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Save Our Waterfront: Where's Millie Harrington When We Need Her?

The City of Buffalo certainly could use another Millie Harrington these days.

In 1989, at the age of 81, Millie organized tenants at the Marine Drive Apartments to fight an earlier threat to Buffalo’s waterfront, “The Pavilion.”

Millie was a Western New York artist who moved into the Marine Drive Apartments in 1981. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) her status as an octogenarian, she was not afraid to “fight City Hall” and the developer, Mr. Cordish and Co., from Baltimore. The Pavilion project was a $100+ million mixed-use development proposed for the site at the Erie Basin Marina that eventually housed Shanghai Red, and is now occupied by Templeton Landing. The project was to consist of a 12-story, 230,000-square-foot office building; a three-story winter garden; a 12-story, 130,000-square-foot, all-suite hotel; 100,000 square feet of retail space; and a six-story parking ramp, with total parking for around 2,000 vehicles.

Reflecting an approach to decision-making hauntingly similar to the process we continue to see to this day, the Common Council approved a land disposition agreement with the Pavilion Partners, L.P., without doing any environmental review under SEQRA (despite the fact that both the Buffalo Environmental Management Commission and the New York State DEC advised the Council that an Environmental Impact Statement was needed). Millie and two other tenants were plaintiffs in Harrington et al. vs. The City of Buffalo et al., the legal challenge that I brought on their behalf in State Supreme Court in January 1990. The lower court concluded that the lawsuit should have been brought within four months of the April 1989 date the Common Council had approved the land disposition agreement with the developer. Unfortunately, Millie and her neighbors had contacted me a couple months too late for that, and the case was dismissed as untimely. The appeal to the Appellate Division in Rochester was also unsuccessful.

Despite the results in court, Millie and the Marine Drive Apartments residents considered the lawsuit a “winner.” Thanks in large part to her persistence, the project was never built due to lack of financing.

Millie died in 2005 at the age of 96, after a full and productive life. If she were still with us, she’d be knocking on her neighbor’s doors to make certain the current shenanigans threatening Buffalo’s waterfront were confronted head-on. We sure could use her spirit today.

Art Giacalone, East Aurora

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