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Eddie Friel: “Go out for international design and development competition”

Because he’s been involved in numerous successful waterfront redevelopments, we asked Niagara University’s Eddie Friel for his ideas on how Buffalo should move forward with the Inner Harbor now that Bass Pro is out of the picture:

For such a major project, and for such a signature project for Buffalo and for the region overall, and given that it’s in the ownership of the community, the structure that’s in place to deliver it and what they’re trying to deliver confuse me a little bit.

In places I have been before, what has tended to happen in exercises like this is you go into international design competition. In a place like the city of Buffalo, you also have to have international architectural competition, because you simpy cannot put graffiti on a landscape in a city that is a model of American architecture, where any American architect who’s worth his salt has got a significant building, and where you have invested significant amounts of money in restoration of the Darwin Martin house, which is again articulating  Buffalo’s case as a unique city in terms of its design and its architecture.

So as a city of architecture, what you put on that waterfront has to make a staement not just about its past but also about its future, and what industries and what businesses the city is going to be in in its future rather than in its past. That’s why I was curious when I first learned about the Bass Pro proposal, because I didn’t think that it fitted the culture, history, and heritage of the city of Buffalo. At the end of the day, cities are in the business of defining what is unique about their place. Nothing about bringing Bass Pro onto the waterfront was going to give it a unique narrative about the strength of the city of Buffalo.

So why doesn’t Empire State Development now rethink its view of the waterfront and go out for international design and development competition? And keep the process entirely transparent, so that when submissions are coming in you can mount an exhibition of what the proposals are for the people of Buffalo to get an idea of what the future of their city will look like and to have some input into that process. That’s what I’ve been inolved in in other places around the world, whether it’s been Glasgow in Scotland or Londonderry in Northern Ireleand or other cities around the world that I’ve been involved in. Fundamentally I think we have a real opportunity to say something really important about Buffalo right now, and it would be a tragedy if we wasted this opportunity.

When Glasgow was faced with this issue, we looked at Baltimore and we looked at Boston, and we then asked what suits Glasgow and the Scottish community and what businesses should we be in. Glasgow was the center of ship-building, and all that declined and left nothing behind but the detritus of post-industrialization. The process then was reclaiming individual docks, building a Scottish exhibition and conference center, building a science museum, building an IMAX theater, building a whole host of different things which went to architectural competition.

There are many similarities between Buffalo and Glasgow, curiously, because Glasgow had siginificant architecture of the Victorian variety. It was the finest example of Victorial architecture anywhere in Europe. But also it had Rennie Mackintosh, and the impact of his design on the Art Nouveau movement. In fact, Frank Lloyd Wright copied one of his designs.

The only difference being that when Glasgow did its baseline study and economic analysis back in 1982, and then tried to identify what were the new industries that it needed to be in and how is it going to go about that process, then the mechanisms for delivery and for partnerships between public and private sectors were created, with people who had the skills and competencies to deliver individual component parts of the stratgey, so that it became a dynamic city in the business of reinventing itself. Baltimore has been there, done that, got the t-shirt, made the movie. So has Boston. Other cities in more recent times, like Pittsburgh, are doing some interesting things. We should learn from those people who are getting it right. My consternation here has been how long it takes to deliver projects, which is something I find very interesting in terms of the structures that are put in place.