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A Less Empty Downtown

by on June 26, 2012

It’s about time to make worthwhile use of an underused piece of land that’s just a bit too symbolic of downtown Buffalo. Or it’s somewhat near being close to about time. Why make progress today when you can do it in several hundred tomorrows?

You can’t just do something like offer people goods or services without the mayor’s crew approving first, you pavement-smashing libertarian goon. Regardless of the ample roadblocks, some commercial concerns want to do something more productive with the space than parking spaces:

It’s currently a 300-space parking lot but it soon could be transformed into a 24-hour downtown destination, which is exactly what the city hopes one of three proposals will do for lower Main Street.

There would be fewer places to temporarily store your vehicle and more reasons to look for one, but that’s the sort of problem along the lines of being too full for porterhouse after all those lobster tails. One of the contenders to make the ground in question useful in a three-dimensional manner is a man who is as good at developing as he was bad at running for governor:

Carl Paladino’s Ellicott Development Company submitted plans for a 12-story, 700,000 square foot mixed used building that will include a brand name hotel, 42 upscale and market-rate apartments and office space. A restaurant and retail will also be located on the first floor.

I hope the restaurant is good so that residents and hotel patrons can use it as a de facto kitchen. Alternately, the Sabres’ new neighbor might be… the Sabres:

The second bidder was the Buffalo Sabres. Business First reports they are proposing a pair of hockey rinks, a full service and nationally branded hotel along with parking.

Hockey Heaven would be heavenlier and hockeyier. The third bidder isn’t as fun or interesting as the first two, although a stably useful employer is a valuable asset, too:

The third bidder was T.R. Browning Architects.

I am in favor of buildings that have been designed, so that’s a third thumbs-up. In truth, any of the proposals sound like a great use of the land. So let’s get out of their way and allow whoever can acquire the plot to build now. But nope: we first have to listen to some government guy who’s in the way of business talk about why business is good:

(Executive Director for the Office of Strategic Planning Brendan) Mehaffy says each proposal will enhance immediate area, “it’s something that’s going to build on and complement the development that’s been happening on at canalside.”

So what’s taking so long? You can blame City Hall, and not just because it’s fun:

When the project was first announced Mayor Byron Brown said there was a lot interest in the block but only the three proposals were submitted. So what happened?

“We received from a lot of interest from a lot of people but they might not have been able to work through the details with a potential tenant,” said Mehaffy. “I think there were more out there but just a question of timing this is a large block to develop.”

Brown should have just handed the space to his Occupy pals, who deserve it for the way society oppresses those who won’t work. They would finally find something productive to do if they were just handed some property of their own, I bet. In actuality, we have to wait for someone good to get it:

The city will make their selection by August 15 with construction underway by next summer.

Why is the government making decisions about who gets what? The answer explains why the city is the way it is and isn’t. Of course, your local leaders know best, which is a statement that’s particularly believable if one isn’t looking around downtown after 1950.

Of course, their ever-phenomenal track record isn’t limited to vacant lots and buildings. After all, politicians did such a bang-up job turning the Aud into nothing. Why re-purpose a historical and amazing building when you can bribe Bass Pro into not opening a store downtown? Consider memories of the beloved, razed structure that once filled the empty spot as a symbol of even more potential.

Alternately, we could get the government out of the planning business, or any business. Letting enterprises set the course for their destinies without the approval of the quasi-parental figures who need your votes to stay employed would cause downtown to fill like Sim City.

Under such a scenario for transactions, the highest bidder could buy the land from its private owner in hopes of making something useful to customers. We could call it a “free market.”

Until then, we can wait for the bureaucracy to finally get around to filling space. They can and will take their time. You’ve already waited decades for them to get their act in gear, so at least you’re trained for it.

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