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Allan Uthman
Iraq or Iran?
Which are these pundits pushing to invade?
NSA's Big Rig?
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Bob Fitrakis
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Authorities Relieved Church Fires Were Joke
Josh Righter
Get Off Ma Land!
A BEAST Reader Opinion
Best of Buffalo?
Former Staffer Exposes Artvoice Reader "Poll."
Ready, Set, Gentrify!
Elmwood Village Hotel: Good Neighbor?
Erin-Go-Blah
What Adams Could Have Told Higgins.
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Arm or Leg?
John Stossel's Great Invisible Handjob.
Paul Jones
Spooks in the Machine
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Mike Whitney
Accidental Discharge
The Dangers of Playing Cowboy.
Stan Goff
This Much is True
The Impending Police State & Puppy Rearing.
Ian Murphy
F is for Fake
Payola Punks Flunk Science Reporting.
Kit Smith
From the Desk of Lucifer
A Complaint Letter from Hell.

 

Ready, Set, Gentrify!

Elmwood Village Hotel: Good Neighbor?

Of all the neighborhoods in Buffalo, the Elmwood/Forest area has been a perennial favorite, featuring a mix of college kids, urban professionals and subculture bohemians, as well as a commercial mix of funky stores, upscale restaurants and watering holes. It’s one of the only areas left in Buffalo where people go just to watch other people. 500 feet from Buff State, it’s also the main drag for dormers looking for something to do.

But that may be about to change. If you just heard about the proposed “Elmwood Village Hotel,” a 4-story, 72-room, to-the-sidewalk behemoth to be built across four lots on Elmwood, which currently house four local businesses, you’re not alone. Almost no one knew about it until mid-February, but the proposal seems already to be a done deal.

Landlord Hans Mobius is widely regarded in Buffalo to be a total dick, and not just because he has the name of a comic book super-villain. Mobius owns all of the properties to be leveled for the hotel, and stands to make a bundle. For years, he has been letting these buildings deteriorate in anticipation of just such an event as this. It’s an old slumlord tactic—turn your property into an eyesore, and eventually the city will do whatever it takes to get rid of you, including obviating zoning regulations so you can make a million dollars (in the works is a plan to change the zoning of adjacent housing so that the hotel can be built within inches of its neighbors). In this instance Mobius’ diabolical plan has worked perfectly, and he will profit richly from his strategic neglect. This sends a clear and dangerous message to other property owners in Buffalo.

But Mobius’ unjust reward isn’t the only queer aspect to this deal. Forever Elmwood, the 10-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to historic preservation of the area, staffed by business owners and urban planning geeks, has been mainly a benevolent force. But lately FE seems to have become a little too enchanted with its growing power. While it would seem to directly contradict their recent blockage of Pano’s restaurant’s expansion on the same block, FE has thrown its full force behind the proposed hotel.

Some say the fact that attached architect Karl Frizlen is also a Forever Elmwood member shows a conflict of interest. But what bothers us more is that the project was presented to Forever Elmwood a year or more ago, but the public heard of it only shortly before the design was to come before the Planning Board, and only then through the Buffalo News, despite the fact that Artvoice publisher Jamie Moses is another Forever Elmwood member. To their credit the developer, Savarino Construction, has redesigned the hotel, knocking off a floor, and postponed meeting with the Planning Board and Common Council due to public outcry.

There can be no question that a big, boxy hotel is going to change the character of the neighborhood. There will be no tattoo shops or used clothing stores in this place; it’s going to be more upscale stores for suburban visitors. There’s not going to be a feeling of the commons anymore—soon enough, security could be clearing off any kids who persist in hanging around in front of the place. Where there was an open, green area, there will be a boxed-in sensation and reduced visibility.

But the more frightening prospect is the possible, very possible in our minds, failure of the hotel. Buffalo’s hotels have about a 50% vacancy rate. Elmwood & Forest seems like a desirable location as opposed to the hotels downtown, depending on a visitor’s reasons for traveling to Buffalo, but is there enough demand to sustain this hotel for years to come? We know it’s not cool anymore to suggest the possibility that the future of Buffalo is anything but milk and honey, but in reality, lots of businesses open and close in short order around here. Jamie Moses and Forever Elmwood have often fought against the erection of “single use” structures, usually referring to stores like Rite Aid and Walgreen’s. But what second use could be applied here? It would be stupid not to plan for such a possibility.

Four crappy houses can be fixed up. If one business fails, another can easily move in. A 72-room hotel has extremely limited reuse capacities, the most obvious being public housing, which would obviously damage the neighborhood.

Oddly, in Moses’ own Artvoice feature advocating the hotel plan (“Elmwood Village Hotel: Our Growing City,” March 2), he raises this issue but fails to address it. One of the questions he poses on behalf of the project’s opponents under the heading “Who is opposed and why?” goes like this: “What if the hotel fails and we end up with a big empty building or a city center for homeless people?”

Unfortunately, he never gets around to answering that question. Maybe he just couldn’t think of a good answer. We certainly can’t.

 

BEAST Blog

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