Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The debate continues on Buffalo's waterfront and possible community benefits

Earlier this week, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC, a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation) finalized an agreement with the New York Power Authority to issue $105 million in bonds for Buffalo's waterfront redevelopment project. As of today, this news is up on NYPA's website, but not ECHDC's, even though you would think (hope) the lead agency on the project would want to be more open about its dealings. According to the Buffalo News, NYPA's investment, which includes $55 million in funding for waterfront developments, is "helping to make amends for past decisions that... shortchanged Western New York."

Just after the agreement was finalized, the Buffalo Common Council held a public hearing over the waterfront development, which is continuing to generate controversy, mostly over living wage issues. The city, which controls part of the property, doesn't want the project to go forward without a CBA, and a lot of community groups agree. They want to ensure that quality jobs, not just any jobs, are provided for local workers and that there's support for independent and local businesses.

The ECHDC though, along with pro-business advocates, think that a CBA will stymie development. A living wage requirement certainly would not go down well with the project's proposed anchor tenant, Bass Pro, which is notorious among subsidy wonks for playing the public fisc for all it can get.

Buffalo State College economics professor Susan M. Davis pointed out "the irony of business people asking for subsidies and then turning around and calling it [a living wage] 'socialism[.]'" On the other hand, Julia Vitullo-Martin from New York City's Regional Plan Association claims that "[w]hat they [CBAs] really do is increase the costs of development tremendously--and often halt it altogether." She cites the recently failed Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment project in the Bronx, which fell apart after community groups and city leaders refused to approve the subsidized retail project without a living wage guarantee. I can't really argue with her. There are a lot of companies that don't want to deal with CBAs and meddling community groups. And CBAs do increase costs, but I would phrase it differently: they force developers to pass on public subsidies to *gasp* the actual public. I would also say to Ms. Vitullo-Martin, have some optimism; the Kingsbridge failure might be a blessing in disguise. The next development proposal for the property might offer something a lot better.

Jordan Levy, chairman of the ECHDC, says that the CBA campaign is interfering with the authority's negotiations with Bass Pro. "We're hopeful we are going to bring them to conclusion," Levy said, "but if this community is saying we don't want Bass Pro, I'm not sure that even an act of Congress is going to get them to come here."

Yes, Mr. Levy, this project is about the Buffalo community, and the interests of the community should come before Bass Pro's bottom line. Maybe it's time to start listening to what the community wants.

5 comments:

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Novelty Pens said...

A lot has taken place since this article was originally posted. It would be nice to see some updates.

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