Maybe now we will learn our lesson. There is nothing like the stink of a dead fish to focus everybody's attention.
The Bass Pro nondeal going belly-up -- as it almost certainly has -- again drives home the point: Silver bullets are blanks. Quick fixes don't work. No single big thing -- be it Opus' outer harbor fantasy, or the short-lived E-Zone, or Henry Nowak's Aquarium-at-the-Aud -- is coming to save us.
Getting rejected again sends the message that there are no shortcuts. In the long run, it is better that way.
Nothing is coming until we do what we need to to save ourselves. Depending on outsiders to craft a vision for us underlines our weakness, desperation and insecurity. Any developer can smell that blood in the water. Dropping upwards of $35 million at the feet of the Great Bait 'n' Tackle Store and still getting spurned drives home the folly of pursuing big fish with a bamboo pole. If we want to go after the big stuff, we first need to get our stuff together.
"We pursued them more than they pursued us," said Rep. Brian Higgins, who had a pipeline to the negotiations. "We go hat in hand to a [Bass Pro] and say, 'We need you.' If I'm on their side of the table, I'd say, 'OK, let's ask them for everything we can get.' "
We gave them all we could, and it wasn't enough. In the end, that is a good thing. Unequal partners make for bad marriages. Spending tens of millions of tax dollars in search of an instant attraction is not the best way to build a strong neighborhood, a strong waterfront or a strong city.
"We haven't done enough to make Buffalo attractive," Higgins said. "If we do the things [to improve] that are in our control, then the Bass Pros -- if we decide they are good for the area -- will come."
Doing it right means building roads and bridges to connect downtown to acres of waterfront. Now you need a compass, a map and a global positioning device to get from Erie Basin Marina to the cross-channel 1832 lighthouse.
Doing it right means creating parks, pathways and public space on the desolate outer harbor, to turn an eyesore into the community's front yard.
Doing it right means building more places for people to live downtown.
Doing it right means seeing the economic heritage attraction under our noses. The resurrected Erie Canal terminus is our page in the history books. It is a worldwide brand name, a huge part of our identity and appeal.
"We had, early on, not looked carefully enough at the canal [site]," granted Larry Quinn, of the local waterfront board. "It will be an essential part of the [downtown waterfront] plan."
Cities with confidence, cities that know what they are doing, take what is unique and highlight it -- instead of trying to import what works somewhere else. Philadelphia has Independence Hall, Boston has Old North Church. We have the Erie Canal terminus.
"It distinguishes us from every other community in the world," Higgins said. "We have the distinct feature that cultural tourism is based on."
Something happened here in recent years that is better than any Bass Pro: Buffalo stood up for itself.
Waterfront land was taken from the idle hands of the transportation authority. We fought the power authority and won a $279 million settlement; it will largely pay to develop the waterfront. Thruway tolls came down, and the waterfront-blocking Skyway may be next to fall. Higgins, with help, got millions of dollars to build the roads and bridges to connect us to our waterfront. We won the battle to save and resurrect history at the canal terminus.
It lets us plot our own course, draw our own vision, so we won't have to beg and barter for a Bass Pro. The big-ticket attractions will come looking for us.