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Let's blame proponents of Bass Pro

I have to laugh.

Some folks complain about people objecting to the watered-down Bass Pro now proposed -- after plans for a superstore on the Aud site fell through -- for the nearby Erie Canal Harbor historic site.

The actual obstructionists aren't the folks crying foul over Bass Pro's proposed incursion. The ones interfering with our best-laid plans are Bass Pro and the recently hatched waterfront development agency, led by Larry Quinn, that welcomed the hunting/fishing store onto space already spoken for.

Quinn & Co. ignored a state-approved, public-shaped plan not just in place, but already in progress.

It is a pity because, for once, Buffalo got it right. Bass Pro would intrude upon a consensus plan reached three years ago, after public protests and a federal lawsuit convinced the state to unearth and celebrate the historic canal terminus. The project is equal parts historic site, public/festival waterfront space and development.

Claims that Bass Pro would merely relocate green space are absurd. The history-themed plan calls for 19th century-style buildings to house shops, restaurants and apartments (see illustration with my column at buffalonews.com). It would re-create a slice of the old canal village, boost commerce, bolster communal self-esteem and be a cool place to hang out. Think of Manhattan's South Street Seaport or Baltimore's Fell's Point.

It is sensible, maximize-our-assets development that will still matter a hundred years from now. You don't have to imagine it, because it is partly done. The Commercial Slip, the canal's historic terminus, is excavated and rebuilt with many original canal stones. The replica bowstring pedestrian bridge is done. The new home of the Servicemen's Museum is the re-created Coit-McCutcheon building.

Mixed with history are boat slips and public/festival space on the old Central Wharf (which Bass Pro would displace). The plan, crafted with public input, prohibits big-box retail (goodbye, Bass Pro) and parking ramps.

Why? Because it would overwhelm the site, trivialize its history and undercut its value as an attraction.

If folks are desperate for a quicker fix, fine. Disperse to local developers a fraction of the $25 million we are ready to hand Bass Pro, and the planned 19th century-style buildings will go up quicker than you can say "DeWitt Clinton."

It is the right plan at the right time and in the only place in the world you can do it. And we were doing it -- until Quinn decided to bring Bass Pro at a heavy price. The price is a $25 million handout for a store hardly larger than the Gander Mountain in Tonawanda. The price is obliterating an in-progress history/recreation/development project that will never go out of style.

It is not just senseless, but unnecessary. There is plenty of room for bigger development on nearby streets. We can have it both ways.

We finally get something right, and it is threatened by a non-urban, big-box retailer that would come with four parking ramps and a Winnebago lot. And the folks who cry foul over Bass Pro's incursion are the obstructionists? Spare me.

When does this community come to its senses? Boston didn't put a Wal-Mart next to Old North Church. San Antonio doesn't have a strip mall next to the Alamo. And Buffalo, until a few weeks ago, did not plan to undermine its slice of history and commerce with a mega-sporting goods store.

Make no mistake: The controversy, the coming delays and the inevitable lawsuit will lie at the feet of Quinn and the new waterfront development agency. In its fixation to land Bass Pro, it would hijack a better plan already in progress. There is a word for that, and the word is obstructionist.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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