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Waterfront stadium? What a waste

I have barely recovered after the demise of the last bad-project idea. I forgot that big, bad ideas are a renewable resource around here.

Encouraged by a random remark from ex-Bill Jim Kelly, State Sen. Antoine Thompson is dusting off his undercooked plan for a Bills waterfront football stadium.

Do not get me wrong. I love the idea -- revealed during a radio interview -- of Kelly forming an investor group to keep the Bills here after Ralph Wilson is gone.

The new waterfront stadium would be a different animal. Kelly mentioned it Wednesday during the interview. Thompson used the comment to resurrect his plan.

Note to elected officials: Find out if an idea is worth getting folks worked up about before pulling the cover off of it.

Putting a football stadium on the waterfront makes no sense. It invests hundreds of millions of dollars in an entity that consumes a vast stretch of prime land and sits empty 350 days a year.

This is not just a bad idea; it is hard to think of a worse one.

Thompson, in a news release, said that "a retractable domed stadium . . . would accelerate the city and regions (sic) rebirth."

The notion of a football stadium as an economic engine is delusional. Look no farther than the stadium in Orchard Park. It supports little beyond a few restaurants. Aside from, at best, a dozen football games and a few other events, the place stands empty. White elephants do not come much bigger.

"A football stadium is not a well-considered [waterfront] use," said Ann Breen of the Waterfront Center, an urban-planning entity in Washington, D.C. "Parks, pathways, businesses, places to live -- all of this would better serve the city. Taking that amount of [waterfront] space for a stadium used maybe a dozen times a year is incredibly wasteful. What would you do with the [current] stadium, blow it up?"

An official launching a bad idea is not just irritating; it is irresponsible. We are constantly battling over whether a proposal will do us more good than harm. We do not need another community-dividing debate over a bad idea with little chance of becoming a reality.

We just went through it over a wrongheaded plan for a downsized Bass Pro on a historic waterfront site, an idea that imploded after six months. Before that was the NFTA-sponsored "Opus" fantasy for a waterfront mini-Disneyland. The unfunded daydream never got beyond a blueprint. Then there was the short-lived "brainstorm" of a waterfront casino -- an absurd idea, given a casino's aversion to the world outside of its walls.

The problem with half-baked plans is they raise false hopes. The communal letdown when they collapse only feeds widespread cynicism.

I found Breen, the waterfront planner, with a Google search and a phone call. Thompson -- whom we pay $79,500 a year -- or any of his staffers could have done the same. It is not too much to ask: Run the idea by an expert before running it up the communal flagpole.

Waterfront land should be used for things enhanced by proximity to the water. Among them are parks, walkways, restaurants and apartments. The value of each is boosted by a waterfront location. Not so with a stadium. Nobody ever went to a football game to watch the sun set over the water.

Beyond that, there is nothing wrong with our current stadium, which in recent years got $70 million in taxpayer upgrades. It has enough premium seats and luxury boxes. The problem is, we do not have the Fortune 500 companies to pay top-shelf prices for them. A new stadium will not change that.

I feel the same way about a waterfront football stadium as I do about the Frankenstein monster. The idea, like so many others around here, should never have been given life.


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