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Plenty of Vacancies

by on March 8, 2010

Downtown Buffalo’s most common sight might be plywood.  Regrettably, the vertically-placed sheets aren’t particularly appealing to shoppers, tourists, or potential apartment renters.  The boarding-up-unused-places industry may be booming, but numerous other aspects of the city’s economy grow more decrepit by the day.  For a literal example, take a look at the once-marvelous Hotel Lafayette. You’ll have to do so from the outside, as it’s being shuttered:

The Hotel Lafayette will be closed and boarded up on April 1, The Buffalo News has learned.

And a developer who hopes to renovate the landmark said delays in Albany could derail his plan to turn the structure into apartments and a hotel.

This present-day wound cuts deep into the past.  As highlighted during a recent presentation at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, the august hotel was designed in 1904 by Louise Bethune, the American Institute of Architects’ first woman member.  But the structure’s one-time incomparable reputation may be relegated permanently to the olden days.  That’s despite one businessman’s efforts to ensure the building doesn’t become a memory:

Developer Rocco Termini delivered the jolting announcement today at a special meeting of the city’s Planning Board. He said delays in Albany involving needed reforms of a state historic tax credit law could doom his $35 million plan to turn the Hotel Lafayette into a boutique hotel, apartments, small restaurants and banquet facilities.

Termini blamed “bean-counters” in the state’s budget and finance offices for delays.

In short, a developer willingly attempted to bring commerce downtown, and Albany couldn’t be bothered to help him.  After all, why do the capital’s bureaucrats care?  They’re like 300 miles away and don’t have to deal with a post-apocalyptic cityscape out on the state’s western frontier.  They indifferently leave Erie County’s residents to sod off and cope with collective destitution, complimented by how we’re left with precious few places to shop and live downtown.

Locals are dealing with a rotten policy that subsidizes some at the expense of all.  Doling out credits to particular businesses is a particularly futile method for generating economic growth.  We can’t blame Termini for trying to get the benefits available: if the government is handing out candy that you helped pay for, it’s silly to deny yourself the sugar rush.

The problem lies with the process itself.  Then inherently crooked fixture should make anyone who wants to enliven Buffalo wonder if other rusting urban hulls are inhibited by similarly maddening ruses.  We should attempt to track down correspondents in Cleveland and Detroit for corroboration.

Subsidizing chosen businesses with incentives and bribes is sadly in vogue among numerous federal-level politicians.  But such conniving is nothing new in some states.  Particularly, New York has essentially been living under the Obama administration’s policies for far longer than the past year and change.  I hate to include spoilers, but Empire State residents already know the ending: imagine Angela’s Ashes wrapping up somewhere in the middle.  Just exaggerating, maybe.

If each state effectively conducts its own economic experiment, then New York is an exploding meth lab.  We should be letting businesses engage in commerce without channeling money through Albany in the hopes of getting blessed with a future tax credit.  Instead, we cope with a cloddish middleman who has mysteriously been granted the right to determine the cash’s recipient.

At best, the state government picks favorites as competing businesses suffer, much like with the feds and the inept car companies they’ve chosen to promote.  At worst, they don’t bother to give out the money at all, as seen in the negligence aimed at a fading building named for a most distinguished municipal visitor.

Either way, the reshuffling is funded by bleeding the private economy dry.  That’s in lieu of letting those who want to buy stuff or hire space interact with those who have goods to sell or empty flats to lease, respectively.  It’s not like that system would work infinitely better while costing the government nothing.

But it’s anti-business business as usual in New York.  As a result, a historically significant, architecturally notable, perfectly located building that was ready for a rebirth is instead going to be converted into a hotel for ghosts.  We can’t get even get a drink to drown our sorrows at a favorite spot: the Lafayette Tap Room closed along with the Hotel.  Albany owes us a drink, and a revitalized city center, too.

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One Comment
  1. Andrew Willson permalink

    There is no doubt that the government in New York is corrupted and essentially useless.

    Knowing this to be true, why can’t we blame the developer for requiring the benefits to complete his plan? I don’t intend to argue that he shouldn’t expect them, or that the state was right in any possible manner but could he possibly have expected them to work magically at this one point?

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