Travel with us through a Buffalo Niagara that might have been, if some of the most captivating artists’ renderings created in recent years had actually come to life. Start downtown outside the gleaming Adelphia office tower, where the thriving cable company has become a big employer. Traffic around here is thick, with people pouring into the Bass Pro store that revitalized old Memorial Auditorium. Some of the customers arrive by boat at the Inner Harbor.
Looming over downtown is a skyscraper built by respected developer Bashar Issa. The Outer Harbor is dominated by an enclosed amusement park, a massive convention center and residential community, and the Buffalo Bills’ new stadium. Head north on the Niagara Thruway and your eye is drawn to the striking new Peace Bridge, proof of cross-border cooperation. In Niagara County, new attractions abound, from the below-ground aquarium near the falls, to the Wizard of Oz theme park.
Of course, none of those projects was ever built. They burst onto the scene with a banner headline, a news conference suffused with big shots, a multimillion-dollar price tag, hyperventilating praise and, of course, a dazzling artist’s rendering of the project. Predictions of surefire economic transformation follow, despite doubts over who will pay for the thing, whether it will win approval, or is even realistic. Then, years later, nothing.
It became a running joke among a few of us skeptics that seeing an artist’s rendering on the front page was the kiss of death for a project. Developers came to town like snake-oil salesmen, peddling magic elixirs guaranteed to fix what ails our economy. Or we begged big companies to build a store here, and had a hard time letting go even when it was clear it was over. Now this isn’t a “woe-is-us” type of story. We finally have real progress – and tower cranes! – in places once only imagined in colorful drawings: Canalside. HarborCenter. The former Donovan State Office Building. The medical campus. Larkinville. Still, we can’t ignore our track record of getting caught up in these grandiose visions for revival, no matter how far-fetched the ideas might seem. What does it say about us as a region that we seemingly want to believe in them?
And do all these failed fanciful visions leave us unfairly skeptical about more realistic projects when they come along?