A Dec. 3 News editorial urged the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to transfer its waterfront land to the Horizons Waterfront Commission. The News recommendation is simplistic and ignores a number of important factors. At this time, a better case can be made for the NFTA to retain its land, at least for the foreseeable future.
The need for added revenues for Metro Bus and Rail:
Metro's continuing need for operating assistance simply cannot be ignored. The News has strongly supported the need for local governments to provide operating assistance for public transit. Unfortunately, as widely reported, the new outside revenue sources provided by Erie County are performing way below projections, and Metro deficits are projected to widen in coming years despite NFTA's largely successful efforts to limit its cost increases to less than the rate of inflation.
Absent some further major funding from outside sources, the NFTA has little choice but to hold on to all its assets that may ultimately generate revenue to support our public transit mission. This does not, of course, mean that all development of NFTA waterfront property must be accomplished with the sole objective of revenue maximization. But calls for the NFTA to divest itself of a potentially valuable asset must also address the transit funding issue.
Horizons as manager of the waterfront property:
The NFTA is a party to the intermunicipal agreement which formed Horizons. We are a full participant in its planning process and have a great deal of respect for the members of the commission and its executive director. Yet, we all must recognize that Horizons is a new agency with one professional employee, one clerical employee and no track record.
Further, the final waterfront plan is some months away. It does not yet represent full community consensus.
Finally, Horizons, as a state agency, will certainly face difficult funding problems that could affect planning and development capacity.
As members of Horizons, the NFTA is prepared to work toward community consensus on waterfront plans and develop NFTA lands accordingly.
The NFTA's ability to manage development:
It is incorrect to characterize the temporary closing of Shooters and the delay in marina construction at Seaway Piers as resulting from NFTA mismanagement. The Seaway Piers project, from the beginning, was consistent with NFTA plans for the outer harbor, plans which resulted from substantial public input. Since selecting EDB Inc. as our developer for the Seaway Piers site, the NFTA staff has tried to accommodate their needs to advance development in a difficult financing environment. Negotiations are continuing, and we are confident that the development can be completed as originally outlined in our plans.
In conclusion, I believe it is prudent for the NFTA to hold its waterfront land assets until and unless our transit funding problems are resolved. To ensure responsible development of this land, we are prepared to reaffirm our commitment to the Horizons planning process.
As projects are proposed and advanced that are consistent with a sound waterfront plan, it would be the NFTA's intent to proceed using the full resources of the public and private sector to maximize chances of success and to minimize our own commitment of limited staff resources to development activity. If, in addition to fulfilling objectives of the Horizons plan, our waterfront development also generates revenue for our hard-pressed transit system, that will help us achieve a second truly worthwhile public objective.
ROBERT D. GIOIA
Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority