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The right moves; NFTA wise to take a breather in effort to exit the waterfront

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is doing the right thing by calling for a "time out" on efforts to sell the Small Boat Harbor and Gallagher Beach.

It is best to take a moment to consider all options, whether public or public-private entity. The outcome must guarantee two things: that the public retains access to the waterfront and that the NFTA gets out of the real estate business.

There are encouraging signs from commissioners and staff that all options remain on the table. Commissioner Howard A. Zemsky, expected to soon be confirmed by the State Senate as the new NFTA chairman, has said that the preferred alternative is for some public entity to guide future development.

Perhaps that entity will be the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., with state support for operation capital and improvement funds. Or some other entity formulated for the purpose of stewardship over the Small Boat Harbor and Gallagher Beach. Either way could work, as long as someone is responsible for making certain that the area is properly maintained and accessible.

Apparently, the authority was having difficulty in guaranteeing public access to the area if it were in private hands, according to Zemsky. Under those circumstances, a public entity takeover would be the better choice.

The temporary halt on attempts to sell the property is expected to be ratified today by the full board of commissioners and comes on the heels of apparent difficulty in negotiating a deal with Bear Development and its owner David Pfeiffer. In February, the authority designated Bear Development, choosing its proposal over the only other one submitted at the time from Smith Boys Inc. of North Tonawanda. Pfeiffer later complained of what he said were new demands regarding environmental cleanup of the waterfront property the authority has owned for decades. The authority said there are no new demands.

The entire scenario, propelled by an urgent need for the NFTA to get out of the real estate business so that it can focus on its core mission of moving people on buses, trains and planes, has led to this critical juncture.

The only way to end what has been an endless cycle of examination on selling the property is for the authority to do what it appears to be doing and that is, stand up and say what it wants and make it happen.

This important piece of land cannot be left to languish, nor continue to siphon off important dollars that should be dedicated to transportation.