The blue-collar city of Buffalo, New York, has struggled in recent decades with unemployment and economic decline. A few years ago, it had a big idea for redeveloping its waterfront — a big idea that went up in smoke.
But when residents and local organizations starting thinking small instead of big, good things began to happen.
“In 2004, it was decided that the region would invest large sums of public money [at the site of the old Memorial Auditorium] to draw a new outlet for Bass Pro Shops, a national purveyor of sporting goods and fishing equipment. Local leaders scraped together $65 million in promised tax breaks, infrastructure improvements and other public subsidies to speed its arrival and to catalyze a new era of growth and commerce on the waterfront. It was all for nothing.
Since the Bass Pro deal collapsed, the harbor development corporation has shifted its focus on some comparatively tiny, piecemeal projects, such as the multicolored Adirondack chairs that dot the waterfront park, a new small restaurant that dispenses ice cream and veggie burgers, Jason Mendola’s fledgling kayak rental business and the relocation of the free Thursday at the Square concerts to Canalside’s Central Wharf.
None of those improvements required huge investments. None were heralded as keystone projects for future growth. But together, they have begun to transform the phrase ‘waterfront development’ from an oxymoron into a reality.”