Six years ago, there was talk of building a new downtown convention center and an office tower for Adelphia. I wrote a story that started out like this:
Call it the silver bullet syndrome.
If we build it -- first a convention center, then a subway, then a baseball stadium and finally a hockey arena -- they will come. Investors. Developers. Shoppers. Tourists. Even suburban residents.
But they didn't come.
And still the chant continues.
Fast forward to this past Sunday, when Jordan Levy, chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., said this in a News story about the proposed $325 million redevelopment the foot of Main Street in a News story:
"The phrase 'If you build it they will come' was never truer than it is with this plan," he said.
Please. This may or may not be a good project -- I'm still trying to get a handle on it -- but I do know that "build it and they will come" has been a failed strategy in this town for a long time.
Buffalo is no Field of Dreams.
On a related front, Donn Esmonde offers his take on the Canal Side project in a column in today's paper. He's spoken to experts about the proposal and drawn on his considerable knowledge of efforts to redevelop this stretch of real estate.
Heavily subsidized projects are a crapshoot. Absent the $35 million handout, Bass Pro is not coming. Retail is especially iffy. If Bass Pro's magic is fading -- and no business is recession-proof -- we eventually may be looking at the world's largest Dollar Store, surrounded by parking ramps.
Critics suggest that the strategy is Bass-ackwards and that government (and tax dollars) should simply build roads, parks, sidewalks and sewers, and let business follow. We then, step by step, get the development we deserve. From Hertel Avenue to Chippewa Street, we have seen it happen.
But the step-by-step model takes patience, and the folks running this are in Want It Now mode. I am not a big fan of the heavy-subsidy strategy, which "buys" an end result, then hopes that the crowds follow. But UB's Shibley said the concept may work, given the site's assets -- waterfront, historic attraction, HSBC Arena, office buildings.