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ECHDC Head Robert Gioia Discusses Outer Harbor with Buffalo-Niagara Partnership


This post contains additional information related to Alan Oberst’s story in this week’s Artvoice.

On Friday morning, October 31, Buffalo’s chamber of commerce the Buffalo-Niagara Partnership held a BN360 presentation entitled “Buffalo’s Future Outer Harbor,” featuring Robert Gioia, Chairman of Empire State Development subsidiary Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation. The presentation was billed thus on the Partnership’s web site.

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation Chairman Robert Gioia presents the exciting options being formulated for the unique piece of Buffalo property known as the Outer Harbor. What is the right combination of green space, activities, businesses and housing needed to make the property active and sustainable? Mr. Gioia will break down the draft plan that has been presented and help attendees understand how and why certain choices are being considered. The pluses and minuses of other successful urban waterfronts will be examined. This is an opportunity to envision the waterfront of the future.

As it happens, the Partnership did not record Gioia’s presentation, there were only a few tweets from the event, and, apparently, no media covered it. Fortunately, Douglas Funke, President of Citizen for Regional Transit, which has been heavily engaged in the Outer Harbor planning process, took notes at the event, to report to his board. He has generously allowed Artvoice to publish his report (we have edited out several portions intended solely for his board, and added images), with the caveat,

My representation of Gioia’s comments are not exact quotes; they are from my notes taken during the meeting.


I attended the Buffalo-Niagara Partnership public meeting on the Outer Harbor on Friday. There were about 75 people in the audience, mostly from the business community—many from construction and developer companies.

The presentation on the Outer Harbor (OH) was given by Robert Gioia (ECHDC Chairman). Some of the main points he made were:
The final preliminary OH plan was the result of a very open public outreach process (many public meetings).
The plan reflects consideration of all the public inputs (I think he said over 3,800 yellow stickies were received!)
The plan is a long term plan (30 years). He sees initial development in the south near NFTA-owned Terminal B and parking).
He stated that half of the taxes raised from the new development will go to take care of the OH. The other half will go to the city of Buffalo. It wasn’t clear to me if the half going to the OH would take care of the new OH roads, sewer, etc. or just the parkland and green space. He said that this arrangement will avoid the need for another Olmsted Park Conservancy that requires $6M of public subsidies each year. (He didn’t mention that the Olmsted Park Conservancy does work that would otherwise have to be done at public expense.)
He noted that development covers 29 acres out of 400 acres of OH land (he later said 4% of the total land is to be developed – if it’s 29 out of 400 acres that’s actually 7.25%).
He compared the park to the Brooklyn Bridge Park saying that it is almost identical and needs a similar model with adjacent residential development.
The OH should compliment the City of Buffalo. For example, we should not build museums that will compete with the museums we already have in Buffalo. He didn’t say why this logic didn’t apply to apartments, condos, and associated retail.
In response to a question about the proposed bridge he said that the new bridge to the OH is at least 15 years out.


Mr. Gioia did not try to hide his dislike for the groups that he says are trying to impose their will over the ECHDC plan developed by professionals. He specifically mentioned the 21st Century Park Committee and the Buffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper as organizations that have been very vocal against the preferred plan. One of his slides showed the ECHDC plan in comparison to the the 21st Century Park Committee’s proposed plan and the revised plan by Riverkeeper. He made the point that we can’t make progress when everyone has their own plan. He also noted that there was some commonality across the plans.

He specifically criticized the Riverkeeper plan as being of poor quality saying that it looked like they just cut and pasted changes onto the ECHDC plan. He sarcastically asked what urban planning expertise the Riverkeepers had? It is ironic that he singled out the Riverkeeper plan for criticism when his complaint is that these plans are attempting to impose their will on everyone else. The Riverkeeper plan is the one that was developed specifically as a compromise position.


Mr. Gioia stated that he opposes public meetings where people can get up and speak because he believes the most vocal citizens will dominate. He lamented the fact that an area legislator (he didn’t name him) is likely to hold a public meeting with press invited for citizens to voice their positions. He expressed his opposition to this but said he couldn’t prevent it from happening. He complained that nothing gets done in Buffalo because special interests are able to dominate discussion and hold things up. He mentioned the Peace Bridge as an example.

Mr. Gioia stated a couple of times that he hopes to have a final plan ready for ECHDC Board vote in December.

The comments from the audience were all very supportive of the plan. Some asked for clarifications and additional detail.

I raised my hand and stated that I was with CRT and that we are one of the organizations who have criticized the preliminary plan. I stated that our main objection was that the plan called for significant residential development with associated new roads, sewer, etc. I stated that this is just more sprawl with more infrastructure that will have to be maintained at taxpayer expense. I also noted that with a residential population on the OH we will need transportation infrastructure such as a $100M bridge. I noted the results of the GBNRTC One Region Forward initiative that cited sprawl (geographic growth without population growth) as a major problem contributing to WNY decline. I stated that, based on the 1RF results, we need to invest in the city of Buffalo (where there is room and infrastructure) and not divert public resources to more infrastructure on the Outer Harbor.

Mr. Gioia pushed back that there is demand for building on the Outer Harbor. I pushed back that there was also demand for all the development (sprawl) in Amherst. It was an interesting interchange. In the end, Mr. Gioia simply said that he agreed with all my points but that he feels that we need to develop on the Outer Harbor. Dan Leonard (Director of Regional Growth at the Buffalo-Niagara Partnership) raised his hand after I spoke and said that he also believed we should develop residential units on the Outer Harbor.

Following the meeting, I spoke with Dan Leonard and reiterated our concerns. I stated that there is a lot that we agree on but not the parts that call for more sprawl. Dan said that the City of Buffalo needs orders of magnitude growth in residential (I think he said we need 10 times more than we have now) to satisfy the demand and catch up with places like Baltimore and Pittsburg that have significant urban populations. I said that there is plenty of room for development in Buffalo, much of it near the waterfront. He agreed but stated that Outer Harbor development is also needed to satisfy residential demand and need.

I also spoke very briefly with Robert Gioia after the meeting reiterating that, while there is a lot we agree on, we disagree with the part of the plan that calls for residential development that will require more infrastructure that will need public support to maintain. He was rushing off so we didn’t have time to talk, but it was clear that we disagree.

Thanks to Douglas Funke and Citizens for Regional Transit for the use of their report.

  • BufChester

    Shorter version: Rich man talks to other rich men, tells them he knows best; they agree.

    • UncleBluck

      And don’t forget “screw the taxpayers”….