All years are a mix of good and bad, and the proportions can change with location. Even still, some years stand out, and this was one of them: In Western New York, it has been a remarkable year.
In the good way, or, as it’s known in these parts, the Pegula way.
The purchase of the Buffalo Bills by Terry and Kim Pegula wasn’t the most consequential story of the year, though it’s a part of that story. Nevertheless, and without question, the deal that put the Bills in the hands of the Pegulas was the most emotionally satisfying development in Western New York in 2014. With it, a worrisome and long-standing question was satisfactorily answered: What will happen to the team, adopted by the community and fully fused into its identity, when owner Ralph Wilson died?
The answer: It will stay in Western New York. The Buffalo Bills will remain the Buffalo Bills – and in that announcement, the team became an integral part of the story of this city’s economic and spiritual renewal.
Buffalo’s startling rebound
That larger story is the towering event of 2014, though event is the wrong word. The year produced a percussive series of developments that sent the message: Buffalo is coming back, and the purchase of the Bills was only one part of that story.
In the private sector, other developments included the rapid construction and opening of HarborCenter, a project of the Pegulas whose initial phase was completed late this year. A hotel remains under construction.
The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus continued its high-tech expansion, and not far away the Catholic Health System opened its new headquarters. Local development companies announced so many plans to convert old buildings to new uses that they almost didn’t qualify as news.
But it was with a dramatic push from the public sector that this year really took off. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion took on the shape of economic reality, as heavy equipment moved on to the site of the RiverBend project, preparing to construct what will be the largest solar panel factory in the Western Hemisphere.
Here. In Buffalo.
Downtown, Canalside’s development took a massive step forward with the opening of the state’s largest outdoor skating rink, constructed on a site once occupied by the Erie Canal and, later, War Memorial Auditorium. The Inner Harbor welcomed a new resident, a young girl with a shark’s head, while at the Outer Harbor, plans for a new park began taking shape.
Here. In Buffalo.
Wrenching events in education
There was much more to the year that Buffalo blossomed, too, and not all of it on the economic front. The Buffalo School District had a wrenching year, though one that could eventually produce important changes in the district’s performance. Voters elected a reform-minded School Board and with that, the district’s mismatched superintendent, Pamela C. Brown, took her leave.
While members of the board’s majority and minority factions continue to squabble, often mindlessly, relations with the State Education Department are demonstrably improved. The district and teachers union seem – maybe – to be taking a more serious approach to crafting a new contract, 10 years after the last one expired.
And in what may have been a relief for the city district, Hamburg showed that educational dysfunction isn’t reserved for Buffalo. The district was enveloped in a drama over the expulsion of a board member, while then-Superintendent Richard Jetter lied to police, telling them vandals had damaged his car when, in fact, he had sideswiped a utility pole in South Buffalo. He’s out.
There were other changes, too. Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, announced he would not run for re-election – shortly after his aides were questioned as part of a federal investigation into operations of his office. Maziarz says the issues aren’t related, and the feds aren’t talking. North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt was elected to succeed Maziarz.
Justice system under scrutiny
Buffalo police came under increased scrutiny as a series of disturbing events showed officers apparently abusing their authority. Meanwhile, other officers continued to perform their critical tasks, sometimes heroically. In October, two officers – Joseph Donovan and Jeffrey Jajkowski – rescued a distraught, elderly widow intent on drowning herself in Delaware Park’s Hoyt Lake. It’s an event to remember as the important debate over policing continues, here and around the country, into 2015.
The list of exonerations lengthened, as Josue Ortiz was found to have been wrongfully convicted of a double murder, 10 years after he was convicted of it. Investigation by federal officials led to Ortiz’s release this month.
Some of the other news was of the sort that can be expected in any year, locally and nationally – crimes, deaths, taxes – but for many, one sorrowful event seemed to stand out: the suicide of Robin Williams. He was a tortured soul, but it seemed incongruous, anyway. How could someone so electrically alive also be so desperately unhappy?
But then, the world is that way. What we see isn’t always the whole truth. Forces intersect, clash and pulsate in ways that may not be immediately – or ever – obvious. If that is sometimes unbearably sad, it’s also what makes the world fresh and interesting.
2014 was that.