Council Tables Land Transfer
by Geoff Kelly - posted 4:49 pm, August 4, 2010
Chris Smith of WNYMedia.net reports that Buffalo’s Common Council has tabled Mayor Byron Brown’s request that it immediately approve the transfer of 7.8 acres of city-owned land near the Inner Harbor to the Erie Canal harbor Development Corporation. The vote was 5-4.
Nearly three weeks ago Congressman Brian Higgins issued and impromptu ultimatum to Bass Pro: Sign a lease agreement in the next two weeks or walk away from the Canal Side project. Bass Pro walked away and all hell broke loose. On Tuesday, Mayor Byron Brown called a press conference in which he threatened that a new round of fire and brimstone would engulf the Common Council if it did not immediately transfer 7.8 acres of city land to ECHDC. The Council has been using the property, which ECHDC covets in order to consolidate its control of the proposed Canal Side project area, as leverage to try to force ECHDC to negotiate a community benefit agreement, or CBA, that would include a living wage requirement for all businesses in Canal Side.
With Bass Pro out of the picture, a new heavyweight moved on to the scene: HSBC Bank, according to the Brown administration and ECHDC, wants about half of that city land (the Webster block) for a new building, and if it’s not conveyed forthwith to ECHDC, HSBC will not consider Buffalo in its long-term plans when the bank’s leadership convenes in London to consider its operations over the coming months.
Talk about forcing a crisis. Brown allowed that he’d known HSBC wanted the Webster block for a month. ECHDC’s Larry Quinn said he’d known for three months. Common Council members said the first they’d heard of HSBC’s interest in the property was last Friday. Why the secrecy? The city’s chief economic development officer, Brendan Mehaffy, said the city was respecting HSBC’s privacy. Neither Mehaffy nor anyone else could explain exactly why HSBC—who have made no public comment on the issue—was only interested in buying or leasing the land from ECHDC, as opposed to from the city directly.
We’ll know soon enough if the crisis is real: At today’s special session of the Common Council called by the mayor, Lovejoy’s Rich Fontana claimed HSBC had set a midnight deadline for the transfer of the land to ECHDC. (The mayor said HSBC needed a decision by the end of the week.) But Fontana, who took the mayor’s and ECHDC’s part on the issue, could not rally the six votes needed to transfer the land. And a compromise forwarded by Mickey Kearns—that the Common Council would transfer just the Webster block rather than the entire 7.8 acres to ECHDC—was dismissed as unacceptable by Brown.
The issue is tabled until the Council returns from its August recess. The mayor says he’ll call another special session, but Council President Dave Franczyk was having none of that. To succeed in securing the transfer, Brown will have to win over Franczyk, who he only succeeded in alienating today, and Ellicott’s Curtis Haynes, who seems unlikely to flip.