Boycott the Peace Bridge!

The Episcopal Church Home, represented for most Buffalonians for over a century by the iconic landscape of the Hutchinson Chapel and Thornton Memorial Hall, is under imminent threat of demolition. The chapel, Thornton Hall, and the landscape, an island of tranquility in the shadow of the Peace Bridge, was designated a City of Buffalo landmark in 1980. The Public Bridge Authority (PBA) and politicians, right up to the governor’s office, have long salivated over the prospect of increased payments into PBA coffers from Duty-Free sales.


The proposal to demolish the Episcopal Church Home (ECH), as well as a row of historic houses on Busti Avenue, is being driven exclusively, PBA documents show, to build a massive Duty-Free complex big enough to accommodate a feared diesel fueling station for tractor trailers and a gas station for cars. Lieutenant Governor Duffy parachuted into town on short notice on August 24th to announce the Cuomo Administration’s latest effort to facilitate the plaza expansion. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo has filed suit in state court to block the demolitions, and also opposes the demolition of the ECH.

Henry Osgood Holland, a Buffalo architect best-known for his Temple Beth-El on Richmond Avenue, designed Thornton Memorial Hall and its accompanying landscape in 1903-05. The building was named for Thomas Thornton, a local notable who was deeply involved in the “Church Charity Foundation.” Thornton Hall, Hutchinson Chapel and their setting are not only a beautiful design, but also a historic reminder of the importance of religious organizations before government care existed for the indigent.

Once officially transferred to the Public Bridge Authority, these landmarks will likely be bulldozed by a careless lot of businessmen in expensive suits, who seem unconcerned about the future of the neighborhood! They will then encircle the 1895 Hutchinson Memorial Chapel with giant cement walls and a ramp to the new Duty-Free store they hope to build.

But before the real estate deal closes between the State of New York and the Episcopal Church Home (ECH), numerous people came forward at City Housing Court on Thursday to address the issues on the site. Campaign for Greater Buffalo (C4GB) Executive Director Tim Tielman, representing the City of Buffalo Preservation Board, requested that Judge Carney allow the Board access to the City-landmarked Thornton building, due to potential code violations. They were denied that access after a tour of the Hutchinson Memorial Chapel in late July, which was to assess the condition of the structure. C4GB Special Projects Assistant Dana Saylor researched the properties this summer, and confirmed that indeed, both were granted City Landmark status in 1980. Carney ordered that access be granted.


Carney ordered the ECH to comply with the fire code and restore the sprinkler system at the site. It had been cut off, presenting a hazard to the buildings and neighborhood. Neighborhood residents, and board members of the C4GB, present at court, voiced concerns over blossoming graffiti, vandalism, and a lack of site maintenance by the ECH management. C4GB attorney Richard Berger clarified the urgency, stating that as soon as the State of New York or other entity completes the purchase, it will be out of City court jurisdiction. The PBA has a poor record of maintaining their properties, as evidenced by the row of historic homes on Busti Ave that they have allowed to languish, even helped along with recent “asbestos abatement” damage. City Inspector Michael Muscarella is working with ECH officials to ensure compliance with codes. Should they fail to do as they are required by the court, certainly there will be pressure from not only the neighbors and preservation groups, but Judge Carney as well.

Saylor vowed that the C4GB would continue its vigorous efforts to protect the landmarks. The PBA’s decades-long refusal to compromise is hampering the potential for neighborhood revitalization and heritage-driven economic development. Historic sites such as the Darwin D. Martin House, Canalside, and the Richardson Center (at which renovation has not yet been completed) draw huge international tourism crowds. We must recognize the importance of these landmarks for the public and the betterment of Buffalo, and preserve them to improve our future.

Rally for Prospect Hill, Part II

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo presents an informational session on Historic Prospect Hill and a rally to fight the unjust and secretive expansion of the Peace Bridge Plaza and its "Tax-Evasion Mega-Mart", the Duty-free shop. Learn the fascinating histories of the neighborhood and buildings, the latest on the lawsuit to stop the demolition of Historic Busti Row, and how you can be a part of this important resistance movement!

Seymour Abbey J

Richardson Park, Now and Forever

It is not often that a community gets $100,000,000 to spend on civic improvements. That happened four years ago, the state legislature approved, and the Governor Pataki signed, a budget bill that allocated funds for the restoration of the Richardson Olmsted Complex, a 100-acre National Historic Landmark with buildings by H.H. Richardson, landscaping by Frederick Law Olmsted, and even some buildings by Buffalo’s preeminent local architect, E.B. Green.


We cannot squander the opportunity before us. We have the resources in hand to create a magnificent amenity for the entire region: a picturesque 100-acre park by America’s most revered landscape architect (left, Olmsted's planting plan of 1877), designed hand-in-hand with the beloved founding father of American architecture to host a sublime monument of the Picturesque movement in architecture.

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Take Me to the River: How Buffalo Can Get Rid of its Waterfront Barrier and Achieve Widescale Preservation and Recreation-based Development

If there is one thing we can do for ourselves and our children and our children’s children, it would be to rid ourselves of the cursed and thoroughly damned Thruway along the Niagara River. Blocks of historic houses in Black Rock, Riverside, and the West Side are being consumed by disinvestment. Whole neighborhoods are at risk. Preservationists, environmentalists, neighborhood activists, and just plain residents would find common cause in this issue. [This article, as it appeared, with illustrations, in the Winter 2006 issue of our newspaper, Greater Buffalo, is available by clicking on the link that follows.]

Download demo_tway_sheet.pdf

Sure, it has been discussed before, even studied. But it always has been with the understanding that the Niagara Section of the Thruway would merely be moved and supersized to modern standards (i.e., a 70 mph design speed and infrequent but huge interchanges). That is not what we need. We need it gone, and a boulevard-like road replacing it.

There is now also some urgency to the question, for the long-running debate about whether and where to build another international bridge is coming to a head in the Final Environmental Impact Statement stage. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo supports a low-level lift bridge between the historic communities of Black Rock in the U.S. and Bridgeburg in Canada. A high-level bridge and its attendant ramps connecting to the Thruway would insure the continued existence of the Thruway and the decline of the neighborhoods it goes through.

Continue reading "Take Me to the River: How Buffalo Can Get Rid of its Waterfront Barrier and Achieve Widescale Preservation and Recreation-based Development" »

National Trust Urges Buffalo to Reject Bass Pro

National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe, fresh from a visit to Buffalo in late June, has written Mayor Byron Brown, urging him reject a proposal for a Bass Pro megastore that would on the site of the historic Central Wharf. The wharf is part of Buffalo’s historic Canal District, the infrastructure of which was slated to have been completely reconstructed by this fall. A new Naval Museum, bowstring truss bridge, and a re-watered Commercial Slip have been completed, but all other work on the site, including a network of stone streets and a public park on Central Wharf, has been halted by state officials because of the Bass Pro proposal.

The National Trust joins a lengthening list of organizations voicing their opposition to Bass Pro and urging completion of the project as planned. The organizations include The Campaign for Greater Buffalo, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, The Preservation Coalition of Erie County, The Niagara Frontier Chapter of The Sierra Club, The League of Women Voters, and Voice Buffalo, a network of religious organizations.

In his June 13 letter, Moe praises the city’s “rich and diverse historic character,” and preservation-based development, which he saw as an invited guest of civic leaders hoping to snare the National Trust Annual Conference for 2011. The city is competing with Philadelphia and Hartford, with the National Trust expected to announce a site in October. Moe state’s that it is the Trust’s understanding that the heritage-based plan was “guiding the redevelopment until Bass Pro demanded the site right on the district’s waterfront,” and that the Trust does “not believe that the City should allow Bass Pro to consume such a critical and sensitive piece of waterfront property...Because it is totally out of keeping with the scale of and vision for the Erie Canal Harbor District, the proposal would needlessly defeat the great work underway to revitalize Buffalo’s waterfront, and the hopeful, inclusive planning process that preceded it.”

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo, which has led the fight to protect the Canal District and complete the 2004 Master Plan for the site, is grateful for the Trust’s support. “This affirms the national importance of the site and the interest of people far beyond Buffalo in the welfare of our part of the national heritage. The Trust’s slogan is “Protecting the Irreplaceable,” and that is certainly what we ought to do here,” says Campaign President Paul McDonnell.

Concerned about the Bass Pro/Benderson Proposal for Buffalo's Canal District? Here's who to write.

Letters count a lot more than emails or faxes. Write away!

The Buffalo News: Everybody’s Column, The Buffalo News, 1 News Plaza, Buffalo, NY 14240. Let the public know what you think!

Governor Elliot Spitzer via Laura Monte, Department of State, 65 Court St., Buffalo, NY 14202. ECHDC is a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), a state agency. The governor controls the boards of both.

Senator Chuck Schumer, 130 S. Elmwood Ave., #660, Buffalo, NY 14202. A lot of federal money and federal approvals are involved.

Congressman Brian Higgins, 726 Exchange St. #601, Buffalo, NY 14210. Biggest public advocate of Bass Pro proposal.

Mayor Byron Brown, 201 City Hall, Buffalo, NY 14202. Nothing bad happens UNLESS Mayor & Council transfer Canal District to ECHDC. Tell the mayor and council that should not happen.

The Buffalo Common Council, c/o City Clerk, 1308 City Hall, Buffalo, NY 14202. See above.

Bass Pro owner Johnny Morris, 2500 E Kearney, Springfield MO 65803-5048. Tell him Bass Pro is not welcome in Canal District.

Buffalo Must Not Sacrifice Its Rich Inheritance in Canal District

By Roy Mann, Senior Principal of The RiverStudio, author of the Erie Canal Heritage Waterfront Feasibility Study and Plan of 2000. This article appeared in slightly different form in The Buffalo News.

Big cities make big mistakes; great cities make few of them. That’s why they’re great – and stay that way.

The Bass Pro development plan is a grave error, based apparently on a conviction that sales tax revenue and the prestige of a national sports goods store will more than compensate for the loss of the treasures of the historic waterfront. Visions of public enjoyment of a transformed Central Wharf have been painted in rosy swatches. Intentions of homage to the city’s significant historic past have been warmly recited.

The problem is that the Bass Pro building and parking ramp will deaden the area, rather than enliven it. Retail stores close typically at 9:00 in the evening. Their storefronts and sides, particularly with big-box entities – where ground level street-edge floor areas are too valuable for the company to lease out to restaurants and such that cater to street pedestrian traffic – turn lifeless and discourage pedestrian circulation and interest. Parking structures, visible from and adjacent to the street, are even more detrimental. Not only are people disinterested in reaching restaurants, entertainment venues, and other evening offerings overshadowed by such realities, investors shy away from opening public-dependent businesses in their vicinities. Evening entertainment – which begins to live and breath at nine – has little chance at thriving.

Continue reading "Buffalo Must Not Sacrifice Its Rich Inheritance in Canal District" »

The Bass Pro Museum Scam

Unreported in the mainstream media is the fact that the public is going to be on the hook for $14.8 million to build a museum for Bass Pro in the Canal District as part of the Bass Pro/Benderson $130,000,000 subsidy package. The giveaway is being orchestrated by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC, but it might as well be LOOTers, Leaders Of Our Town). One may recall that one of the chief benefits being hyped by Buffalo officials years ago regarding Bass Pro - a predatory retailer whose business model depends on public subsidy - was that the store would be so huge it would include a Great Lakes museum, for free.

Well, read the fine print. The "Pre Development Agreement" offered up by ECHDC (available for download in an earlier posting) includes a requirement that the museum be publicly financed. This so-called museum would be staffed not by professionals, but by Bass Pro employees. It is to be, in effect, a sales environment. The cost to the public also has an ongoing,  open-ended component: the public must make up any operating deficit the museum incurs. There are no ceilings or safeguards against abuse in the agreement. In other words, Bass Pro could not charge for admission, call all employment and utilities as operating expenses, deduct net profits of museum-generated sales, and stick the public with an annual bill. There is nothing stopping Bass Pro from hiring 20 people at $100,000 annually and claiming a $2,000,000 annual deficit on salaries alone.

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Buffalo Going after Shrinking Hunting and Fishing Market

There's Smart Growth, then there's Dumb Non-Growth. The Bass Pro/Benderson imbroglio in and around Buffalo's Canal District, composed of a $130,000,000 in upfront handouts for, among other things, a character-destroying big box Bass Pro proposed for what is planned to be a waterfront open space.

There is a long and sorry history of chuckleheaded projects in Buffalo and across the nation concocted by desperate politicians, greedy real estate developers, compliant bureaucrats and sharky consultants posing as "development" experts. Throw in cheering boosters in the mainstream media, and you get counter-productive, counter-intuitive projects.

The day after the March 30 meeting of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ESHDC), which featured more spin than an F5 tornado, the NY Times published an article about the decades-long decline in fishing licenses ("Fish are Biting, but the Anglers Aren't"). In other words, our various governments, the city, county, state, and nation, are picking winners in a private market that is shrinking. The losers? The public that finances these crackpot schemes, and the Mom-and-Pop hunting and fishing stores, as well as chains which do not accept subsidies.

The Times article reports that fishing licenses have declined 20% from 1990 to 2005, even as the U.S. population continued a strong upward trend. Hunting licenses, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife statistics declined almost 8% in the same period. There are about twice as many fishing licenses issued in recent years than hunting licenses.

Download the "People's Plan" Under Construction that Bass Pro Threatens to Derail

The Bass Pro/Benderson debacle being shilled about by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ESDC) is a gross abnegation of the public trust represented by the Final Supplemental Environmental  Impact Statement of the Erie Canal Harbor Project (signed by the Federal Transit Administration, the NFTA, and the parent of ECHDC, the Empire State Development Corporation), and its companion Master Plan. Can't remember all that? Just call it the People's Plan, because it was the result of a citizen-brought lawsuit and a judicially mandated and very inclusive public review process. Click on the link to download the master Plan that is being built right now, and click on the images to see sketches of what the Canal District could be.

Download Final_Master_Plan_Report.pdf

Aerial_sketch Central_wharf_sketch


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