Downtown Block Threatened by County Move

 

Pic & Cap 4:3 template 1The Administration of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is about to cost downtown Buffalo 437 jobs and all the economic and social consequences that entails. The Buffalo News on August 13 reported an announcement by a deputy county press secretary that the county is moving the Department of Social Services employees from their long-time home at one of the most equitably accessible locations in Erie County to the out-of-the-way and failed Appletree Mall on Union Road at Bennett Road in Cheektowaga.

Prior to 1985, the mall was known as the Como Park Mall, and struggled almost from the day it opened due to poor location.

Among the consequences is that the move will virtually empty out the historic Hens & Kelly Building at Main and Mohawk streets, depriving it of a $6,000,000 rent stream over five years. Instead, the county proposes to ship $9,000,000 over five years to an out-of-state owner for space in an old mall nine miles away.

The move will require Social services employees going to Family Court at Niagara and West Eagle streets to drive almost 20 miles roundtrip, rather than walk the two blocks from their existing building. Presumably, the new vehicle demand and time will be costs absorbed by taxpayers. 

The lease was rubber-stamped by the County Legislature.

Destroying foot traffic destroys neighborhoods

Foot traffic —pedestrians, walkers, people roaming freely on the streets —is the lifeblood of cities, towns, and neighborhoods.

Think: go along a street and you see no one on the sidewalks (even though there may be a number of cars, maybe with you in one, driving down the street). You perceive the neighborhood as dead, dull, the city inert. Another street or square has some people striding about, some strolling, some sitting, sometimes individually, often in small groups. People talking, exchanging information. It is a lively scene.

Each of those people on the lively scene is engaged in what geographers and others who study such things calls a trip. Walk from your bus stop to your office: that’s a trip. Walk out of the office to run an errand: that’s a trip. Walk out and back for lunch: that’s two trips. Each trip is an opportunity to bump into someone, buy something you need or something you want, get some exercise, some fresh air, some change in perspective, see different things and other people. In a given day, a downtown office worker is making a minimum, lets say, of four walking trips: into the building from some mode of transport (foot, bike, transit, car, jetpack), out of the building for lunch (there are those who eat at their desks, yes, and, unfortunately, those who eat in building cafeterias—which is why some cities are actually banning cafeterias in new construction in certain zones to encourage local foot traffic), back to the building after lunch, and, at the end of the day, back to some mode of transport.

In a work week, one office worker would generate 20 trips, in a year 1,000. Minimum.

That is in an urban environment, of course. Some place that we like to call “walkable,” and that everybody says they like and want other people to like. It is a very efficient set-up. A virtuous spiral wherein each additional person on the street serves to attract others and businesses that feed off that volume. In our example, we have 437 workers in the Hens & Kelly Building in the 500-Block Historic District. Not including those who might visit them in the course of the day (they are workers for the county Department of Social Services, which includes family and child services and other divisions, which have a direct public service component, so the building gets more visitors than another similar building might)

That office population, then, generates 437,000 walking trips per year. That has a lot of impact, and removing them from the equation downtown will be felt in the neighboring blocks, no question. And these jobs will not be easily replaced, observing what has been the case in Buffalo for 60 years.

Walkers are the lifeblood of cities, towns, neighborhoods

Imagine a village of with 437 adults with jobs. One day, someone announces that all the workplaces will be moved nine miles away to a windowless former mall set back from the road behind a huge, always-nearly-empty parking lot. What do you think will happen to the street life of the village, its businesses, and public life? And it matters where these jobs are.

As a physicist moonlighting in economic geography notably said, density makes us smarter. 437 people isolated in a failed-mall-bunker-of-an-office-park are much less productive to society than those same people when part of a larger population in face-to-face proximity, mixing right out the door. Having those people move out of the neighborhood makes everyone remaining less productive, their lives less rich. Downtown Buffalo becomes less “smart.”

And this is just looking at the economic perspective. There are many others which I touched on that deserve to be explored before the county makes a mistake that will create permanent harm to downtown Buffalo. We all talk about smart growth, politicians most of all.

This move by the county is about as dumb as you can get.

 A Neighborhood-killer

Meanwhile, the 500-Block Historic District, of which the Hens & Kelly Building is part, will suffer the loss of foot traffic and patronage 437 employees and their visitors bring. It is not a small number: If 90 per cent of employees go out for lunch, that's 2000 lunches per week, or 100,000 lunches per year, of business lost. That can make or break a couple of restaurants. Stressing tenants stresses buildings. Stressing buildings stresses neighborhoods.

A fully occupied Hens & Kelly Building may generate close to 1800 pedestrian trips in and out of the building per weekday, or close to 450,000 weekday trips per year. Each trip is an opportunity for a store, restaurant, or vendor to make a sale, or two people to bump into each other and exchange greetings or information. That is the lifeblood of cities, and removing these jobs from Main & Mohawk is sucking that blood dry.

The Hens & Kelly Building was designed by prominent local architects Bley & Lyman in 1924. The firm also designed the old Federal Courthouse, the Bank of Buffalo, Berger's Department Store, and The Saturn Club. The building is owned by Carl Paladino's Ellicott Development (he's an anti-preservationist, racist, and a former Republican candidate for Governor, so there is that). Appletree is managed and leased by McGuire Development, whose chairman is Frank McGuire, for 50 years a local and statewide Democratic donor and power broker. Mark Poloncarz is a Democrat. So there is that.

Appletree:Como pic & cap 1The Poloncarz Administration says the reasons for the move were leaks and poor maintenance (the News helpfully headlined the story "400 social services workers are leaving their leaky downtown offices."). Why the county would not pay for the improvements and maintenance it says it needs, but was not, apparently, covered in the lease, while it is ready, willing, and able to fork over 58% more in rent in Cheektowaga, is unknown.

Appletree/Como Mall failed in part because of its inconvenient location for eastern-suburb drivers, let alone transit users or the general population.  It has long been known as Appletree Business Park, owned by an out-of-state company. 

1960's decision-making

Reading the News article was like reading a News article from the 1960s, replete with references to decrepit downtown buildings, the lure of "free" parking in the suburbs, blithe disregard for anyone who does not drive, ignorance of the political subtext, and no speculation as to the consequences of the move for downtown. For good measure, only the county's PR flack and a representative of McGuire Development were quoted.

It was hard to see where a press release may have ended and statements of supposed facts were reported. This is how downtown was killed in the 1960's. Take this paragraph: “Officials say that's better for both the department's employees and the clients it serves. The new site in the onetime mall at Union and Bennett roads gives the agency a centralized location within the county that is easily accessible by car and Metro Bus. And there's plenty of free parking, in contrast to downtown Buffalo.” This seems not only to call for verification from department employees and clients, but clarity as whether “ a centralized location within the county that is easily accessible by car and Metro Bus” is opinion or reported fact.

Further, there’s that “free parking” notion. Is there anyone who thinks the cost of parking is not covered in the rent, paid for by county taxpayers, whether they use the facility or not, and whether they even have a car. It is a public subsidy for drivers who use the facility, unlike paid parking downtown, which is paid only by those who chose to drive to the facility and use it. Downtown parking is cheap and plentiful, too. In 5 years of working on Lafayette Square, your correspondent, when he chose to drive, never had to park more than one-and-a-half blocks away. Curbside parking in whole swaths of downtown is $1 an hour. For clients of Social Services, it is less than taking pubic transit. The closest parking garage charges $87 for a monthly pass, or less than 50 cents an hour for a full-time employee.

Inaccessible by public transit

As for being “accessible” by Metro Bus, that is misleading. According to NFTA schedules, there are only 31 arrivals and departures on one route (the William Street, with a 40-minute ride to downtown and an average wait of 15 minutes during the day, and with the closest connecting bus route being Bailey Avenue). That is terrible bus service.

Isochrones for Appletree  downtown 1Meanwhile, there are over 1,700 arrivals and departures by bus in downtown Buffalo daily from all areas of the county, plus an addition 92 arrivals and departures by Metrorail directly out the door between 9:00AM and 5:00PM). As the public transit-time map shows, the area accessible by a 30-minute journey (a key metric in travel) by bus to Appletree is miniscule, particularly compared with the accessible area of the Hens & Kelly location, as shown in the accompanying illustration. This is before consideration is taken of frequency of service and ability to connect. Moving Social Services beyond the reach of the NFTA makes public transit less appealing and would reinforce a downward spiral in transit ridership and increase net NFTA expenses.

Transportation expert Jarrett Walker says: "If you are a building a place that you want people to use transit to get to, it must be located somewhere that transit can serve efficiently."  Erie County is doing the opposite. The NFTA, which recently admitted to being stumped as to why transit ridership was declining over the years, can stop wondering: it is because of moves like this, and building—even within downtown Buffalo (think Blue Cross/Blue Shield)—distant from efficient transit. The NFTA is being negligent in one aspect of its public service, and that is weighing in forcibly and in public about transit impacts on all public and private projects. Silence is consent.

Not "central" at all

Drive time 1But, you say, the decision was made by someone with regard only for drivers? The News quotes the county PR flack: "Sometimes there’s a misconception that downtown Buffalo is central to Erie County, but that’s not true for everyone," said Daniel Meyer, deputy press secretary for the county. "We think it’s going to help out with easier access for our clients and for our employees.” Really, Danny? Where’d you get your geography degree? Looking at driving time for the two locations, as shown in the accompanying maps generated by Trulia, downtown clearly wins on accessibility for the majority of city and suburban drivers.

The proposed removal of over 430 jobs from the heart of downtown is a bad deal for historic preservation, downtown building owners, downtown businesses, employees, clients, and taxpayers.

Who is it a good deal for?

Want to express your opinion on whether the county should keep the 437 Social Services employees and it main office downtown or ship them to Cheektowaga? Here are some contacts: Buffalo News Editor: [email protected]

County Executive Mark Poloncarz: [email protected], 716-858-8500

County Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams: [email protected], 716-842-0490

County Legislature Majority Leader April N.M. Baskin: [email protected], 716-895- 1849


No Backsliding on the Community Porch!

Porch view watercolor CaptionedThe one absolute, non-negotiable asset we must build on the Outer Harbor Waterfront is a large Community Porch overlooking a rolling Olmstedian meadow down to Lake Erie. We deserve nothing less and can accept nothing less, nowhere else. Trowbridge, Wolf, Michaels landscape architects have been given a contract for Buffalo Billion II improvements in the middle section of the Buffalo's Outer Harbor. A general understanding was reached in September 2017 meeting at Empire State Development Corporation offices between ESDC officials and community representatives, including The Campaign for Greater Buffalo, Waterkeeper, the Outer Harbor Coalition, and Assemblyman Sean Ryan, that included the Community Porch. There are fears that the designers may be taking a public input session (sticky notes applied to large maps) held in July as license to re-interpret what was previously agreed upon, itself as a result of an 18-month process  Here is the concept:

Cities of the northeast really come into their own in “porch weather.” Nothing creates a sense of contentment like sitting on a porch in a comfortable chair and watching the world go by. Except maybe going on vacation to a resort hotel with a big shady porch over- looking a soothing landscape. We can’t all be so lucky to have a nice porch of our own, nor be able to “rent” that privileged at a resort. But Buffalo can do something even better. It can build a grand hotel porch, without the hotel.

Buffalo’s done it before. Calvert Vaux designed the magnificent Parade House in The Parade (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Park) in the 1870’s; it’s mammoth two-story open porch was a democratic palace.

The single largest piece of open land on the Outer Harbor, its green heart, is the 67 acres of landfill between the Seaway Piers and the Bell Slip, and it is, approaching from north or south, the logical center of expectation. It is expansive and topographically advantageous. You stand there, Brigham-Young-like, and say “This is the place.”

This area cries out for two things. The first, a large “community porch” that stands on a promontory overlooking a meadow and the waters of Lake Erie. The second is the meadow itself, replete with a network of Olmstedian curving pathways that double as measured loops for runners or power-walkers around and through the naturalistic landscape.

In our conception of the porch, we combine the monumental scale of a 19th-century grand hotel porch with the Classical Revival Style, popular in American parks in the early 20th century (The colonnade in the Delaware Park Rose Garden is a an example of the style). The Classical Style lends an air of privilege that every Buffalonian should feel, living in a place that has a miles-long shoreline on an inland sea. If the Outer Harbor is a lakeshore greenbelt, this porch is the buckle.

Crests of a hills are where people build majestic houses and resort hotels. We cannot all afford to have our own house on the water, or “rent” a porch in the form of a stay at a resort hotel, but we can have the experience by merely building the porch. The porch is conceived as a shallow V facing southwest and northeast, its prow pointing west.

The plan, style, and siting allow the porch to be easily lengthened if demand warrants. Rather than being open- sided, the porch must have a front and a back; people sitting on it must feel comfortable and sheltered. The wall is pierced by window openings and a door. From the porch, the windows double as sitting ledges, while, approaching from the land side, the windows would frame a succession of discrete views toward the water.

The porch wings on the land side form a grassy courtyard that itself would be attractive and wind-sheltered. The porch edge invites sitting with legs outreached and arms back, while, this being a porch, there is plenty of room for rocking chairs and other types of seating.

The porch would be a natural for family reunions, wedding receptions, and the like. The porch should be made of durable materials, perhaps cast stone for the columns, clay tile for the roofs, and thick wooden decking for the porch surface. It is important that it, indeed, be a porch and that the columns and wall not rest simply on a paved surface. One must be able to feel the wood, here it reverberate to footfalls, and understand that it is a forgiving surface, should one fall.

To be sure, this porch can be designed, say, in the rustic style found in the Adirondacks or the national parks of the west, but those are more expensive to build and maintain, and not really common here. What is common is the columned porch. This is unmistakably a Buffalo porch, enlarged to civic scale, looking out onto our front yard. Come sit a spell. 


Endangered Canal tug & barges should be saved for Buffalo

 

Tug  Barge  cap 1Eagle-eyed readers of the New York Times (that would be us) alerted local state officials in April of New York State Canal Corporation plans to render as surplus "30 decommissioned barges, tugboats and tenders from the Erie Canal and upstate waterways," and have them sunk as part of a series of artificial reefs. Gulp. At the same time the state and localities up and down the canal—not the least of which, Buffalo—are trying to celebrate the canal and their connections to it. During the 200th anniversary period of its construction and opening (1817-1825). The Campaign suggested that the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, a state agency, acquire a tug and some barges before the the other state agency literally deep-sixes them.

The New York State Preservation League also agrees that the flotilla be saved, and is mounting a campaign to keep the historic tug Urger afloat, and not sunk or reduced to an out-of-water mounted artifact (perhaps thinking about the forlorn vessel marooned in a traffic island in Lockport).

Tugs in Commercial Slip  1863 1There can be no more appropriate place for a tug boat than Buffalo's own Commercial Slip—perhaps the most iconic photograph of the slip shows tugs rafted together under the Water Street Bridge with Dug's Dive behind them and the canal District rising in the background. According to the Canal Corp., the Urger, constructed in 1901 as a fishing boat, is one of the oldest working vessels still afloat in the United States. (Buffalo's fireboat, the Edward Cotter, is one year older).

As for the barges, the only limit is our imagination. The Campaign has suggested that several of these be rafted together in the Buffalo River or the Outer Harbor. One would be filled with sand (which is a common commodity to be seen on ships and barges along the Great Lakes and our inland waterways), the other with water. Voila, a floating beach and pool.

Floating pool barge 1Don't worry, cities all over the world have done it before, or are planning similar floating pools. New York has had one since 2007. Designed to move from neighborhood to neighborhood, it has been docked  at Baretto Point Part in the Bronx for the last nine seasons.There is one in Baltimore harbor, Boston is planning one, there are more than you can shake a stick at in Germany, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and Hungary. There are probably more that we are not aware of. And, don't worry about advocating for such things: the Times devoted the entirety of its August 5th editorial page to proposing a beach for Manhattan, floating at that.

As the Times says, "Plenty of things are unimaginable, until you build them."

What can a citizen do to save the vessels? The first thing is to write to Governor Cuomo, who has the ultimate authority. Tell him A tug deserves to float free and not be a dead display somewhere, and that Buffalo can make good use of an entire flotilla of barges and tenders. Then, let everyone else know what you think: take a moment to write an email to the Buffalo News.

Finally, you can join The Campaign for Greater Buffalo or send a donation to help us continue our work and to make your voice heard.

• The Buffalo News Letter-to Editor prefers email: [email protected]

• Governor: Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo, NYS State Capitol Building • Albany, NY 12224
518-474-8390 http://www.governor.ny.gov/content/governor-contact-form

• The Campaign for Greater Buffalo, 14 Lafayette Square, Suite 1425 • Buffalo, NY 14203 • 716-854-3749• [email protected]


Altogether Fitting Barn of a Building for a Seasonal Waterfront Restaurant

A Resto gouache from nThe Campaign for Greater Buffalo is proposing a series of of structures for the Buffalo Outer Harbor that are linked in a "visibility chain," united in their utilitarian aspect with the historic character of the Outer Harbor, and provide instantly communicated shelter, sustenance, and sociability. The could all be built for $5,000,0000, or one-third the amount the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation has obtained for all Outer Harbor improvements to this stage.

The most expressive structure proposed is a snackbar/cafe conceived of as an outpost for beach goers and bicyclists, the so-called “Beach and Bicycle Club” at the entrance to Wilkeson Pointe Park on Fuhrmann Boulevard. The building acts as an enormous sign, similar to what we are used to seeing as we travel along the American roadside: large barns with advertising signs painted on them.

In the case of Buffalo, and other locales where grain elevators mark the flat landscape, we see them identified with large lettering across the top. Within sight of the beach and bicycle club is the enormous Great Northern elevator. It formerly had it’s name emblazoned on its metal cupola, visible for miles out into Lake Erie, forming a superb target for vessels out in the lake. This beach and bicycle club tweaks the commercial signage and declares that, in fact, there is a public beach (No swimming yet, but there’s a lot of sand and possibilities for a pool—maybe on a barge).

The building is conceived as a roadside barn, down to the attached open-air shed for tractors. The friendly and familiar barn imagery as co-opted for the sign and restaurant. Calling it the “Beach and Bicycle Club” helps to reward those arriving by bike, and to give riders a regional destination in the manner that the Buffalo Automobile Club erected a rustic clubhouse in then-distant Clarence as a destination for automobile lists in the 1910’s.

The café and restaurant would actually be on the small side with a modestly priced menu. Again, it is designed to operate just during warm weather, with most of the seating under the expansive cover facing Lake Erie. In sunny and rainy weather alike, the place offers a sheltered, convivial retreat within sight and walking distance of Ferry Park at the Connecting Terminal Elevator, , the Community Porch, and the Seaway Deli. Already the site of a bicycle rental, it would be a superb summertime hub of bicyclists. Then there is the beach. Behind it, rather than barn doors, would be a glass wall composed of many small panes that would house the restaurant proper and provide refuge on colder and windier days.

The declamatory sign, would be visible from Central Wharf and the Buffalo Skyway. People at Ferry Park could easily divine the path from the tent to the Beach house through the boatyard. Across Fuhrmann Boulevard from the boat yard is a large gravel lot used for off-season boat storage. During the summer this gravel lot is empty and available for overflow parking for the restaurant, if the 746 on-street spaces on Furhrmann are occupied. This obviates the need of using any land for unsightly parking lots. It is simply too valuable and too hard-won to pave over.

The building is, hidden from Times Beach by a stand of large cottonwoods, but has open views of the Seaway piers and the Outer Harbor, as well as the nearby beach and open fields. The material for the building would be vertical wooden planks, just as one would expect on a barn. The back side of the barn retains its outer perimeter, creating an open air courtyard that conceals the service area of the restaurant from public view. You can go whole-hog on the painted-barn imagery, if you like, by painting a large sign on the roof facing the water: EAT. In being functional for boaters and those in the park on the far shore, that would serve the public good.

 

 


Buffalo Must Have a "5-Minute Ferry" From Central Wharf to North End of Outer Harbor

5-minute ferry pictureIf you can make your transportation infrastructure picturesque, do so. If you can make your public transportation friction-less, do it. If it can connect people to line-of-sight destinations, do it.

Vancouver does it. Not one, but two, ferry companies provide 5-minute headways to Granville Island from downtown Vancouver, a 3-minute ride. Together, an amazing 2-1/2-minute headway on this one route. One literally can go to the dock and immediately board a waiting ferry anytime between 7:00am and 10:00pm.

Yes, we have a bicycle ferry and a new ferry landing. It just doesn’t operate frequently or long enough. And it ain’t picturesque. On weekends, there are long lines waiting to board at either end, and waits can be long. We need extra capacity and much more frequency on weekends than the current ferry can handle. Conversely, on weekdays, sometimes the large boat (49 peopke and bikes) can seem under-utilized. More, smaller ferries solves those issues. And cuteness counts. That is part of the value—how far and wide images of the ferry and Buffalo get diseminated. Google “Granville Island Ferry” to see what we mean. The transportation becomes an icon.

The ferry of choice in Vancouver is from off-the-shelf plans of naval archictect Jay Benford of the Benford Design Group,2 either a 12- or 24-passenger vessel. The smaller vessel can be constructed for about $80,000. One operator has also created a simple but photogenic Aquabus to facilitate bicycle, stroller, and wheelchair travel. Frequency of service is very important in public transportation. With up to 12 trips an hour, the hourly capacity per vessel ranges from 144 (12-passenger ferry), to 288 people (24-passengers).

Two vessels operating at 5-minute headways could transport almost 600 people per hour. They can load and unload from either side Such a ferry service would reduce demand for Outer Harbor parking and automobile use, and funnel people through downtown Buffalo and the Inner Harbor.

One can imagine future expansion with point-to-point crossings from LaSalle Park to Erie Basin and from Erie Basin to the Buffalo Lighthouse. A useful public service and a busy, festive, friendly public image. Mobility for all. The ferry gets able-bodied citizens, and maybe our bicycles across.

What about that elderly, the physically challenged, or the parent with small children in tow? Or a group of friends that meet up and decise on some spontaneous exploring? A small fleet of low speed vehicles (LSVs) and electric scooters should be available at the ferry and the Buffalo Harbor State Park. Also in the Canal District and points north along the Shoreline Trail to the Tonawandas). Golf carts, often modified, are fixtures in resort communities nationwide, and more LSV options pop up every day. Polaris, better known as a maker of snowmobiles, has a much-improved version of its electric car, known as the GEM. Estrima, has a brillianty conceived vehicle, the Biro, that weighs less than half of the GEM and is less than six feet long and only 3’5” wide. Bicycles are longer and almost as wide.

Check it out: http://www.estrima.com/en/ Ideally, users could use public transportation swipecards to operate the vehicles, which would be limited to perhaps 12-15mph. Passes could be purchased from a machine on site, just as in a public bicycle rental program. Like the small ferries, the electric vehicles could themselves become objects of Instagrammic adoration.


Campaign Re-branding Tours, Lectures, Outreach

LearnAboutBuffalo nameplate 1

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo creates umbrella for educational field trips on Open-Air Autobus, lectures,  building information.

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture is launching a new brand to help the public more easily identify and access its educational services.  LearnAboutBuffalo.org has just been launched by The Campaign, to consolidate and rebrand the non-profit’s  public education components: the Open-AirAutobus, its lecture series, building histories, photographs, and digital collections. 
 
“This was driven by the need to differentiate our Open-Air Autobus, which for 10 years was the only such vehicle in Western New York, from the commercial services which have lately sprung up. Rather than emphasize the vehicle, we want to emphasize the quality of our services  and our basic educational mission,” says Tim Tielman, executive Director of The Campaign. “Every penny we make through the Open-Air Autobus goes right back into historic preservation in Buffalo, and this will help get that message across. The logic, then, was to extend the re-branding to cover all the facets of our outreach.”
 
Much of what The Campaign does focuses on public education and appreciation of the Buffalo area’s architecture and history, to better help preserve Buffalo’s built  environment. In addition to operating  its pioneering Open-Air Autobus, its lecture series on historical, architectural, and urban development topics, The Campaign  maintains deep files on Buffalo buildings, urban planning, and the historiography of preservation in Buffalo. “Our intent is to get this all together in one place,” says Tielman. 
 
Right now,  information and reservations are available for The Campaign’s weekend field trips on the Open-Air Autobus, which run from 90 minutes to three hours, at LearnAboutBuffalo.org. 



What We Need on the Outer Harbor

Outer Harbor distances
The Buffalo Outer Harbor is a long, thin belt of land along the Lake Erie shore largely owned by public entities. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo proposes to create a chain of useful, seasonal structures governed by what people want, need, and can practically get to. This means providing shelter, sustenance, and sociable places in support of those coming to enjoy the primary resource: the scenic qualities of Buffalo’s front yard on Lake Erie.

Buffalo has been down this path before: Large piece of open space facing the immensity of Lake Erie, a population hungry for recreational space. In the 1880’s, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, America’s foremost park designers, conceived a magnificent park on a swath of open land on Lake Erie. Politics and Pennsylvania industrialist John Albright intervened before the Buffalo Parks Commission could secure the land. The Lackawanna Iron and Steel company plant was built there instead. Today, between the long-abandoned and toxic steel company property in Lackawanna, and the Buffalo River, Buffalo again has a swath of open land on Lake Erie. Now it is almost all in the hands of one public entity or another. It is a narrow 3-mile long strip of land west of State Route 5. It is, in fact, a lakeshore greenbelt.  

   The location with the greatest concentration of people on the Buffalo Waterfront is the Central Wharf. If the goal is to draw people to the Outer Harbor, the laws of geographic proximity dictate that it is easier, quicker, and cheaper to start where people already are. Therefore, getting the thousands of people on Central Wharf across the Buffalo River as cheaply and efficiently—in as friction-free a manner as possible—should be a public priority. Making a fast, frequent ferry service an extension of existing bus and rail is the most expeditious means. Secondly, once people are across the Buffalo River, they must be presented with a chain of compelling and easily attainable goals in order to induce them to explore and stay awhile.

   Humans, because of the biological survival imperative (what we call instinctive or natural behavior), have evolved to quickly scan an area for possibilities of shelter (a place of refuge that also affords a prospect of the surroundings) and sustenance. The presence of other similarly-minded humans is validation and added security. That results in sociability.

   In addition to seeking “prospect and refuge,” people will only walk short distances between points. Therefore, supplying quickly-identifiable places that offer refreshment, a view, and social relaxation should be an Outer Harbor priority.

   The Campaign for Greater Buffalo proposes a chain of useful landmarks within 1,000 feet of each other (the distance one can expect the majority of people to walk at a stretch). They include a small, rapid ferry service (1, on map at top and upper left in gallery above), a pavilion/cafe (2), a “beach club” snack bar (3), a small deli with a barbecue pit (4), a grand community porch (5), groups of lookout chairs (6), and a large “sail field” with food cart shelters nearby (7). The Campaign, at work on an update of its Canal District plan (wherein we invented “Better, cheaper, faster” in 1993), expanded its thinking to encompass the Outer Harbor, on the theory that the two elements be treated as one unit. The policy that the Outer Harbor must stand on its own and earn “financial payback,” rather than be part of the overall waterfront, is an artificial administrative convenience. It only insures endless battles over development and use. When success is defined by the bluntest of instruments, the turnstile, it leads to inverted thinking: the goal is to draw crowds, and the land must be adapted to serve that purpose.

   This post, and succeeding ones featuring components of the overall approach, gives a brief overview of the conceptual framework we adopt, and structures and sites that are generated from those concepts. Our ultimate goal is to advance the sustainable regeneration of downtown Buffalo. In those terms, the stronger the naturalistic impression of the Outer Harbor, the stronger the urban benefit. The people using the Inner Harbor and the Outer Harbor are one and the same—you go out for recreation in a naturalistic setting, you come back in for recreation in an urbanistic setting. Activities that can happen more equitably, sustainably, and with potential economic spin-off, should occur in urban contexts, while those that can occur only in an open lakefront setting should be planned for there.

   Ergo, watching performances, spectacles, and other mass gatherings are better accommodated, to better purpose, downtown. Watching the sunset, listening to birdsong, building a sand castle, puttering on a boat or watching others putter, running free over the grass, stopping to smell the flowers—these are things we need to reserve the Outer Harbor for.

(This post, and others concerning Outer Harbor components, were published in similar form in September 2016 as Buffalo Outer Harbor Plan, and the subject of a public meeting that month.)


Effort to Build Intermodal Hub, Stop DOT's BFX Redux, Gains Support

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Add Assembly Member Erik Bohen to Congressman Brian Higgins and Assembly Member Sean Ryan to the list of local officials who support The Campaign for Greater Buffalo's proposal for a new transit plaza and intermodal hub instead of merely rebuilding Amtrak's existing Exchange Street (BFX) station under a Thruway viaduct. In calling for Governor Andrew Cuomo to re-evaluate the BFX plan and consider the Campaign's proposal for a train station on Washington Street (or "BFW"), south of the Thruway, Bohen said, “After visiting the site and studying both plans from New York State and the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, it is clear to me that the Washington Street plan presents a grander and more strategic vision for Buffalo’s new train station.” 

Bohen, whose 142nd district includes South Buffalo, West Seneca, and parts of Lackawanna, Orchard Park, and Buffalo's Old First Ward, has many constituents who would benefit from public transit links going to and from an The Campaign's proposed hub, which it is part of its "Nexus" plan for the entire downtown waterfront area, unveiled in December 2016. Bohen is up for re-election this fall. Governor Cuomo, up for re-election himself, will be the ultimate decider about exactly where a Buffalo station would be, its scope, and cost. Cuomo has budgeted $25,000,000 for the DOT's BFX replacement, while the Cuomo Admistration spent $43,000,000 on a new station in Niagara Falls, and $44,000,000 on one in Rochester. It is also budgeting $1.6 billion for an improved Penn Station in Manhattan, with construction underway.

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Campaign Documentation Project Leads to Landmark Designations

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo has embarked on an ambitious building documentation project. Begun early this year, Campaign interns have already researched, compiled data, and written narratives of over two dozen Buffalo buildings. Dan Richer, a recent history graduate of SUNY Fredonia, and Ryan Wheatley, a history and anthropology graduate of Gettysburg College who is going on to Temple University for a PhD, worked under the direction of Campaign Board members. Tim Tielman, executive Director of The Campaign, and Paul McDonnell, Chair of the Campaign, who sit on the Landmarks Subcommittee of the City of Buffalo Preservation Board, are regularly submitting documented buildings for landmark designation. So far, a baker's dozen have passed through the Preservation Board and the Common Council to be designated as City of Buffalo landmarks. 

Dan Richer  June 2018 intern

They are  the General Electric Tower, Masten Avenue Armory, Bennett High School & All High Stadium,  Michigan Street Baptist Church, Grover Cleveland High School, Kensington High School, Riverside High School, East High School, Engine No. 26, (693 Tonawanda Street in Riverside), Concrete Central Elevator, Cargill Superior Elevator, the Samuel Schenck House (which sits in the middle of Grover Cleveland Park)

We'll be featuring these buildings in individual posts, to give them their proper due, and to facilitate internet searching and use in our new LearnAboutBuffalo program. Want to hone your research and writing skills while documenting Buffalo's historic architecture, and maybe see your work result in landmark designations? Give Tim Tielman a call at 716-854-3749.

In the meantime, hats off to Campaign volunteer interns Dan and Ryan! 

That's Dan Richer at left, in front of the Electric Tower, one of the buildings he documented for The Campaign this spring. His work led to a designation of the building as an official landmark.

 


Emblematic Waterfront Elevator Complex Threatened; Wreckers on-site Prior to Preservation Board Hearing

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The giant cement manufacturing and shipping complex that has marked the southern border of the Buffalo waterfront for almost a century is under dire threat of demolition. A wrecking company has set up shop on the site, installed signage, and a number of people were observed working on the site the morning of June 14—prior to a Preservation Board hearing to consider the demolition request. All such requests must be reviewed by the board to ensure that no significant structure "fall through the cracks" before a landmark designation or other measures can be taken to protect it, stemming from the infamous demolition of the Harbor Inn during the Masiello Administration.

Brown Administration Commissioner for Permits and Inspections James Comerford has regularly flouted the procedure, claiming he must issue permits unless the Preservation Board succeeds in designating a building a landmark within 30 days. It is constitutionally impossible to have proper notice for public hearings within that span, let alone conduct research and assemble documents. With this action out on the waterfront, the Brown Administration seems to have dropped even the pretense of public review to protect threatened structures. It is unimaginable that a company would hire and have on-site a wrecking team without a rock-solid assurance from city officials that the demolition permit is a certainty.

The complex of concrete storage elevators and associated structures, built as Great Lakes Cement beginning in 1926, is every bit as character-defining for Buffalo as the grain elevators of the Buffalo River. Located on the Union Ship Canal and the Outer Harbor, the complex is seen by tens of thousands of commuters every day, and additional thousands on fair-weather evenings and weekends throughout the year. It is a huge tract of land—55 acres—surrounded by water on three sides, with 4,000 feet of shoreline. The remaining structures on the site occupy a small footprint, but that may be too much, perhaps, for a company that sees  more value in selling a cleared and clean waterfront parcel.

The industrially picturesque cement manufacturing, processing, and shipping complex was built in 1926 and c. 1951 There are two large elevators on the site: a squat set of 24 bins, in two bundles of 12, set on a muscular concrete frame under which trucks are loaded (c. 1951), and a taller and narrower elevator for rail service (1926), which is connected to a packing house of concrete. A three-binned clinker elevator to store and ship clinker (1928) stands to the south of the first two, and is interesting for its one interstitial “bin” on the east side, which, in fact, is a stair tower with windows at each landing. This is and example of form not following function. Rather, here and elsewhere in Buffalo, it seems to be a case of “form follows economy.”

A voluminous coal and shale storage building, likely the largest such concrete building ever built in the city, with two concrete coal-crusher towers, completes the complex. It is a unique landscape of reinforced concrete architecture. The complex stands alone as an emblem of Buffalo, and a marketing device for the product it manufactured and shipped (all the buildings were of fireproof reinforced concrete construction).

The wrecking company representing the owner avers that "...removing these unsightly structures ...will also enhance Buffalo's waterfront...These structures are unsightly and unwelcoming for residents, tourists and new commerce." Nothing could be further from the truth. The complex is a defining element of the Buffalo waterfront, a picturesque part of the image our local tourism program projects to the outside world. How many cities in the world have reinforced concrete elevators on the cover of their official tourist magazine, as Buffalo does this year?

Since I wrote the first guidebook to Buffalo’s waterfront in 1993—which sought to document and popularize these industrial and social monuments—Buffalo has lost the H&O Oats, Wheeler, Wollenberg, and Schaeffer grain elevators. We cannot afford to lose this complex without eroding our heritage and a foundation of our visitor economy. 

Imagine saving the complex and restoring the land, too. That would be a magnificent public amenity that would pay dividends across the generations, and be the closest we are ever going to get to realizing Frederick Law Olmsted's 1888 vision for a park on Lake Erie just south of this point.


How you can make your voice heard to stop a DOT disaster and launch a new era in public transportation and urban development in Buffalo

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Please make the time to attend the Campaign's important meeting on Canal District development and DOT's April 16 proposal to spend $25,000,000 for a two-bit train station in exactly the same place as the old, failed, Amtrak station. And they did it without an environmental review, sidestepping the public meeting process and any discussion of alternatives. Thereby jeopardizing the successful rebirth of the Canal District, which we preservationists have been fighting for for 25 years, and cementing for the next hundred years the untold harm to our public transportation system and the people who would use it
 
The Buffalo News, agrees with us that the train station proposal is deeply flawed and insensitive to Buffalo's needs. Check out their editorial: 

http://buffalonews.com/2018/04/26/editorial-not-the-right-place-for-our-train-station/

 
I've attached a flyer for the event, as well as some fact sheets that highlight our alternative proposal for an Intermodal hub, including a train station facing Washington Street. 
 
Please feel free to share with anyone that is concerned with preservation, downtown development, public transit, stopping sprawl, and open public decision-making processes. 
 
Check out and "like" The Campaign for Greater Buffalo's Facebook page, too.
 
Lastly, if you can't make the meeting, you can still make a difference. Write a letter (most effective!), email, or call the elected officials below, urging them to stop the DOT plan and support a true Intermodal hub on Washington Street
 
The absolutely best thing you can do is to write a similar letter to The Buffalo News. 100's of thousands of people will read it, from Buffalo to Albany!
 
Governor Cuomo is the ultimate decider who must save us from this fiasco. But he won't do it unless he hears from us! Write him and copy everyone else on this list. Local Senate and Assembly districts split the project site right down the middle, so a lot of elected officials will be interested to hear from you!
 
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The Buffalo News Letter-to Editor prefers email:
 
Governor: Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo
NYS State Capitol Building • Albany, NY 12224
518-474-8390
 
U.S. Congress: Hon. Brian Higgins
726 Exchange Street, Suite 601 • Buffalo, NY 14210
716-852-3501
 
NY Assembly (149): Hon. Sean Ryan
936 Delaware Avenue • Buffalo, NY 14209
716-885-9630
 
NY Assembly (141): Hon. Crystal People-Stokes
425 Michigan Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14203
Ph: 716-897-9714
 
NY Senate (63rd District): Hon. Timothy M. Kennedy
2239 South Park Ave.• Buffalo, NY 14220
716-826-2683
 
NY Senate (60th District): Hon. Chris Jacobs
65 Court Street, Rm 213
Buffalo, NY 14202
Ph: 716-854-8705
 
Mayor: Hon. Byron Brown
201 City Hall • Buffalo, NY 14202
 
Canal District Hub
View from Platform 1
 

Campaign for Greater Buffalo to host "A New Nexus for Buffalo: Intermodal Transport for the 21st Century

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo is holding a public meeting to call attention to the problems of an isolated new downtown Buffalo train station and lack of public process. "A New Nexus for Buffalo," will take place at 1:00pm Saturday, May 12, 2018 at the Pizza Plant restaurant, 125 Main Street, Buffalo.
 
Tim Tielman, Exceutive Director of The Campaign and Principal of urban consultants Place Advantage, will review D.O.T.'s controversial proposed project—a single-mode station under the Thruway, the same place as the current station—and offer an intermodal alternative sited on Washington Street, facing Main Street with interconnections to all other modes of travel, as well as hotels, restaurants, and the Canal District.
 
The program begin will reprise the 200 years of transportation development in the neighborhood, and analyze the potential of an Amtrak station as part of a new public multimodal transit hub stretching from Main to Washington Street. After the slide presentation, Tielman will lead a walking tour of neighborhood, discussing the history of the site and its future potential.
 
Participants will be asked to fill out comment cards to be forwarded to DOT and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
 
Train Station meeting 1

Landmarking of manufacturing site of FDR presidential limousine, Playboy Motorcar, and world's first amphibious vehicle before Common Council Tues. Oct 24 at 2:00pm. 

 
Truman in Brunn & Co. Lincoln
 
Green & Wicks-designed factory for Brunn & Company, designers of Lincoln,
Pierce Arrow, custom cars
Seymour Knox-backed Aqua-Cheetah made splash in WWII
Agent for Medical Campus recently demolished Green & Wicks house on site
 
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On Tuesday October 24 at 2:00pm, the Buffalo Common Council's Committee on Legislation is holding a public hearing on the designation of the Brunn Coachworks site (also known as 980 Ellicott Street) as an official City of Buffalo landmark. 
 
The Buffalo Preservation Board, after its own public hearing, recently voted unanimously to designate an early automobile factory as a City of Buffalo landmark. The landmark application was put together after months of research revealed a fascinating history of the site, not readily apparent in its modest scale, nor in the information provided to the Preservation Board when the owners applied to demolish parts of the site in February.
 
Campaign for Greater Buffalo Executive Director Tim Tielman was appointed to an ad hoc committee that researched the property.
 
Aqua-cheetah-1941 at South Grand Island Bridge“The first thing we found was that a small house on the site was designed by Green & Wicks, then that most of the factory itself had been," said Tielman. "Every piece of digging led to more discovery. The very first presidential limousine made to Secret Service specifications was built there by the Brunn coachworks for Franklin Roosevelt (photo above). Then we found out an amphibious vehicle was manufactured there. It turned out to be the world's first. A U.S. Army representative was aboard for the launching at the South Grand Island Bridge (left). A film of the grand event, led by Seymour Knox, Jr., survives. So does the original amphibious vehicle—it is in a museum in New Jersey that I visited in July.
 
"We also pieced together the enduring partnership between an engineer who built a futuristic "Rocket Car" and his master 'body man.' After the war they produced the Playboy Motor Car. We have a letter from Hugh Hefner saying that was the source of the name of his magazine.
 
"The coachworks complex is the embodiment of how industries developed during Buffalo's peak—people with creativity and energy linking up with other creative people who had the capital to make it happen. On this site it happened again and again over a 50 year period. That's why the site deserves designation as a landmark."
 
 
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Certainly to protect it from any more demolitions. Judge Diane Devlin refused to prolong a temporary restraining order the Campaign had obtained from Judge Henry Nowak in the spring, and the building owner contemptuously demolished the Green & Wicks house on the site before The Campaign's attorney, Richard Berger, had even seen the judge's decision and order, or been notified. There was no opportunity to appeal the decision. Tielman drove by the sight in the early evening of June 28, to find that the house had been demolished. So hastily, it seems, no fencing was up to protect the public. Apparently, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus had a standing instruction to demo the house as soon as a decision was reached. That is contempt.
 
Download the Coachworks site documentation below.