The City of Buffalo's Office of Strategic Planning and officials of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) are pushing for the construction of a giant parking ramp on the so-called Webster Block on lower Main Street, just across the street from the historic Canal District (which includes Central Wharf and the Commercial Slip, the terminus of the Erie Canal). The ramp would have an immediate and long-lasting negative effect on the Cobblestone Historic District one block to the east and any future development withing the Canal District to the west. The Office of Strategic Planning issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Webster Block (bounded by Main, Scott, Washington, and Perry streets) in the late spring of 2012 that strongly suggested a successful proposal would have to include a large ramp to not only serve use on the site itself, but the ECHDC's development on the block formerly occupied by Memorial Auditorium.
The ECHDC, which views the area as one big open-air themed shopping mall, had plans for a 1,200-car ramp between the Marine Drive Apartments and the Skyway blocked by a lawsuit by Marine Drive residents. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo vigorously opposed the ramp as well, on urban design and historic preservation grounds. In addition, there are over 11,000 parking spaces within a 10-minute walk of the corner of Main and Scott streets, sufficient for the Buffalo Sabres to handle crowds of 18,000. There is no need for additional parking.
ECHDC, in its Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement for the "Canal Side Project," issued in 2010 stated that the Webster Block's "primary focus" would not be parking, and that it would be unsuitable for such a ramp, being "designed to incorporate a variety of commercial, cultural, and residential uses." The report went on to say that "locating a large single-purpose parking structure such as the proposed Commercial Slip Parking Garage" on the Webster, Aud, or Donovan blocks would be "substantially comppromising the objectives of the Canal Side Project which is designed to achieve a critical mass of mixed-use development." Further, "these parcels directly front Metro Rail stations. These parcels would be best utilized for transit-oreinted land uses which would stimulate transit rideship. Therefore, these locations were determined to be unsuitable as alternative potential sites for the Commercial Slip Parking Garage." (Chap. 2.2.3)
Only two proposals were received, by Carl Paladino's Ellicott Development and the Buffalo Sabres hockey club. Both featured the giant parking ramp the development agencies were looking for. The Sabres proposal included two enclosed hockey rinks above a five-level ramp, and a hotel above that. The ramp is so large that it oozes over the bounds of the Webster Block and takes half the width of Washington Street, some of Main, Scott, and Perry streets, and tunnelizes Perry Street between Main and Washington. The five levels of parking are covered with a thoroughly unconvincing and inelegant mash up of Highway Interchange Post-Modern Strip Mall decoration. The two floors of ice rink are sheathed in a trite sinister-looking metallic paneling that looks to be radar-evading. The hotel, perched on the north side so that it would throw the future devlopment across the street into shadow, looks like Iranian Secret Police Headquarters.
The city selected the Sabres proposal.
The Planning Board, in what it took pains to say repeatedly was only an advisory opinion at the first public hearing on the plan (Tuesday February 12 at 8:00 am), voted unanimously in favor of it. As did the Buffalo Common Council on February 19th. The only parties speaking at either meeting for a full environmental review and a sincere and open public process were The Campaign for Greater Buffalo, represented by vice president Dan Sack, and John and Shelley McKendry, building owners in the Cobblestone Historic District, and Tim Tielman, who, in his capacity as principal of The Neighborhood Workshop LLC, was hired by the McKendrys to explore alternatives to the parking-oriented development proposal. Tielman is also the executive director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo.
How to stop the steamroller? The Campaign is weighing all options. In the meantime, here is the latest iteration of just one possible alternative the The Parking Ramp We Will All Live to Regret:
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