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HARBORcenter continues to be attacked

February 22, 2013

Somedays Tim Tielman must feel pretty good about himself. You can’t blame him. Just imagine how cool it would be to have the ability to call up your lackey columnist at the local paper so that he can trumpet your “achievements” for the community to read.

That’s basically what Donn Esmonde’s column in today’s paper does. While the entire scope focuses on some of Esmonde’s viewpoints on HARBORcenter, it is riddled with little than a firm pat on the back to everyone’s favorite “urban designer”, Tim Tielman. (If Tim Tielman can be categorized as an urban planner, you can officially refer to me as a novelist. Because, you know, I write stuff. )

Portions of the column actually make strong claims in support and against HARBORcenter. In fact, Esmonde seems to understand how the project will serve as a regional draw and will ultimately service Canalside as a whole. However, bemoaning the addition of parking with the simultaneous elimination of a surface lot and introduction of an anchor project is perplexing.

Some design features of HARBORcenter are concerning, there is no denying that. The plan for the large, obtrusive bridge over Perry Street is a miss and should be reconsidered. However, the Sabres have noted their open to public input on that portion of the project and perhaps there is room for that to become a transparent skybridge or even a Whipple Truss bridge that is all the rage down by the water.

I can support Esmonde’s alleged concern over some of the design flaws; even Tielman has a right to have questions. Where they go wrong is the overall skewering of the project.

A few excerpts from Esmonde’s column read as if they were penned in an alternate universe.

“It could have used the closer public look – and guiding hand – that shaped the nearby “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” waterfront.” Yes, the “dumber, slower, cheaper” crowd did indeed shape the nearby waterfront property. It shaped it into empty, “functional lawns” with a hot dog stand and deck chairs.

The activity space at Canalside is wonderful. It provides plenty of room for festivals, concerts and sunbathing. But there is still nothing keeping you there on a regular basis. In fact, lingering in the area longer than 30 minutes can be quite a task to achieve. This is the type of project that will actually keep people in this neighborhood.

“Tielman also has an alternative, parking-lighter plan for the Sabres project. It humanizes the project scale, uses the existing ramp, adds another rink and more retail and keeps the waterfront connection.” Well, he does have an alternative plan but it’s little more than a hodgepodge of nonsense and various pieces you see from the HARBORcenter project.

A few of Tielman’s ideas make some sense and could fit in well at Canalside. Others a laughable – probably as laughable as he finds HARBORcenter to be. The fact that he feels that a trio of outdoor rinks build on rooftops would be a feasible option is ridiculous because that makes his project anything but year-roud. In addition, Tielman worries that HARBORcenter will choke off the Cobblestone District. Funny enough, the Cobblestone District has two massive eyesores in the form of surface lots that Tielman seems to be ignoring for his greater crusade against big box development.

Tileman’s own blog calls HARBORcenter “The Parking Ramp We Will All Live To Regret” when he’s also such a proponent of “The Waterfront We Deserve”. Well Tim, at some point we deserve things to do. So pick a lane. Maybe you could be proactive rather than reactive for once and put together a group to build part of this project on a parcel at Canalside or even in the Cobblestone District. Prove you’re capable of action and progress rather than simply standing in the way of any semblance of the two.

I wrote about the benefits of this project ten days ago. It is a multifaceted attraction that will provide year-round activity. So long as Tielman doesn’t have a coronary over the design of the Canalside market, this project will not only provide nearby parking but serve as a compliment to that. Perhaps this is just too big-box for a crowd that fought so hard to halt Bass Pro.

Seeing Esmonde endorse Tielman’s ideas is no surprise to me. He’s made quite a habit of this lately. What’s pathetic is that Esmonde and Tielman have teamed up to attack a project that has the green light and is certain to bring activity to a key portion of the city. All the while one of the neighborhoods they’re attempting to protect continues to languish with one block of buildings that are barely 50% occupied.

Maybe if this duo took their soap box to the two surface lots in the Cobblestone District they could not only make a difference but maybe they’d even do the city a service.

It is time that everyone with a vested interest in Buffalo’s waterfront took a look at the big picture. The time for the light and cheap approach is gone. The faux canals will be historically aligned, the cobblestone streets follow their original paths and there is more than enough public space waiting to be built upon.

Construction and planning at Canalside is about to reach a critical point in which the small, ancillary projects come to an end and the next step of the project begins. Like it or not, the next step calls for buildings, retail and other things to do (what a novel concept). But building out the neighborhood to include things to do is the next step of the process. HARBORcenter (and One Canalside) just happen to be the first pieces of the puzzle.

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