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Mayor Opens 311 Line to Inner Harbor Development Ideas

Why The Rush?

Mayor opens 311 line to Inner Harbor development ideas, activists say they’ve got a better plan for public input

On Tuesday, amidst the continuing fallout over Bass Pro’s decision to pass on building a store in Buffalo, Mayor Byron Brown announced an opportunity for the public to express their wishes for future development on the waterfront.

To that end, people can call the city’s 311 Call and Resolution Center, “Where One Call Does It All.” If you go this route, be sure to press choice “3” to “obtain information about city programs, City Hall information, or the business assistance information center.” If you hold on the line, an attendant will answer and offer to put your request in for you. Be prepared to give your first and last name.

In the alternative, you can fill out a form by visiting You’ll need to include your name, city, and email/phone number.

“Now that Bass Pro is no longer being considered as a part of Buffalo’s redeveloped waterfront, I’ve heard from residents from across our city about what they would like to see as part of our waterfront development,” Brown said in the press release.

Those opinions will be submitted by the mayor to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation at their next meeting on September 13, and Brown spokesman Peter Cutler says all the suggestions will be made public.

After nine years, some may wonder why the public is being granted a one-month window to put forth their ideas on what should be done with public land using public money.

Mark Goldman was the target of an obscenity-laced tirade delivered by Cutler in Common Council chambers last week over his involvement in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the Bass Pro deal, as well as his “Obstructionist Manifesto” published in the Buffalo News earlier that day. He thinks that the time is right for more public input.

“I think this is a moment for this community,” Goldman says. “People are sick and tired of small-group politics and policy-making. There are a lot of young people, as you know, who are really coming together over a lot of different things, and this could be the start of a new kind of coalition that breathes new life into the community.”

The seismic events of the last few weeks are still shaking out, but Goldman envisions something more than comments on a city website or at a city call center.

“It’s gonna take some money, but we have access to money. It’ll be a website, a series of facilitated community meetings, a couple large meetings…workshops as well,” he says. “Not to rush it, but really to take a little time, considering the 10 years we’ve wasted—and come up with a great plan that includes wonderful ideas. There is no hidden agenda. The agenda is the democratic process.”

Stephen Halpern—another petitioner in the lawsuit against Bass Pro—is a professor in the Department of Political Science at SUNY at Buffalo. Halpern too seems pleasantly surprised at the enthusiasm he’s been hearing from people in the last few weeks. When asked about the new outlets for public input being offered by City Hall, he says this: “I applaud the mayor’s efforts to elicit community ideas and proposals. I think it comes very late in the process. I think the community has been effectively precluded from any meaningful participation for the last nine years. And I think, from what I’ve read in the newspaper (that’s all I can go on) that the attempts being made now, belatedly, to get some indication of what the citizenry might like, strike me as pretty likely to be very ineffectual.”

Halpern sees waterfront development as a momentous decision for the community—somewhat on par with the often-criticized decision to move UB to Amherst. “We’re talking about a unique community resource—and it is indeed a resource for the entire community—we’re talking about significant public dollars that are available for this effort at a time when there aren’t many public dollars available for major public initiatives.

“So to think that meaningful public input about this subject can be elicited and advanced by leaving messages on the mayor’s hotline strikes me as a bit far-fetched.”

Halpern thinks we need a sustained community dialogue over an extended period of months so that individuals and community organizations can have an ample opportunity to advance, discuss, and debate their ideas. “A single community forum on a given night is not sufficient here,” he says. “I encourage our elected officials to think seriously about how that might happen. But I don’t think that one month of phone calls or comments on a website are really serious proposals to elicit the kinds of ideas we need, and the kinds of dialogue the citizenry is entitled to. And the notion that we need to move hastily now because time is of the essence strikes me as unpersuasive. We had nine years of going nowhere. We can surely afford to spend six months, or nine months, as a community—thinking, discussing, debating—soliciting proposals from planning professionals from across the country and the world, if need be, to help us figure out what we as a community might want.

“I think that there’s an opportunity here unlike any in the 30-some odd years I’ve been living here for there to be a genuinely democratic, open, transparent community dialogue about a profoundly important public question.

“People are eager to have this happen. They want it desperately,” Halpern says. “They see an opportunity here to, perhaps, realize that kind of vision. And I think it’s frankly, terribly exciting.”

buck quigley

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