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Lighter, quicker, cheaper. Code for smaller, dumber, ineffective

March 22, 2011

I know dumber shows my prowess of the English language, but bear with me on this one. I had a long rambling post half written before I left work but all of my writing disappeared. So I get to start from scratch.

A while back I had a very productive conversation with a writer whose opinion I value greatly. Especially in the matter of development. We discussed a whole matter of topics ranging from the Outer Harbor to the Larkin District. However, the meat and potatoes of that conversation dealt with Canalside. The person’s name is Andrew Kulyk and he recently wrote a fantastic column regarding this topic for WNYMedia.net. Some of what is to follow will be quite similar to what Andrew wrote, mainly because we share a very similar opinion.

First I should thank Andrew for writing the column to give my brain a kick in the ass to write this post. I have been mulling over it for some time and I am now finally putting pen to paper….or fingers to keyboard in this case.

When I look at HSBC Arena and the surrounding area I see limitless potential for a bustling district filled with nightlife that can be sustained year-round. However, I guess some people are blind to this notion. From what I can tell there is a faction of people who want to embrace the arena, ballpark and potential casino and include the Canalside plans to work hand in hand with those entities. Then there is a faction of people who want Canalside to exist separately from those three things to create its own footprint.

It is an understandable stance, but honestly what the hell are they thinking? There are 50 games a year at HSBC Arena in which 19,000 people are in the arena watching the Sabres or Bandits on any given night and most weekends between October and April (sometimes May and June if we are lucky). Add to that the concerts and other event held there throughout the year. Then you have the baseball stadium which hosts a full minor league schedule plus the Taste of Country, Wingfest and other events. If the casino project ever gets kickstarted there is a chance to have another magnet for people within blocks of the Central Wharf. On second though, if I was planning a project that could pull citizens from around the region at all times of the year I would probably keep those venues from contributing to my success too. In fact a nice green lawn and some temporary t-shirt vendors sound MUCH more effective for commerce. Are you serious?!?

Yet, we approach another summer without progress. Andrew touched on this and I will too. Since the Commercial Slip was completed there hasn’t been an ounce of progress made in transforming that area. The Aud did come down, that was a necessary evil but nothing has been done there since. And don’t try to say that completing the cobblestone streets counts as a step in this back asswards plan, they will make for a great atmosphere once retail and restaurants take hold there. But they don’t signify a step forward, anytime something like that is brought up you receive a complimentary Goldman/Tiellman lawsuit.

I am to a point where I am going to find a hard hat, rent a Bobcat and dig out the god damn canals myself. It is high time that real action occurs around Canalside. I don’t think my sanity or the city can wait much longer for it. There doesn’t need to be a cure-all, silver bullet master plan in place for this to work. Plan out the faux or accurate canals (whichever is easier to shove down the throat of the obstructionists) and set up your areas for development.If Dinosaur BBQ plans on setting up shop adjacent to the Webster Block, so be it! Ensure that the building will be accurate to the canal period – hell allow hookers to operate upstairs if it makes the Coalition for a Greater Buffalo happy – and let them roll in the dough. It won’t be long until you have a couple more sports bars and restaurants in the area feeding off the masses frequenting the arena.

Setting up a cafe in the museum is a smart decision, as is bringing in a hot dog stand for the summer. If they were wise that hot dog stand would be in a permanent building and operate in the warm months like The Hatch, that would be a gold mine. These are wise moves, now the 1,576 groups who handle one decision or another need to stop playing tiddlywinks and let the process move forward. This halting way of “getting things done” is doing nothing more than keeping anything from happening.

It seems to me part of the obstructive, vocal minority is afraid to let retail take hold in the area because they don’t want the Gap or Abercrombie opening a store on the water. Well, if these people knew a world existed outside of WNY they would know the Gap across from Pier 39 is much cooler to go visit than the Gap at the Galleria Mall. Don’t think I want the Gap to anchor the retail development, I needed a real world example to speak from. Andrew mentions Granville Island in his article, this place is filled with Elmwood Ave. boutiques that sell merchandise that the uppity suburbanites flock to at the mall.

Crocker Park is a perfect example of a mixed use community that, on outward appearance, looks like a typical village. Upon closer inspection it is an outdoor mall with restaurants, shopping, office and residential space mixed together. Here is a thought: take a bunch of period-style buildings, put some lofts, offices in them and open the bottom floors to retail.

Voila! I planned Canalside, bring on the lawsuits! And please, if The Buffalo News is planning a piece on my strategy, only interview Goldman or Tielman, I would hate for the conservative board that edits the paper to be forced to hear both sides of this type of story.

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