Brian Higgins: “The anchor at Canal Side is the water”
by Geoff Kelly - posted 12:08 pm, August 5, 2010
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.