The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

3 January 2006

Erie similarities

Normally I wouldn't grumble about new construction in Buffalo (that's New York, not Oklahoma), but this particular deal sounds venal enough to have been cooked up in Tulsa. The Greater Buffalo Blog reports:

Here's one that deserves to go down in flames: The new headquarters for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Western New York, the local nonprofit medical insurer, on 15 acres of land behind City Hall. It is a local parlor game to rue development mistakes of the past. Yet, with Blue Cross, we are going to be saddled with a project that breaks all the rules of citymaking. We'll pay for the pleasure, too. The deal includes, for starters, a $10,000,000 federal tax benefit, a taxpayer-funded $14,000,000 state environmental clean up that a private owner was obligated to pay, a probable city payback for a $16,000,000 parking ramp, and the selling of a 6.5 acre public parcel of land assessed at $3,500,000 to a private developer for $1. All this merely to move a local company from one city neighborhood to another.

Some of the gory details:

The project site is isolated, at least five blocks from any streetfront retail (about 2,000 feet), and seven blocks from Lafayette Square, the closest concentration of commercial activity. This is much too far to induce retail sales.

In a region with mass transit in a downward spiral of service cuts and declining ridership, we are exchanging a headquarters building located on five bus routes and Metrorail, for one that is four blocks from the nearest bus stop.

Over 50% of downtown land is devoted to parking, including several underutilized public parking ramps, yet a 1600-car, $16,000,000 ramp is to be built expressly for this building's employees, likely at city expense.

The shape and placement of the buildings is such to lead one to believe the encroachments on [Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency] land are done to trigger some kind of funding or tax abatement for the developer, and fees for BURA.

Urbanistically, the building and its public areas are sited so as to discourage pedestrian activity, forfeiting the opportunities presented by the corner of 7th and Court streets. Architecturally, it will be a cheap, tawdry, and altogether unavoidable monstrosity that destroys the architectural and historical presence of John Selkirk's landmarked Gas Works façade of 1859.

They say "façade" for a reason: that's all that's left of the original Gas Works. The building itself was demolished in 2000, at which time it had been on the National Register of Historic Places for twenty-four years.

Preservationists complained:

The new building appears to have little relationship to the old structure but appears to have been a stock plan from an office park plopped down in the city next to the gasworks.

Buffalo's preservation ordinance sets forth a number of criteria for review of a proposed improvement. Among them are scale, relationship of building masses and architectural details including materials, colors and textures. There seems to have been no attention to any of these.

Additionally, the building fails to make itself part of the urban fabric but creates an island for itself.

Drawings of the new facility along the bottom of this page. "HealthNow" is the parent company of BC/BS-WNY.

Oh, and Buffalo is trying to land a Bass Pro Shops store too.

Posted at 3:47 PM to Dyssynergy