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Skating Around Growth

by on September 4, 2012

The City of Hockey is getting more rinks. There’s finally something sensible happening in Buffalo, and all it took was overcoming the most hostile city government around. The municipality’s typically deleterious actions can only partially taint an otherwise unusually happy day of progress.

Still, even good things that happen in Buffalo are accompanied by misconducts. The onerous conditions that welcome desperately-needed development explain why there’s not more of it:

Mayor Byron Brown was pleased to announce today the selection of HARBORcenter Development, LLC (the development company affiliated with the Buffalo Sabres) as the preferred developer of the Webster Block. He also released the term sheet, outlining the plan to create two new ice rinks, which coupled with the existing rink, makes this facility the “first of its kind” in the United States. The project currently calls for a hotel, New Era flagship store, Tim Hortons™ restaurant and new parking, for a total estimated project cost of $123 million.

There’s a place to temporarily hang your hat while you sip your double-double, although how this affects the New Era store at the nearby company headquarters remains unclear. I suppose two sweet cap huts are better than none. Regardless, there’s still a long intermission before the puck drops:

Groundbreaking will take place in March, 2013, following four to six months of site preparation. The ice rinks and parking ramp are both expected to open in September, 2014.

It’s about time a company got permission to build something useful on a spot that had been used to provide too much parking for an area with few reasons to park. But the complex’s appeal lies in allowing people to freely engage in commerce, not in how much they have to fork over to politicians for the privilege:

Once complete, the facilities are expected to create 350 full-time jobs, and generate $4.1 million in state and local taxes, $48 million over the next ten years.

Anyone who trusts such a projection is still waiting for Barack Obama to make unemployment dip below eight percent. More broadly, the focus on how much money will be handed to the government should disturb anyone fond of private property.

It’s satisfying enough that consumers get value out of giving money to the proprietors, not that they’ll be funding more involuntary schemes. As it stands, the mayor who’s presided over much razing thinks he knows how to manage raising:

A selection committee of Mayor Brown’s Senior Management Team, led by Brendan Mehaffy, Executive Director of the City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning, was named to review the proposals and submit a recommendation to Mayor Brown. A group of community leaders, including business owners and professionals, block club representatives and clergy, were also identified to work with the selection committee to review proposals and submit a recommendation.

If anyone knows how to spur the economy, it’s a mayor who has spent most of his adult life in government like Brown. He’s kind enough to let the Sabres build some. Perhaps some of the project’s outlandishly politically correct terms explain why this sort of development is the exception instead of the norm. For one, potential good workers in Cheektowaga and Kenmore are out of luck:

  • Seek city residents for post-construction jobs

Of course, Brown might have ulterior motives for not wanting people looking outside the city for good leaders. Still, successful enterprises are allowed to seek good workers instead of choosing them based upon ZIP code. White dudes in the city might also be out of luck even if they’re qualified:

  • Agreed to use local workforce for construction and meet 25% minority and 5% female hiring goals
  • Agreed to 25% minority business and 5% women business enterprise participation goals

There’s no better way to foster growth than by mandating a mix of different skin tone and genitals that City Hall deems is varied enough. At least those hired may get more than they’re worth:

  • Pay Living Wage for employees of ice rink and parking ramp

Fans of old time hockey would opine that it’s an employee’s responsibility to secure a living wage by offering value. What if a ramp worker won’t generate enough revenue to justify an inflated pay rate? Why does the city think a part-time job has to cost the company so much? Why don’t we all get rich by deciding that a “living wage” is 30 dollars per hour? But at least the Earth is nice, except for how they’re building something on top of it:

  • Attain the highest reasonable environmental standards for building

The Sabres will be required to let people play hockey at their hockey center:

  • Construct a facility that attracts new hockey-themed events/tournaments, and creates new opportunities for other special events
  • Committed to public, community and youth hockey use

Those points all sound banally nice. But it’s their property, and they should provide opportunities for neighbors to play because they decently choose to do so, not because the city makes them. It’s a sad world where help is assumed to come only compulsorily.

Such agreements ranging from mildly irritating to downright unwieldy raise the bigger concern of why the government was involved at all. The Sabres have to play ball, to mix sports metaphors, even though they have a much higher winning percentage than local elected leaders.

But those who unbelievably secure enough votes to get public sector jobs feel compelled to prove they’re in charge. The local hockey side has gotten the city’s imprimatur even though the crossed-swords logo should carry more weight.

The build is a tremendous step that should warmly welcome ice hockey aficionados. First, Buffalo’s businesses must overcome Buffalo’s politicians. The city does what it can to make hopeful proprietors play ice hockey in socks.

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