Stop playing Santa for developers - The Buffalo News

Share this article

print logo

Stop playing Santa for developers

I know it’s the season for giving, but this is ridiculous.

As expected, Erie County IDA officials this week rubber-stamped the Uniland deal, a classic subtraction-by-addition for downtown.

Taxpayers will fork over $10 million in handouts for a building we don’t need in a downtown already chock-full of empty space. Concessions giant Delaware North gets a new home, all of two downtown blocks from its current Key Center digs.

The 12-story Uniland building at Delaware and West Chippewa is more space than Delaware North needs for its 350 workers, plus its promised 65 new jobs. Companies aren’t exactly trampling each other to come to Buffalo. So the new empty space will likely be filled by tenants fleeing their current downtown homes, thus fueling our “growth industry” in empty office space.

It’s a great system, if you’re a build-we-must developer who puts his hand out and gets his wallet filled.

For the rest of us, it’s more coal in the stocking.

Don’t any of these supposed capitalists believe in the free market?

I don’t mean to sound bah-humbug during this season of giving (or, in Uniland’s case, receiving). But this sort of nonsense, which only darkens the bigger downtown picture, has to stop.

“Either we say we are sick of these projects and they are not going to happen anymore,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, “or other developers will say, ‘Hey, look at what Uniland got,’ and the door opens wider.”

Ryan is one of the few politicians willing to risk donation checks from developers by speaking out. He proposed a statewide IDA reform law Thursday to stop the gravy train, including banning handouts for projects that empty buildings or move existing businesses.

The timing of the holiday season handout was perfect, coming in the same week that Washington said the state shortchanges the NFTA. The Uniland deal includes $200,000 in mortgage-transfer tax breaks, which helps to fund trains and buses. “It’s something to remember,” Ryan noted, “the next time the NFTA talks about cutting bus routes or raising fares.”

County IDA officials have finally, after public push-back, stopped throwing our tax dollars at pizza places, liquor stores and doctors’ offices. But the new-office builds, particularly when accompanied by a homegrown company’s threat – subtle or not – to leave town, has proven irresistible to the IDA. I can’t picture Delaware North uprooting 350 families to relocate to a higher-cost metropolis, but playing the build-it-or-we-leave card always works, no matter how blatant a bluff, in our petrified economy. Until IDA officials – starting with County Executive Mark Poloncarz – push their Just Say No buttons, we will keep marching toward a downtown where the lights are on, but nobody’s home.

The former HSBC tower, Buffalo’s tallest building, soon will be 38 empty floors. Delaware North’s departure rips a hole in Key Center, already one-fifth vacant. The massive Statler, although not prime space, is mostly empty space, too, along with the AM&A’s building.

“If it wasn’t for this IDA funding,” Ryan said, “historic tax credits would drive developers into an AM&A’s or a Statler.”

Instead, downtown will get a new building, and more empty space.

Happy holidays – the gifts are under the tree. I just hope this is the last year that taxpayers play Santa.


There are no comments - be the first to comment