Island, so that it would connect up with the I-290 and I-190, that disturbs residential neighborhoods in Canada.

Instead, we should completely jettison the Peace Bridge expansion altogether and instead increase capacity at Queenston-Lewiston. That single span gets a tremendous amount of truck and vehicular traffic, and recently received an upgrade to five lanes. The Q-L bridge provides direct access on both sides of the span to a major highway; the 405 to the QEW on the Canadian side, and the I-190 on the US side.

If there was any semblance of forward-thinking on the part of the CVB, it would already have been in talks to develop and construct a gorgeous visitor’s center that is run locally – not from Albany. Lease some Thruway property from the Authority and give border crossers a reason to come to a whole host of attractions in Western New York. The fact that there is no “Welcome to New York” or “Welcome to WNY” center on this side of the border underscores just how backwards and simple our supposed tourism promoters are. They’re at Thruway rest areas, but not at the border. How patently stupid; you have to wait until you get to Pembroke or Angola – well on your way out of the metro area.

There comes a time when you just say “enough”. The Peace Bridge project has spent ten years in environmental review, design review, and negotiations over the now-dead shared border management. We can sit and wait another few years for a new administration to change its mind, but it’s been almost ten years now that nothing tangible has happened. The preservation community has drawn a line in the sand as far as the neighborhood that would be adversely affected by a new plaza on the Buffalo side, and we all know about Al Coppola’s threat to move his Pan Am house. What else could be more persuasive?

So screw it. Enough. Everybody wins.

Expand the Queenston-Lewiston bridge with a second, signature span across the Niagara River, right at the escarpment with a gorgeous view of the meandering river leading to Youngstown, and Lake Ontario beyond.

I think that the current Peace Bridge span should be replaced with a more modern, signature span, and that the current steel span should then be demolished. We should move forward with shared border management, which would allow US-bound traffic be pre-screened in Fort Erie with perhaps only spot-checks on the US side. The problem isn’t just neighborhood anger, the access to the I-190 is very poorly laid out, with the southbound ramp located about 1/4 mile west from the northbound ramp access road.

 

And it’s still a crime that we don’t have a visitor’s center to promote local businesses and attractions to Canadian visitors coming off the bridges, or really any tourism services of any sort, such as currency exchange. Ontario maintains one on the 420 in Niagara Falls, and another on the QEW near Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Let me know if I can help you with any other ideas. 

1 2 3 4