We don’t have a crystal ball, but the die is cast for much of what is to occur in this new year. Court dates, election campaigns and construction schedules offer us the tea leaves to predict some momentous events will occur in 2014.
But what the outcomes will be cannot be foretold.
Here is a look at some of the big stories we anticipate reporting in the new year. Stay tuned, as many will affect what happens in Buffalo and Western New York.
Flight 3407 day in court
The families of Flight 3407 have waited five years for their day in court, and that day is scheduled for this year.
A trial for the remaining wrongful death suits stemming from the Feb. 12, 2009 crash in Clarence Center is scheduled for late May in Buffalo federal court.
The 3407 case is one of four major trials that will dominate the federal courts’ calendar in 2014.
The others include the government’s prosecution of 10th Street gang members, one of the biggest organized crime cases in recent years, and its racketeering and extortion case against Operating Engineers Local 17’s former leadership.
A green code for Buffalo development
It might only catch the attention of a handful of urban planners and developers, but Buffalo’s first comprehensive zoning code in 60 years will shape the way people live and work in the city.
The Green Code’s implications are far and wide, from whether you are able to find a parking space on your street, to whether you can easily bike to work, to what can be built on that vacant lot next to your house. The code will govern how land is used, and is intended to guide economic development and create walkable neighborhoods.
Adoption of the Green Code, or Unified Development Ordinance, is expected by October. But there is much to be done before then. A draft code will be sent to the Common Council in February, which will trigger the beginning of the official public review process.
The Council will hold hearings and public meetings will be held around the city between February and April.
Between May and August, the city will review and respond to public comments. The Council is scheduled to debate the code in September and October.
Cranes and more cranes
While the Buffalo Niagara region was abuzz last year about the construction cranes along the waterfront for the HarborCenter project, 2014 promises yet another burst of activity and further momentum for the efforts to revive the local economy.
Much of it will be linked to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” initiative.
The long-awaited opening of the historically aligned canals at the site of the former Memorial Auditorium is expected, providing ice skating in the winter and reflective pools with bridges and towpaths in the summer.
At the same time, Terry Pegula’s $172 million HarborCenter, now under construction, is expected to open its hockey rinks in the fall. Just north at One HarborCenter, a Courtyard by Marriott hotel is expected to occupy three floors early in the year on the heels of Philips Lytle law firm’s move in November.
Murder trial of mother set for March
The murder trial of Candace Croff Cartagena, accused of suffocating her 8-year-old daughter in her East Amherst home in November 2010, is scheduled to begin in March.
Police found Bianca’s body in her mother’s bedroom and her mother moaning and mumbling in the family’s backyard shed after trying to kill herself by taking six different kinds of medication. Cartagena was facing marital problems, unemployment and a house in foreclosure.
Top county prosecutors Thomas J. Finnerty and Kristin St. Mary will face off against defense attorney John R. Nuchereno before Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk.
Medical campus continues to grow
New construction dominated Buffalo’s health care landscape in 2013 and is likely to do so again in 2014.
Four major building projects continue to progress on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, promising to transform downtown. They are the University at Buffalo’s new School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; Kaleida Health’s new children’s hospital, renamed the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital; Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.’s Conventus medical research and office building; and Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s Clinical Sciences Center.
Other significant work underway includes the new headquarters for the Catholic Health hospital system at the foot of the Kensington Expressway by Oak, Elm and Genesee streets, as well as the Regional Behavioral Health Center at Erie County Medical Center, a project that will consolidate the ECMC and Kaleida Health mental health and drug dependency services.
Civil case against Corasanti expected
A wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the family of the late Alexandria “Alix” Rice against Dr. James D. Corasanti in the Amherst hit-and-run case is expected to go to trial sometime in 2014.
Corasanti, 58, of Getzville, was convicted in May 2012 of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated but acquitted by an Erie County Court jury of manslaughter. He was released from the Erie County Correctional Facility after serving eight months of a one-year jail term, with time off for good behavior.
Waiting on Cuomo’s fracking decision
New Yorkers are still waiting to see whether Cuomo will allow hydraulic fracturing in the state.
President Obama previously expressed his support for tapping into America’s natural gas supplies, putting him at odds with some of his traditional supporters in the environmental community.
Technological advances in hydraulic fracturing and geological analysis show trillions of cubic feet of natural gas can be extracted from the Marcellus Shale layer, as deep as two miles into the earth from Ohio to New York State, and Ohio, Pennsylvania and several other states already allow it. As with any heavy industry, there are trade-offs.
Those who support hydraulic fracturing point to natural gas development as the key to making American energy independent and returning to low-cost fuel. Others believe that fracking poisons the environment and drinking-water supplies.
Late last year, the state did permit the NRG electric plant at Dunkirk Harbor to be changed from a coal-fired plant to natural gas.
Cuomo faces re-election bid
Whether it will be The Donald or The Carl or someone else facing him, 2014 is an important year for the governor, as he faces voters in his first re-election bid.
And the outcome of this race for governor may keep Cuomo in the mix or knock him out of contention for consideration as candidate for president in 2016.
State legislators face re-election
Not just the governor is up for re-election this year. All members of the State Legislature also face the voters.
Democrats, again, are hoping to make a major play to take control of the State Senate and break the hold Republicans and a splinter group of Democrats have held over the chamber.
Major issues to play out include everything from how big and what kind of election-year populist tax cuts to embrace, whether lawmakers might tinker with the common core public school program, whether medical marijuana will be legalized, how campaign finance laws might be improved and the state’s selection of where four initial casinos will be located.
Niagara Falls mall gets a new life
A dilapidated mall in Niagara Falls will be given a chance at new life.
Early in 2014, proposals will be unveiled from two groups of developers who’ve been given a crack at redeveloping 200,000 square feet in the former Rainbow Centre mall.
The mall’s last anchor tenant left in 1999, and the only development at the site since then has been the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, which opened in the south third of the mall in the fall of 2012.
More tests ahead for Buffalo schools
The new year will usher in a series of events that could affect whether Pamela Brown stays on as school superintendent, or how she moves forward.
To begin, the district could see a new kind of state oversight or strings attached to state aid. State leaders, starting with Cuomo, have called for penalties for school districts that fail to show academic and financial capabilities. Some state leaders have gone as far as asking lawmakers to give them the authority to take over failing districts.
Then in May, school board elections could result in a shift of support on the board, which backs Brown now by only a slim majority. One of her biggest critics, board member Carl Paladino, has vowed to help elect candidates who will support his attempt to fire Brown.
Canadian shopping mall
Competition for Canadian shoppers will soon be coming from their home country.
An outlet mall is being built in Niagara-on-the-Lake and will be open for business this year. It is a direct attempt to keep Canadian shoppers from crossing the border in search of more variety, designer labels and more attractive prices. How will that affect the Fashion Outlets of Niagara, which is investing millions in an expansion on our side of the falls?
Buffalo has one of the country’s most competitive grocery scenes, and it just got a bit of a shake-up.
Longtime local grocer Frank Budwey is bowing out of the scene, while second-generation grocer Joe Dash is expanding into one of Budwey’s former properties, and Tops is returning to local ownership.
Add Tops’ Orchard Fresh expansion, Trader Joe’s growing presence, Wegmans’ popularity and continued pressure from national retailers, and things promise to get very interesting this year as you shop for food.
More on Obamacare
The Affordable Care Act will loom large over the health care industry in the new year.
By the end of the new year, we should know if the botched implementation of the new health law was a temporary glitch or a telltale sign that the law is fatally flawed. And the direction of the 2014 elections may well depend on the answer to that question.
Health insurance companies, hospitals and physicians all will wrestle with the act’s effect on their members and patients.
For our dominant health insurers – BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, Independent Health and Univera Healthcare – the state insurance exchange created through the act has opened up the region’s market to outside competition.
New auto jobs
Ford Motor Co.’s stamping plant in Hamburg will add 350 jobs as it capitalizes on $150 million in new investment by the automaker.
The Hamburg plant could also be in line for more good news related to a Ford assembly plant in nearby Oakville, Ont. New vehicle products are expected to be announced for that facility, and the Hamburg site likely would be a choice to supply stamped parts for the vehicles, given proximity and long-standing connection.
General Motors’ two area facilities, in Lockport and the Town of Tonawanda, are following through on recent investments in their own facilities. The Tonawanda engine plant last year finished installing the last of two new engine lines and continues to ramp up production of those engines. And the Lockport site this year is wrapping up $44 million worth of new investment by GM, including launching products to support heavy-duty pickup trucks and full-size utility trucks. Both GM plants have seen their head counts grow, and the U.S. auto industry is anticipating an uptick in sales. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America in the Town of Tonawanda starts the year with a familiar face in charge: local native Tim Noe has returned from Virginia to serve as plant manager of the Sheridan Drive complex.
Happy days for GOP
For the first time since the mid-1970s, a Republican-aligned majority will be sworn in to the Erie County Legislature on Thursday.
The new majority caucus may create some challenges for Democratic County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz as he seeks to move forward with his agenda balancing funding popular public programs and pressures to hold the line on property taxes. A spokesman for the county executive said Poloncarz is confident he will be able to work well with the new majority and has maintained an open dialog with both the majority and minority caucuses of the Legislature since taking office in January 2012.