The Prospectus supplement in today’s Buffalo News lays out six key decisions that will shape the region’s future.
We have some thoughts on the issues and how they might shake out.
A Bills stadium: When Billy Joel hits the stage at New Era Field in August, his song “Just the Way You Are” will resonate with some Buffalo Bills fans who do not want the stadium to “go changing.”
But change it must. The realities of NFL economics demand that the Bills not play in a venue that falls too far behind those of their competitors. Pegula Sports & Entertainment in late December 2018 commissioned a study by a consultant on whether to renovate or replace New Era Field. Results have not been made public.
If team owners Terry and Kim Pegula choose replacement, the big question is will the new stadium stay in Orchard Park or be located downtown?
Whatever option is chosen, figuring out the funding will be almost as strenuous a task as pouring the concrete. A new stadium will likely cost at least $1 billion, a major undertaking. But Buffalo without the Bills is not something we wish to contemplate.
Convention center: The Buffalo Niagara Convention Center is showing its age and the sight is not pretty. The bunker-like building opened in 1978. Erie County spent $7 million in 2010 to fix it up, but it is a 42-year-old dinosaur.
The late Mark Croce, who was killed this month in a helicopter accident, had proposed a plan to modify and update the convention center while constructing a new space over Franklin Street that would link the center to Statler City, which Croce owned. We thought this idea worth exploring, though it is not clear what Croce’s untimely death would mean for such a project.
We need to find a way to build a convention center that’s worthy of our city. Letting it age in place is not a viable option.
Tesla plant: A decision will be up to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo come April if Tesla has not met its contractual obligation to have 1,460 workers at its South Buffalo plant. The Cuomo administration would have to decide whether to impose the $41.3 million penalty the state is entitled to as part of its agreement to spend more than $950 million to build and furnish the plant.
As of the middle of November, Tesla and its partner Panasonic were known to employ about 800 workers at the RiverBend site. The building out of Tesla’s solar roof business has been filled with more stops than starts.
Solar energy is still a necessary and growing industry. Tesla, which is primarily a maker of electric cars, has seen its stock price increase by more than 200 percent since last Memorial Day. The company and its brazen founder, Elon Musk, should not be counted out yet.
The Skyway: The Skyway still looms over part of the city, but it will not be a bridge to Buffalo’s future. A winning design from a state-sponsored contest last year will be incorporated into an eventual plan to replace the structure that opened in 1955.
The elevated structure has been called “functionally obsolete,” “structurally deficient” and “fracture critical.” Those are not compliments.
An environmental impact study is underway on removing the structure. Planners will need to decide on how commuters from the Southtowns and elsewhere who depend on the roadway can best be accommodated, as well as what alternatives there are – if any – for trucks carrying freight from industrial pockets of the city.
There’s a lot to figure out, but our city needs this to happen.
Metro Rail extension: When the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority commissioned a study on extending Metro Rail out to UB’s North Campus, it projected the longer rail corridor would raise property values and increase tax revenues for Buffalo and Amherst by up to 32%.
Connecting Amherst, UB and downtown would create new economic opportunity for employees who depend on public transit to get to work. If the NFTA can obtain substantial federal funding for the extension, it would be a wise investment in our region’s future.
Waterfront development: After decades of bemoaning our undeveloped waterfront, a large injection of state and private money led us to Canalside, Terry and Kim Pegulas’ HarborCenter, the revived Outer Harbor and more.
There is more to come, of course. The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation’s $100 million gift is transforming the former LaSalle Park, and boosting a regional trail system. The North Aud Block project is taking shape, and big things are planned for the Outer Harbor and along Ohio Street and the Buffalo River.
Environmental concerns need to be balanced with the rush to development. Striking a balance is key to keeping the good times rolling.