With the Fishes
Fear Not, Buffalo—Corporate
Welfare Will Save You!
do dying urban centers need to keep them afloat when everything and
everyone has long since moved out to the suburbs? A gimmick, of course,
like the Arch in St. Louis or, even cooler, a Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of
fame like Cleveland has! Too bad those ideas were already taken, and
the only thing our leaders could think of is resurrecting the long
dead Aud and turning it into a massive Bass Pro outdoor shop, along
with a hotel and restaurant.
Sounds insane, but it’s completely true.
I only know one person who thinks it’s a good idea, and she’s a
complete dingbat. Besides that, everyone else seems to agree something
smells extremely fishy, starting with the politicians absconding
with $66 million in taxpayer funds and distributing it who knows
how without any public debate about the idea. All we’ve been told
is how great it will be to get Bass Pro in here, because it’ll solve
the city’s problems in one fell swoop.
If you listened to the press conference
announcing the culmination of three and half years of ball-sack
massaging, you heard all the giddy players pontificating and congratulating
each other like the Bills won the Superbowl. They were disturbingly
drunk on dollars, knowing their construction and developer friends
will make a bundle and, of course, kickback generously at campaign
time, and offer great, high-paying jobs to those whose political
careers may soon be over. There they were, festering pustules of
corruption like Joel Giambra and George Pataki, but only Mayor Masiello
was doofus enough to don the Bass Pro baseball cap and camo jacket,
helping to cement his image as an unserious goofball and a cheerleader
for bad ideas. It was almost as funny as hearing Jack Quinn try
to justify spending 12 or 13 million dollars in federal transportation
funds on an Erie Canal museum, because the canal was once
a form of transportation. I was surprised he didn’t burst out laughing;
I certainly did.
Everybody in this circle of connected
buffoons wins, while places like Dick’s, Gander Mountain and every
mom-and-pop bait and tackle shop along Niagara Street (who certainly
weren’t bribed from across the country with vast sums of money to
open up in the area) see the writing on the wall. People throw up
their arms when Wal-Mart comes calling, they fight that shit tooth
and nail and sometimes they win, but this is a completely different
situation. We’re begging these mysterious southerners up
here to turn downtown Buffalo into some ugly NASCAR tailgate party,
complete with RV’s, hillbillies, rednecks, and mild-mannered-yet-psychotic
gun and knife freaks. How metropolitan. It’ll go great with our
You might be wondering how this nightmare
got started. Now that it’s a done deal and every politician even
remotely connected to Buffalo got to make a speech about how happy
they are to gamble our future on a glorified shopping center, the
story is out. Seems local multi-millionaire Bob Rich Jr., an avid
sport fisherman, prattled on and on about a Bass Pro Shop he visited
down South, where his winter home just happens to be next door to
Bass Pro’s owner. In fact, he talked so much about Bass Pro and
everyone got so goddamn excited about the place he flew Masiello
and a bunch of their mutual friends down on his private jet so they
could see it for themselves, a typical backslappers write-off vacation.
Introductions were made and Bob Rich faded into the background…apparently.
Remember, this is the same guy who got the city to build Pilot Field,
now Dunn Tire Park, because he was “very serious” about bringing
major league baseball to Buffalo, then walked away after we built
it when the price for a team was too high. We’re still paying for
that fucking place. It consistently loses money year after year,
even when the Bisons win whatever the hell they call the AAA championship
Here’s why I’m extremely skeptical about
this project: it’s a flea flicker. The flea flicker is the most
dangerous offensive play in football—brilliant when it works, but
a despicable blunder when it fails. Now look at the point men: Tony
Masiello is no visionary, neither is Joel Giambra or George Pataki.
They’re certifiable greedheads who’ve proven irrefutably that they
can’t be trusted with the public trust or public funds. Christ,
Pataki was investigated for recommending early parole for prisoners
who gave enough cash to his election campaigns. These guys aren’t
just going to drop the ball; they’re going to spike it.
many agreeable, worthy businesses were lost over the last three
and a half years it took Bass Pro executives to wrangle all the
money and favorable concessions out of our desperate leaders? Countless.
Even problem gamblers know it’s better to play ten small bets than
one big one, let alone competent investors. That’s what hayseeds
who’ve never sat down at a blackjack table do.
in the Catch
after all, is all any business is interested in. But that’s the
thing: if Bass Pro really thought Buffalo was a viable market, they
wouldn’t need $66 million in enticements to come. They would have
paid rent. And it wouldn’t have taken years for the deal to come
this far; the place would have sprung up in months.
Bass Pro is supposedly kicking in $57 million of their own money,
less than half. Even if that turns out to be true, it’s a drop in
the bucket for a chain whose estimated sales topped $1.3 billion
it amazing how much our politicians love out of town businessmen?
They bend over backwards for The Right People, the kind who set
up shop, take out publicly sponsored loans, then declare bankruptcy
and skip town with all the cash. This time it isn’t Adelphia or
some stupid brewpub, this is $66 million plus the untold
millions more in “cost overruns” and graft we’ll be forced to cough
up. That’s how HSBC went, and it’s in the same boat as Dunn Tire
Park, another publicly funded endeavor we still owe money on many
years after it was built. Now recall the ever-present horror of
the Rapid Transit System and Main Street’s mile-long eyesore that
is “Buffalo Place,” and you can see where I’m going. They’re spending
money to spend money, so their friends can make money and then give
Bass Pro is being sold to us as some Magic
Cure-All, which will simultaneously bring tourists downtown and
spur further development along the waterfront, despite the fact
that the real problem with the waterfront is that the NFTA owns
it all and refuses to give any of it up. The last time a glorified
shopping center was THE major tourist destination I was living in
Huntsville, Alabama and that’s why this feels culturally wrong.
This is Buffalo—we’re just not that outdoorsy. Don’t try and force
us to be something we aren’t, because Buffalo natives are nothing
if not genuine. They’re also broke: most residents can’t afford
to buy RV’s, exotic fishing boats or even a Swiss Army Knife keychain.
Calling this a crapshoot is an understatement.
The potential loss here could mean the difference between living
and dying as a city. Will 10,000 people a day actually flock to
downtown Buffalo, New York to go see a gigantic hillbilly gear store?
They might, especially in mid-February when bitter winds whistle
across frozen Lake Erie and it’s a brisk minus 25 degrees. Buffalo
could displace Minnesota as the ice fishing capital of America,
especially if we make a deal to sell part of the lake to Bass Pro—or
we could just give it to them.
Remember when they tried forcing the Senecas
into locating a casino at the Aud last year? The Senecas told them
to fuck off and aren’t ever going to build shit in Buffalo. The
Senecas and these Southerners are very similar: they’re good businessmen;
they know how to turn a profit, and there’s no way in hell either
is going to take on refurbishing the Aud without tons of taxpayer
money. Whether or not you liked the idea, the Senecas would have
been downtown running that casino forever if given the chance, it
wouldn’t have cost taxpayers half as much as Bass Pro will, and
the odds it might succeed and generate funds for the city were very
good. Bass Pro, on the other hand, is a completely unknown quantity.
Sure, they’ve got shops in Syracuse and Auburn and all over the
country, mostly small, normal-type outlet stores, not bizarre behemoths
like they’re envisioning here. Bass Pro has no incentive whatsoever
to stay in Buffalo if its profit margins go south, and the only
guarantee Buffalo has is that we’ll make almost fifty bucks leasing
the Aud for 49 years at a dollar a year. Good deal!
Squirming On The Hook
I just can’t get onto this bandwagon, not when Masiello, Giambra,
and the rest are whipping the horses and riding off with our money
for another dubious project. Those two cash-junkies have already
helped ruin our chances more than enough, and I don’t trust either
of them to perform any basic functions requiring pure logic. It’s
hard not to be negative, knowing our past, and obviously that’s
something we need to take into account, but this feels like just
another snowjob in a sorry string of stupid scams which have moved
hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars into the war chests and
personal bank accounts of politicians, bankers, developers, and
construction companies. I hope this works. I hope there’s such an
insane regional jones for fishing and camping gear that people from
all over will come in unending droves to spend their money, see
the sights and enjoy the beauty which is Buffalo. But, frankly,
something tells me it won’t.
stakes are high and the odds are long, but our leaders aren’t afraid
to wager it all on a single roll of the dice. Then again, it’s not
their money on the table.