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Brian Higgins: “The anchor at Canal Side is the water”

Congressman Brian Higgins says the ultimatum he gave Bass Pro almost three weeks ago—to sign a legally binding agreement with the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation or walk away—was not premeditated. Nor, he says, did it constitute a change in his position on Bass Pro’s place as the centerpiece of the proposed Canal Side development. “I’ve always said without without Bass Pro we have a waterfront to develop,” Higgins said yesterday.

Higgins delivered the ultimatum at a press conference announcing an agreement with the New York Power Authority that would allow ECHDC to issue $105 million in bonds against NYPA’s long-term relicensing payments, after a reporter asked whether Bass Pro was critical to the success of the Canal Side project. In short, Higgins said no.

“I’m not even talking specifically about Bass Pro,” he said. “I’m talking about these kinds of things where somebody comes in and says we’re going to spend all this money, and we sit there and wait and don’t do our due diligence as a community about doing the infrastructure investment that is necessary to make the waterfront an attractive place for private sector development without huge public subsidy.

“It’s not just Bass Pro…it’s part of a 50-year history of failed waterfront development.”

Higgins says progress in both the Inner and Outer Harbors has been substantial in the past three years, and it all has to do with investment in infrastructure. He says the appropriate direction to take now that Bass Pro has dropped out of Canal Side is to continue to build out the 2004 Master Plan. “The anchor at Canal Side is  the water,” he said. “Last weekend there were 3,000 people [in the Inner Harbor for the Buffalo Rocks the Harbor concert series]. And what are they standing on? They are standing on very generous public access that was built out as a part of the 2004 Master Plan. That has to continue. When you build Canal Hall for arts and culture, that’s going to be a big draw to Canal Side. It will complement the other things that occur there. Where you have a critical mass of people, that creates a commercial demand that will follow all the infrastructure work that we still have not finished.”

He believes that the money attached to building the store and attendant infrastructure for Bass Pro can be re-authorized for other purposes. In particular, he hopes that some of that funding can be used as seed money for the bridge he’s been supporting, which would connect the Inner and Outer Harbors. If some of the Bass Pro money can be put in a pot for that bridge, he says, that might convince the state and federal governments to complete the financing for its construction.

“That bridge can be under construction by 2012,” he says. “Not only are you going to build an attractive bridge with generous pedestrian access, which will make downtown that much more attractive…but it will also open up access to 300 acres of land at the Outer Harbor that have been economically dead for the past 50 years.”

Higgins imagines, among other developments on the Outer Harbor, a well used Gallagher Beach, parkland, and a residential village on the waterfront with real estate priced within the budgets of middle-class home-buyers.

Higgins seems to blame Bass Pro itself, not ECHDC or city government or critical media, for the long, futile dalliance with the Canal Side project. “We, the Western New York community through the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, did everything that was asked of us: public financing in place, all the environmental reviews competed, site preparation including demolition of the Aud completed,” he said. “What wasn’t acceptable was beginning to spend money on Bass Pro specific infrastructure without Bass pro having signed a legally binding document with shared risk and responsibility. That never occurred.”

As for the new firestorm over HSBC and the Webster block, Higgins says his only concern is that HSBC stays in Buffalo, whether it is in the HSBC Tower, on the Webster block, on the old Freezer Queen site in the Outer Harbor.


  • bflofirst

    Astonishing. This man is remarkable for his ability to twist and turn and mutate into anything at any time. Does he actually stand for anything? I wish the main stream media would call him out on his many flip flops and his own close ties with the Building Trades Unions which direct so many of his poor decisions.

  • wny

    true, ties to union jobs. those damn union folks. we really should be able to hire mexicans coming across the peace bridge for $2.00 an hour. much better. God Bless America

  • Ericka

    Buffalo’s history is rich with industry and manufacturing, so what better than a Made in America Store along with a Made in America Museum to showcase the city of Buffalo and its beautiful waterfront. Imagine an anchor store such as the current Made in America Store in Elma that only sells American made products, along with an “interactive exhibit” museum showing the history and production of everything from American made automobiles to Louisville Slugger baseball bats. You would experience the products, companies, technology, and workers that fuel our economy, from Boeing to Ben & Jerry’s, Hallmark to Harley-Davidson. The museum could contain a Corning glass blowing display, KODAK costume picture booths, Crayola craft center and an Amish workshop. Small assembly or manufacturing facilities for companies such as Fischer Price could possibly be incorporated into the museum.The frame of the largest carousel in the world is in North Tonawanda. It could be restored and added to the exhibit along with a double Ferris wheel (also produced in NT), old fashioned skee ball arcade, and bowling alley to form a midway. The complex could have a silent film theater with a Wurlitzer organ, a promenade with jewelry boutiques, clothing stores, and beauty/bath supplies, sporting goods, book stores, and toy stores that are all produced in America. The food court would house restaurants like the Anchor Bar, an old-fashioned soda fountain, corn dogs, and toll house cookies. Breweries and wineries could display their production processes either in the museum or individual outlet store. There could be a music area displaying instruments made in America with an amphitheater sponsored by companies such as Gibson or Steinway. The possibilities are endless with an appeal to all ages. A Made in America store with the added shopping center and entertainment elements would create a much needed tourist attraction in downtown Buffalo and attract the support of politicians nationwide hoping to get their name associated with making this project happen. In turn, this could entice businesses and/or manufacturers to produce their products in the Buffalo area. The Made in America complex would give visitors a nostalgic look back into goods and products that helped make American industry the envy of the world.