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The End of a Waterfront Affront

by on February 21, 2012

We may never know why the bus people owned waterfront land in the first place. But the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is getting back to its roots, namely running the airport and supervising buses and Metro Rail trains that run just slightly behind schedule.

The NFTA may finally drop the pretense that they should be involved with sea travel. By doing so, they would be decently letting a company reap the benefits of doing the work involved with running a boat parking lot. They should take notes on how to make money so they’re not begging for us to again cover their losses:

The NFTA board of directors voted Thursday to negotiate a $3.5 million offer from Bear Development Group to purchase the small boat harbor and Gallagher Beach waterfront parcel.

You mean they are going to invest their own cash? Is that even legal? The private enterprise may even build neat stuff on the spot:

The proposal includes a commitment by Bear Development to pour an additional $15 million dollars into the land, including an expansion to the harbor break-wall and marine facilities as well as the construction of interior parks and an amphitheater.

An amphitheater would mean they could host rock and roll combos and make draught beer available for purchase during warmer months. The one thing the potential new owner would not be allowed to build is a wall:

The NFTA also stipulates that any agreement must promise to keep the property and boat facility open to the public.

Why would they want to cut off access, anyway? They have to want people there if they’re going to profit. Those looking for something to do near the lake would be just one beneficiary: a local agency is on the verge of finally doing something something wise. If the seemingly improbable sale comes to fruition, they would also add to their coffers from, of all things, a voluntary transaction:

Proceeds from the deal would go to stabilize the agency’s capital reserves.

We can only hope that government will get the hang of ridding themselves of stuff they shouldn’t own while simultaneously make money. It may be as likely as the president admitting that unemployment increased after the stimulus. But at least this property sell-off would be a good first step, even if they never take a second.

It’s past time to let a private company give running that edge of the city a shot. After all, it’s not as if they could do much worse than NFTA has. They apparently hoped that the sparseness would keep people from noticing.

People have a motive to keep what’s theirs running well. By contrast, a government entity doesn’t have to worry about going out of business: they’ll just turn to taxpayers and request a loan, if “request” means “demand” and “loan” means “wasted bailout.”

The prospective new owner would have every incentive to make the property enticing. The public may worry about a private company failing to make it work. But, if there’s value in the harbor, the plucky new investors will either make it a success or go out of business trying. And the latter would just allow another enterprising concern to give it a better try.

Anything that could enliven Buffalo’s waterfront is worth a shot, especially for the stretch past the pointlessly execrable Skyway. The exchange would create progress compared to what the government has, and has not, done with the tract.

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