Critics call it “mission creep” and it’s a good way to describe the idea of allowing the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to purchase the Clement Mansion in Buffalo and become landlord to nonprofit agencies.
The mansion is one of the most spectacular along the Millionaire’s Row of Delaware Avenue. It is home to the Red Cross and is an expensive address. The ECIDA’s goal would be to move into the mansion and make it a campus for a variety of nonprofits, including the Red Cross, with a goal of lowering their costs.
It may be a public-spirited idea, but the ECIDA doesn’t belong in that business any more than the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority belonged in real estate. The NFTA ultimately and wisely shed its Outer Harbor property, just as the ECIDA should resist the temptation to purchase the Clement Mansion.
What is more, there are other ways to help the area’s nonprofits. They might or might not involve use of the Clement Mansion, but regardless, this idea is bad from one perspective and unnecessary from the other.
What is necessary is to preserve this mansion, whatever happens. That should be a real concern, given the 2014 decision allowing the DeRose Mansion and carriage house at 891 Delaware Ave. to be converted into five apartments, while constructing two new three-story townhouse buildings of two units each near the front of the property. It was an abuse of an important and historic property.
More than most other Delaware Avenue properties, the Clement Mansion is an emblem of Buffalo’s prosperous past and, just as has occurred with other such buildings – the Richardson Towers, the Statler Hotel, AM&A’s – an appropriate use can be found for it. That is especially true as Buffalo’s rebirth attracts increasing numbers of investors.
But the Erie County Industrial Development Agency should be focused on its core mission, as described in its name: industrial development. Whatever public benefit may arise from helping area nonprofits, this is not a business in which the quasi-public ECIDA should engage.
Leaders of the IDA note that the agency’s bylaws allow it to pursue this kind of side work. But, as any politician – or the NFTA – could attest, being legal is not the same as being wise.
The ECIDA is actively exploring this possibility despite the opposition of two board members. It already has enough important work on its plate without taking on unnecessary tasks.