The Curse of the Donn Esmonde Column

What better way to explain away systemic failure than to do what they did in the Middle Ages and just blame it on some supernatural curse? 

The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy first articulated the concept of the Red Sox “Curse of the Bambino” in a book released in 1990.  It soon became lore – during fall Sox games, the “Reverse Curve” sign on an overpass on the outbound Storrow Drive became “Reverse Curse”. 

So Donn Esmonde, a semi-retired Buffalo News columnist/asshole, came up with a “curse” for Buffalo. This is, naturally, not at all original. Some believe that Buffalo is cursed because President McKinley was assassinated here. It’s much easier than, say, absorbing the details and lessons from Diana Dillaway’s “Power Failure and addressing longstanding ways in which Buffalo continues to stand in the way of its own progress. 

Esmonde’s way of cheering the Pegula family’s purchase of the Buffalo Bills reads more like the rantings of an obsessed geek fanboy writing erotic fanfiction featuring Karen Gillan and Kari from “Mythbusters“. 

If the stars and fates were – for reasons unknown – lined up for decades against the city, those fortunes indisputably have changed. The U-turn has been so dramatic – and the reversal so long overdue – that the dark cloud may have lifted for generations to come.

Note to Fate: It’s about time.

It’s not fate. There is not a single thing about Buffalo and WNY that has fundamentally changed in the last 10 years, except perhaps locals’ attitudes about the city. When the governor throws a billion dollars at your city for economic development, good things would happen anywhere. The funding of ECHDC with money from the power authority helped bring about Canalside, and that was thanks to smart politicians exercising their clout. But do we really need NYPA? Shouldn’t WNY have been benefiting from cheap hydropower for the last century? Couldn’t Albany do something about making it easier to start and do business in New York State instead of just making it rain cash? Our recent election results show just how same old same old our area is.  Lucking into finding a sports-fan billionaire is just that – luck. His purchase of the Bills changes none of the fundamental, underlying problems that we face. 

Any “curse” is of our own creation, and we maintain it lovingly every time we “participate” in our electoral system. 

If indeed there was a dark cloud hanging for decades over our sporting teams and civic fortunes, it’s safe to conclude it has been mugged, mauled, pummeled and smothered into submission.

The way things are going, there will be a shiny Stanley Cup in our trophy case and a Super Bowl parade down Main Street sometime in the next decade. Crazy talk, I know. But who could have imagined that a Pegula would suddenly appear, as if brought to life by our collective wishful thinking?

We suffered the misfortunes of Wide Right, four straight Super Bowl losses, No Goal and various other sporting calamities. The supposed prior salvation of the Sabres – and a downtown-reviving Adelphia empire – offered by the Rigas family vaporized in false promises and prison sentences.

The sports calamities pale in comparison to our social, economic, and political calamities, all of which continue apace. Another article in the News details the process whereby amateur, unqualified “planners” dictate the future of the Outer Harbor by passive-aggressive sticky note.  Don’t tell me that any curse is lifted when we have people whining about people living in gorgeous new housing near the Lake. I mean, just look at what waterfront development did to those unlivable hellholes like Vancouver, Toronto, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Singapore, and Chicago! We’d never want to be like those places! By God, that Outer Harbor has been a contaminated wasteland for the last 80 years, and by God a contaminated wasteland it should stay!

Apart from Silicon Valley, newly minted billionaires don’t generally fall from the sky – particularly around here. Pegula, in essence, emerged from the earth – or, at least, the source of his billions did. Advancements in the technology of natural gas extraction, called fracking, in recent years turned natural gas deposits mile-deep in shale into 21st-century treasure. Though environmentally controversial, fracking transformed Pegula seemingly overnight into a multibillionaire. With decades in the industry, Pegula – a native Pennsylvanian whose Western New York roots are nearly 40 years deep – saw the coming technology early on and acquired massive stretches of shale-rich land. He has, over the last five years, sold pieces of his stake for billions of dollars.

Luckily for us.

This one is fantastic. Esmonde is glossing over the environmental disaster that is natural gas extraction through hydrofracking. The modern fracking they do in Pennsylvania and other places is not yet allowed in New York, and while some think it would be a boon for economically depressed parts of central New York – mostly around Utica and Binghamton – it comes with huge environmental risks. 

You need look no further than this Donn Esmonde column from 2011, wherein he recounts how fracking rigs in Springville made a young family sick, and turned their well water suddenly flammable. Heartbreaking:

“I couldn’t understand why my kids were getting sick,” said Brant. “Are they going to have health problems for the rest of their lives? I have six girls, will they be able to have children?”

One could argue that fracking may have “cursed” that family, because looking at it all scientifically, empirically, and objectively is far too complicated and difficult. But what’s a little poisoned water, poisoned kids, and geological trauma when a billionaire can buy our sports team? 

I understand that we’re willing to hold our collective civic nose and ignore how Pegula made his billions, but to gloss over it and cheer the lifting of a “curse” is going a bit too far, even for Tea Party Donn

With Pegula’s emergence, Buffalo really stepped in it – but this time, instead of stomping into something odoriferous, we walked into a bed of roses. Mesh the reversal of our sporting fortunes with the ongoing repopulation of downtown, the development of the waterfront, the revival of the West Side, the emergence of Canalside and the rise of the Medical Campus, and there is just one rational rhetorical question begging to be asked: Curse? What Curse?

Buffalo’s population continues to decline. Our politics remain hopelessly dysfunctional and corrupt, and all of these things are happening in spite of that. Buffalonians and WNYers may have more optimism and hope, but it’s not because one billionaire bought the Bills – it’s because in the last 20 years, we’ve been forced at last to get past our post-industrial malaise and figure out a path to the future. We may not always agree, and we may fight and argue about the details of how to move forward, but it’s because of the work of visionary businesspeople, tax credits and incentives, activists, volunteers, and organizations that our region seems to be moving forward. For every billionaire sports team owner, the real hard work is being done by people who live paycheck to paycheck, or freelance check to freelance check. It’s being done by entrepreneurs who put their talent and passion into various projects. It’s not the grand shopping sprees that make Buffalo better, it’s all the little things that people do with minimal fanfare and very hard work. 

As for me, I’m convinced that Buffalo’s “curse” won’t be lifted until Donn Esmonde stops writing trite, humorless nonsense in the local paper and retires to his suburban tract home in Florida

Rob Ford, Buffalonian

Channel 2 anchor Mary Alice Demler met Toronto’s figurehead mayor Rob Ford at the Bills game yesterday and came away thinking he’s a troubled guy with a sweet punim

A man who was until recently entrusted – the city council stripped Ford of almost all of his powers by an overwhelming margin a few weeks ago – with running one of the largest and most vibrant cities in North America, has not merely descended into self-parody. He is the subject of a massive police investigation into crack-dealing Etobicoke gangs, may be implicated in some homicides, and has lied to his constituents about his crack use and otherwise embarrassed himself, his family, his political party, and his city. The guy is a mess who should have been removed from office a month ago

But because the Bills played a game in Toronto yesterday (that socialist hellhole has more people and money than WNY), everyone pretended like everything was normal. Under normal circumstances, Channel 2 would be “holding people in power accountable” and wondering how Ford got a ticket and how much he paid. 

But technically speaking, Ford is no longer “in power”, so Channel 2 can leave it to the Star, CP24, the Globe & Mail, CityTV, the CBC, CTV, and other media up there to hold him “accountable”. 

Instead, 

She deleted the original Tweet, so here’s Buffalo Rising’s re-Tweet of it.

The Bills are so shockingly popular in Toronto that a whopping 40,000 people showed up to watch them lose to Atlanta. The Rogers Centre has a football capacity of 54,000; the Ralph can fit almost 75,000. Let’s keep trying to make fetch happen.

But it’s good to know everyone can overlook shocking criminality and a Mayor who apparently stole someone else’s seat and tell us he’s a sweetheart who squeezed himself into a Bills jersey because he’s been effectively stripped of the powers of his real job. 

But he sort of looks like he belongs here, so maybe we should gush over him. He eats chicken wings, after all. 

Misdirected Sympathy

fan-falls-from-top-deck-to-bottom-in-buffalo-b (1)You know how that guy got up onto a railing up in the 300 level at the Ralph? He put his ass on the railing, started to slide down, lost his balance, and plummeted into the level below, and onto another human being; an innocent and wholly unsuspecting human being, who was simply minding his or her own business, spectating a football game. 

We don’t know if the faller was drunk or high, or just stupid. Regardless, he made a poor and reckless choice, and could have killed himself – or worse, someone else. That no one died is amazing. 

So, let’s just say it: the rail-sliding asshole made a dick move and deserves what’s coming to him – firing, barred from the stadium, public embarrassment, and a thick and juicy lawsuit which may very well bankrupt him. He deserves every bit of it, just like you fervently believe that Dr. Corasanti deserved to be punished for striking Alex Rice with his car and killing her. 

But I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing in the media about the fallout from the reckless slider’s dick move. Oh, Eric Mower went to far by firing him! Oh, the Bills are overreacting! Oh, his poor life is roo-ned

FFS. 

This column in the Niagara Gazette perfectly distills the sympathy-for-the malfeasor angle. Let’s fisk it. 

My husband and I were having dinner with my oldest son the other day when he told us he knows that guy who fell onto another fan at Sunday’s Buffalo Bills game.

After talking with my son about his friend. I could feel a turnabout in my reaction to the event.

When I first heard the story, I felt queasy. Who among us can’t picture themselves enjoying a Bills game on a beautiful sunny day, minding our own business? Nobody ever thinks that some knucklehead will fall on us from the deck up above.

But as I learned more about the young man, it was like someone had refocused the lens on my awareness and suddenly the poor, unsuspecting fan who was fallen upon went out of my focus and the young man who fell upon him came into focus.

This is astonishing. Because your son is friends with a kid who just got through ruining his life, we can just forget about the guy who is the real victim and attempt to turn the reckless slider into a hero? What bizarro world is this? Let’s be clear – the reckless slider is lucky. to. be. alive. That’s it, full stop. 

I’m willing to bet that if the dummy who fell was just some average blue-collar shlub who lost his job delivering pizzas, no one would bat an eye. This? This was a good boy

Clearly, the faller made some bad choices, chief among them deciding it would be cool to slide down a railing at the edge of the top deck of seats.

Crazy, right? I’ve been in the upper decks. I don’t even like to stand up by those seats, they’re so far from the ground.  Who would mess around up there?

But, the other night at dinner, hearing about what’s happened to this guy, I couldn’t help but feel for him.

Not bad choices – dick move. He put his own life and the lives of others in direct peril, and for what? Bravado? Drunken feat of sliding? I have zero sympathy whatsoever for the person who set his own chain of negative events in motion

After the video of his fall went viral, he was fired from his job at at Eric Mower and Associates. His employer announced the firing on Facebook. The Bills banned him from the stadium — forever. Add to his punishment that he hurt someone with his thoughtless behavior, in an action which will be available to watch again and again on the Internet until the end of time. The road for this guy is bound to go steeply uphill for a while.

Wait a minute here. Your sympathy switched from fallee to faller because he got fired and can never set foot in the Ralph again? And because his fall will be on YouTube? Is this for real? 

First of all, we have to presume that the faller was an at-will employee with Eric Mower. This means that the company could have fired him because the sun was shining or not shining; they could have fired him because it was a Tuesday – an at-will employee can be fired at any time for any reason at all, or no reason whatsoever, just as he can terminate his own employment in the same way and for the same reasons.

If Mower decided it didn’t want some asshole who recklessly falls on top of other people at football games on its payroll, it is wholly within its rights to get rid of him. Furthermore, he had a side business, and if his fall is so goddamn great for humanity, maybe he can use it as a selling point for his own design shop. “Hire us: we almost kill people” might be an effective slogan. I dunno, I’m not in marketing. 

He can’t ever go to a Bills game again? Boo hoo cry me the Buffalo River. Again: he’s lucky he isn’t up on manslaughter charges. So his choices of entertainment venues has a subtraction of one. Small price to pay. 

YouTube? If you don’t want people to turn you into a Tosh.O bit, then don’t try that shit at home. 

My son, who is not one to suffer fools gladly, described his friend as an intelligent, kind and funny young man. 

Because I respect my son’s opinion, I had to reconsider my own.

I imagine most of us, at one time or another, have done something colossally stupid and just got lucky that things didn’t end badly.

While my initial response was to feel deep sympathy for the man who was fallen upon, I now — knowing the rest of the story — also feel deep sympathy for the man who fell.

So, because he’s your son’s friend, he doesn’t deserve to suffer the consequences of his actions?

To him — as the mother of his friend — I would like to say this:

Surely you wish this never happened to you, but what I have learned repeatedly in my years, is that you don’t want to wish someone away from an experience that could shape their character and their destiny, because even the most horrific events are rich with opportunity for personal growth.

Maybe he should add it to his resume: “Achieved personal growth through a bad choice that almost killed myself and someone else”. 

There are two paths that lie ahead for you. You can let that horrible day in the stadium define you and perhaps destroy the very best that you are or you can use the event as an opportunity to evolve into an even better human.

I’m certain you already know all this, as every child is taught some form of what I’m saying here, but I also know from experience that we forget the most important life lessons, just when we need them most.

Take the consequences of your actions bravely and do not complain. Make it right as best you can with the most integrity you can muster.

Hope you’re judgment-proof, have good insurance, or a good lawyer! You’re going to be facing criminal and civil time in court. 

You’re getting beat up in the media and online. Forgiving yourself for this incident will be the hardest. Flog yourself a little if you must, but then get on with the business of living.

“Forgiving yourself”?! No, flog yourself a fucking lot. Re-examine the person you are and the choices you’ve made. Re-evaluate what led you to show off like that and almost take a life? Don’t forgive a thing – get help. You clearly need it. “Getting on with the business of living” is the sort of feel-good bullshit that teaches people that it’s ok to do fundamentally and palpably stupid, dangerous things as long as you have a modicum of hippie self-awareness. 

You’ve received a hard lesson, at your own hand, but there’s a strong possibility that it could be your most important lesson.

Yes, don’t tempt fate by trying to pull off inherently dangerous stunts. (How much do you want to bet he sues the Ralph himself because, e.g., it didn’t have spikes on the railing to prevent dumb assholes like him from doing dumb asshole moves like he did?) 

Lastly, during this public humiliation, you will learn who your friends are. They will understand what we all inherently know but often forget — that while there are many of us who would have never done anything as wild and risky as what you did, we likely all know and care about at least one other person who might.

 Yeah, no. One thing you learn when you become an adult – and our reckless slider is pushing 30 and has no excuse – is to behave yourself. When you don’t, you’re going to suffer the consequences. And part of being an adult is doing just that, and you don’t whine about it, and you plead with your friends’ moms to please not write sympathetic drivel in the local paper. You’re a dick. Try not being a dick in the future. 

Assemblyman Steve Katz on the Bills Stadium

The next time you get all parochial and upset about something that’s happening in some other part of the state, and think to yourself, “why should we pay for that?” consider this.

Assemblyman Steve Katz (R-Yorktown) represents the 94th Assembly District, and is a Republican representing extreme northern Westchester and part of Putnam Counties. (He happens to be my parents’ Assemblyman). When confronted with a bill to send $60 million in state funds to renovate Ralph Wilson stadium, he said,

Manhattan Democratic Assemblyman Herman Farrell, Jr., (D-Washington Heights) the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, brought up the examples of the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn and the Jets and Giants playing in New Jersey. A Democrat from Manhattan defending your hobby fandom against a Republican from the rural New York exurbs? Consider that, Buffalo.

 

The Buffalo Waterfront Stadium: In Defense of Skepticism

We will operate here under the assumption that everyone wants the Bills to stay in the area. You don’t have to be a football fan or have a #billsmafia on your Twitter avatar to understand that the Bills are an economic engine, a source of civic pride, and a symbol of good days passed, and hope for the future.  Even if I am dismissive of throwing a billion dollars at a game of catch, that doesn’t mean I want Ralph’s post-concussion-syndrome follies to move to Los Angeles. 

Yesterday, Chris Smith and Brad Riter led the cheer for the $1.4 billion “conversation starter” stadium proposal. If you missed it over at Trending Buffalo, listen here right now

TBOneThing10-24-12.mp3

OK. 

Would that replication of Singapore – a gleaming new Asian Tiger of a Buffalo downtown be great to build on Lake Erie? Sure. Would a new stadium complex that involves the construction of about six bridges, the redevelopment of tainted land, nestled alongside the flour and cereal processors be nice? Sure; that would be great. Would it be fantastic if the Buffalo Bills stayed here in perpetuity, playing in a state-of-the-art stadium? Of course it would.  

We are, however, in “would be nice” territory, and decidedly removed from “must happen”. 

And we’re talking about a city that – over 20 years – can’t get it together to expand the Peace Bridge or its plaza, for considerably less money. 

Even if you argue – as both Brad and Chris do – that a new stadium is the sine qua non – the “must happen” of the Bills’ continued existence in western New York, why does it have to involve everything contained within the Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Center (hereinafter “GBSEC”) proposal?  Why are we building a new home for the Jetsons when what we really need is a less crappy stadium with a dome to keep out the weather, and nicer toilets? As much as it makes sense to appeal to fans, you have to also appeal to people who don’t care. 

We’re a small town with small money. Propose away, but the scale of GBSEC’s proposal is way outside the “reasonable” scale.

Click to enlarge

 Brad’s opening premise is that it makes more sense to spend $1.4 billion on a new stadium than $200 million on the Ralph. That’s great, except we’re talking about fantasy-dollars; dollars no one has. 

First, GBSEC spends several pages’ worth of its presentation creating a whole new downtown, connected to the existing one. We already have a downtown. No one much likes it, and no one much goes there, except for court, the Sabres, and the theater. Would building a sur-downtown have a stimulative effect on the existing one? It would, if the proponents of Mos Eisley-on-the-Lake didn’t factor in the current state of downtown’s ridiculous parking supply into its plan. It doesn’t assume – it doesn’t much allow – our current downtown to change. Much simpler and cheaper would be to let our existing downtown grow organically by giving it a competitive advantage; say, a sales-tax free zone. 

Secondly, the Bills already have a stadium. I’ve never been in it, so I’ll take Brad’s word for it that it’s really awful. We’re also having a hard time filling it, partly because the team tends to be horrible, but also because of demographics and economics. The region is shrinking. Things like high gas prices take a bite out of people’s discretionary budgets, and it’s harder to add “game” to “food” and “utilities”. We’re having quite the civic discussion over spending $200 million – a teeny drop in the GBSEC bucket – to fix the Ralph up and make it less horrible.  Notwithstanding the assumption I propose above, a lot of people would rather see the Bills leave than assign public money to this idea. The Buffalo Bills NFL franchise is worth almost a billion dollars. Its owner is in his 90s, and recently becomes unwell with greater frequency. It’s a hard sell to tell a blue-collar, hardworking, shrinking region that a billion-dollar business needs welfare to help build it a new home. 

If $200 million is a tough sell, who swoops in and says, “$1.4 billion’ll do the trick!”?  Of course, we’re assuming there will be some outlay of public money for this because that’s how these things go. If the state and county don’t play ball, some other city will offer up a much sweeter pot; backyard deers or no.

We talk about the megaregion as being the key to the Bills’ continued viability here, and locating in WNY is geographically the least-inconvenient place. But how much is Rogers going to put up? How much is the Government of Ontario or Canada’s Federal Government going to put up to keep this megaregional asset in WNY? How much is Monroe County going to contribute? What about Niagara County? Why do Erie County taxpayers shoulder such a large fiscal burden for what’s being billed as a multinational attraction? Also, has Toronto really bought into being Bills country? How are tickets selling at the Rogers Centre, another Great Lakes retractable-roof location that had the good fortune to locate itself in an existing urban downtown? 

Brad and Chris say this all is starting a conversation. But you start conversations by saying, “what if we built them a new, domed stadium in Orchard Park”. Then the conversation may – or may not – progress to, “hey, how about a stadium with a retractable roof on the Outer Harbor. It would cost [insert reasonable, sub-billion-dollar figure here].” Then you expand, and move on to alternate ideas – siting it in Niagara County to be closer to Rochester and Toronto, for example. Perhaps then you suggest coupling the project – wherever it is – with a new, less horrible convention center and maybe a hotel. 

Even if the project GBSEC proposed had contained only a stadium, hotel, and convention center, it would be something within the world of reason. But you have to convince people of the underlying premise before you throw this whole new city at them. 

In the podcast, Brad argues that we oughtn’t compare the Bills proposal to what happened in New York and Dallas. Why not? Maybe because the markets are so different, but the dollar figures are quite similar.

The new Yankee Stadium, which houses the wealthiest, most successful sports franchise in America, cost $1.5 billion. The new Citi Field in Queens, which hosts the New York Mets, cost $850 million, paid through the sale of New York City bonds, to be repaid by the Mets with interest in lieu of property taxes. The home of two teams – the Jets and Giants – cost $1.6 billion and was the most expensive domestic stadium, ever. So, lets understand that what GBSEC is proposing is on a par with what happened in New York. Dallas?  Dallas’ Cowboy Stadium cost $1.4 billion in 2012 dollars

By contrast, Green Bay’s municipally owned Lambeau Field is ancient and was renovated a couple of years ago for less than $300 million. It’s still going strong in a small-town market, mostly because the team is owned by the community. 

The difference, of course, is that Dallas-Fort Worth and the New York tristate area are already large, interconnected economic regions. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex boasts 6.5 million people across 13 counties. The New York tristate area has about 20 million people within its immediate, contiguous metropolitan area. All of these metros have the added benefit of being located within the same nation-state. 

Even if one were to make the argument that a billion-plus dollar megaplex on Lake Erie could be a centerpiece to finally recognize the interdependency of a Tor-Buff-Chester metropolitan area, it would be superficial, at best.  The fact is that these are neither politically nor geographically contiguous areas, spanning two countries and three major media markets. Even Tor-Buff-Chester itself is a different concept altogether. It’s a megaregion like Boston-New York-Washington, not its own metro. Back in 2007, Richard Florida estimated that the megaregion he defines had about 22 million people in it, strewn across a geography from Quebec City to Syracuse to London, ON. That’s quite a spread. 

How credible is this plan? Brad and Chris argue that George Hasiotis is a respected businessguy who is well-connected politically. He is. Some point to the fact that GBSEC honcho Nicholas Stracick won a $240 million judgment against Disney, and must be flush with cash. That’s until you realize that he split the money with someone else. After taxes. And after they settled for a much smaller amount from Disney to avoid the verdict going up on appeal.  

Indeed, Stracick has already recommended that Andrew Cuomo’s billion dollars for Buffalo be spent towards this plan. A $1 billion fund that’s supposed to set the region up for a 21st century economy – should it be spent on an entertainment zone? 

Why can’t it happen? Anything can happen. Someone could swoop in tomorrow with no backing and a set of nice pictures and propose a building taller than the Burj Khalifa be built on the Outer Harbor. Or maybe a charismatic Iraqi-British con artist could swoop into town to promise to renovate a beloved grande dame of a building, despite having never really developed anything to completion, anywhere. People are skeptical about this because its outlandishness, and Buffalo’s experience, gives people a fundamental right to be suspicious and skeptical. It involves a couple of unknowns who had the cash to commission expensive plans and diagrams. It involves politics and politicians, which means you have to question everyone’s motives ab initio. A $250,000 investment in HKS diagrams isn’t a lot when control over this waterfront property is at stake and being argued about; the NFTA is playing a massive game of keepaway between the city and the state/Canalside. 

If you like the idea of a waterfront retractable-roof stadium, I’m with you. If you like it being paired with a hotel and a new convention center, I’ll go along with that. But when you basically propose taking the area around General Mills and suggest building a new Shinjuku district, we have a problem. 

If Citi Field can be built on some of the most expensive real estate in the country for $850 million, I have a hard time believing that it costs almost twice that to build three things on a barren piece of wasteland on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. 

And An Elevator To the Moon

Not real, authentic (This Stadium Matters; Stadium, For Real)

Way back in late 2004/early 2005, one of the first Buffalocentric topics about which I decided to write was an NFTA debate that was then brewing over three competing plans for Buffalo’s beleaguered, forgotten Outer Harbor. Eight or so years later, it remains almost equally beleaguered, with some aesthetic and functional improvements in access, but still amounting to grass and weeds. Eight or so years later, the NFTA still controls it, while the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation and the City of Buffalo bicker over who should control its development, and the contracts and jobs that go with it. 

What else have we seen? We’ve seen that while civic debate focuses on extremes, we are capable of reaching compromise when necessary. For instance, attracting a Bass Pro to the waterfront – it wasn’t at all a bad idea. Putting it in the Aud, on the Aud site, or even right up against the water at the foot of Main Street – none of those were per se bad ideas. But Bass Pro isn’t coming, and that, too, is OK. We don’t need it, but it wouldn’t have hurt. On the other side of the argument, we had the armies of preservation demanding green space, no buildings against the water, “authenticity” as defined by them, and now a fetish for defunct grain elevators and warehouses that haven’t been demolished because there is no one to pay to demolish them – haven’t been used because they are economically difficult to justify re-using. In spite of the Fred Kent placemaking sideshow scam, Buffalonians seem pretty happy with the compromise Canalside being built, the Pegula hockeytorium, and the other incremental – but, finally, visible and palpable – improvements being done to the Inner Harbor. 

So, we look again to the Outer Harbor and we have a new proposal being trial-ballooned whereby we build a billion-and-a-half-dollar stadium for the Buffalo Bills with a retractable roof, a new convention center, a hotel complex, and 5,000 parking spots. Of the silver bullet proposals to come down the road, this is the silveriest, bulletiest of them all.  This has a former county comptroller candidate involved in commissioning an epic set of images showing off our newest Elevator to the Moon, complete with a sports museum to be built and run by the people behind Rochester’s Strong Museum of Play. 

Neighborhoods crumble under the weight of economic decay and desperation, and we have $1.5 billion to spend on playing catch? We struggle to make ends meet with Medicaid funding, heating assistance, and day care for the working poor, and we’ll throw a billion dollars at a hotel and Buffalo Skydome? Is there even a local corporate sponsor who will buy naming rights, or will we just name it after Ralph Wilson, too? Renovating the Ralph is estimated to cost $200 million, which is also a tremendous sum of money for this area, and even that is a deal not yet done. For decades this region has been trampled underfoot by opportunistic politicians with toxic policies, and we have yet to devise an attainable vision for the future and a concomitant plan to get there.  But, hey – domed. Stadium

Functionally, the Outer Harbor is a geographical bottleneck – accessible by Skyway or on Route 5 from the South or in from Tifft Blvd from South Buffalo.  Three points of entry to get to 5,000 parking spots to service a stadium for 72,000 people. Arithmetically, the people behind this proposal think that the state will pony up $400 million, and that the NFL will provide between $200 to $400 million. That leaves a gap of $700 to $900 million that needs to be filled by private investment and, presumably, county money. That kind of money approaches the county’s entire annual budget. As a practical matter, the soil on the Outer Harbor is toxic and in need of multimillion dollar remediation. 

But we’re still debating the likelihood that the Bills stay in this region after their owner inevitably passes away in the near future. The team is more than just a sports franchise – it’s a powerful symbol reminding Buffalo that it was once in the major leagues; a legacy we cling to by a thread.  Does this area have enough idle money lying around to (a) enable local investors to buy the Bills and keep them here when Wilson dies; and (b) fund a massive stadium project for the Outer Harbor, which would effectively prohibit any other kind of development from happening there? 

So here we are, with a massive silver bullet pipe dream to try and keep our disappointing football team in town. A shiny object to raise the hopes of the few not yet beaten down by inevitable cynicism; something to occupy hours’ worth of inane AM talk radio chatter, with angry people talking angrily about their anger over money and the crappy team. This has the appearance of being aspirational, but is really evidence of desperation. If we give the Bills this nice new home, maybe they’ll stay. Maybe they’ll stop sucking. On the other hand, we’ll have the self-appointed masters of authenticity decry any proposal involving sports, parking, roadways. We’ll have arguments about how we should spend a billion dollars to improve storefronts on Grant Street, or maybe to spend on more ancillary projects at the Darwin Martin House. We’ll hear how Buffalo is “real” and “authentic” and that this monstrosity does nothing to further enhance our standing as a tertiary stopover on the cultural tourism checklist. We’ll ultimately argue over how many trees and painted Adirondack chairs are available on the grass, whether the water taxi will be able to accommodate gameday crowds, and hey, how about a solar-powered carousel? 

But let’s cut through all the hype. The people proposing this have two things – a corporate entity and some diagrams. They haven’t talked to the Bills. They haven’t talked to the NFL. They haven’t talked to the State. They haven’t talked to ECHDC. They haven’t talked to the NFTA. They haven’t even taken a survey of the local population to vet the idea of a billion-dollar domed stadium on the Outer Harbor. So far, they’re scheduled only to speak with the City of Buffalo – an entity that has, and would have, no say in the matter whatsoever. We haven’t yet figured out how we’re going to fix up Ralph Wilson Stadium, and we’re already talking about out-Torontoing Toronto’s downtown Rogers Centre. 

This ought to be fun. 

 

 

Mario Williams Buffalo Bills Press Conference

http://cdn.livestream.com/embed/nflbills?layout=4&height=340&width=560&autoplay=false

Watch live streaming video from nflbills at livestream.com