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Paladino's waterfront plan is "politics as usual", not "progress"
by Art Giacalone
During his first eight years as Buffalo’s mayor, Byron Brown has been unable to decrease the city’s poverty rate, improve the quality of education, or enhance the health of Queen City residents. It is no surprise, then, that his re-election campaign has chosen to emphasize what it calls “progress”—in the form of economic development—as the Brown administration’s major accomplishment.
But what Mayor Brown calls an example of “progress to come,” Carl Paladino’s $75 million multi-use complex proposed for Buffalo’s waterfront, looks more like backroom politics and self-serving favoritism than a step forward for the City of Buffalo.
Mr. Paladino’s project, called “The Carlo,” would be constructed in two phases on a 5.5-acre parcel near the entrance to the Erie Basin Marina. The first stage, with a 14-story tower, hotel, apartments, office space, restaurants, and a 602-space parking ramp, would replace a parking lot on Erie Street across the road from the Marine Drive Apartments. The second phase plans are sketchy, but call for one- and two-story retail and commercial buildings to displace a grassy area at the water’s edge.
Word of Paladino’s proposed waterfront complex first became public in late February during Mayor Brown’s state-of-the-city address. A week later, without first requesting competitive bids, Buffalo’s Urban Renewal Agency unanimously granted Mr. Paladino’s Ellicott Development Company “exclusive development rights” for the prime property. The secretive process deprived other developers an opportunity to present alternative proposals for the coveted waterfront location, and prevented public dialog on the desirability, nature and scale of the project.
It is not difficult to see why BURA, an agency created in 1966 to prevent or eliminate blight and deterioration in substandard and deteriorated areas of the city, would quickly and quietly approve a project that does not advance the agency’s stated purpose. Mayor Brown dominates BURA, serving as the agency’s chairman, and controlling a majority of its nine-member board. By awarding development rights to Mr. Paladino’s Ellicott Development Company, BURA instantly converted the mayor’s long-time nemesis into a supporter just in time for the 2013 re-election campaign.
In retrospect, it is not surprising that the outspoken Paladino graciously accepted BURA’s selection in 2012 of Terry Pegula’s HarborCenter complex, rather than Paladino’s proposal for a smaller version of “The Carlo,” for the Webster Block.” Mayor Brown has now given his former foe an invaluable consolation prize, exclusive rights to develop a much larger project on premium waterfront land without any competition.
The Paladino project is hardly “progress.” No urgent need exists for additional hotel rooms or office space downtown. The project is not water-dependent. The waterfront parcel and the surrounding community are not blighted or deteriorated. The 14-story tower will obstruct waterfront views, eliminate green space, decrease opportunities for public access to the water’s edge, and worsen traffic congestion on Erie Street.
It feels like “politics as usual.”
- Art Giacalone, East Aurora
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