Nearly a month after Bass Pro Shops announced it intends to become the centerpiece of a $275 million harbor development, public debate has begun in earnest.
During their monthly session Wednesday, members of a key downtown panel leveled a mixed bag of criticisms against the Canal Side blueprint.
Directors of Buffalo Place questioned not only the proposed demolition of the idle Memorial Auditorium but also everything from the location of parking ramps within the project area to whether the Lower Main Street development would spawn a rival, nonprofit agency.
In criticizing plans to demolish the Aud, developer Carl Paladino argued that the structure is ripe for reuse.
"We waited all this time to have synergy going on down there, and now when it's finally happening, there's a rush to knock it down," Paladino said, referring to plans to locate a Bass Pro Outdoor World store on the former Central Wharf site, along with other retail outlets and a museum, all about 200 yards from the Aud.
He also dismissed an environmental review that found significant mold, asbestos and other hazardous materials in the Aud and estimated high cleanup costs.
"Mold, asbestos -- that's nothing when you're a developer and you're tearing a building down to its bones for reuse," Paladino said.
Christopher Jacobs, a board member, questioned a section of the Canal Side agreement that calls pulling the approximately 20-acre site out of Buffalo Place boundaries. The agreement calls for establishing an Erie Canal District governing body, similar to Buffalo Place, to oversee the overhauled neighborhood.
"I think this is ridiculous," Jacobs said. "What's the rationale? Why create a duplicate entity right down the street?"
He questioned direct competition with the Thursday in the Square summer concert series and Main Street Farmers' Market. Buffalo Place also would stand to lose fees from buildings in Canal Side.
The concerns and questions raised by Buffalo Place members are likely the tip of the iceberg for the high-profile project, which will be fueled by more than $100 million in government aid and incentives.
Larry Quinn, vice president of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., said he expects and invites community involvement as the project moves ahead.
"We are at the beginning of a process that will, by necessity, bring the community into the conversation," Quinn said. "All I ask is that people reserve their judgment until they have enough information and spend some time digesting it. Dysfunctional, uninformed debate doesn't get us anywhere."