July 2013 Column – Silver Bullets?

kh09-5155_compressI have spent a good deal of time recently thinking about the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA). The NFTA, after all, relies on the county for about $30 million each year. My attention has been focused on a couple of issues in particular.

The first concerns a resolution sponsored by the Chair of the Legislature, Betty Jean Grant. It calls on the NFTA to cease allowing advertising for alcoholic beverages. It was prompted by Legislator Grant’s disapproval of the NFTA’s “beer train,” where one of its light rail trains was wrapped in a beer ad mimicking a popular television commercial. Her objection was based on her belief that the ads promoted alcohol abuse, especially among residents of the county’s urban core. NFTA officials testified at a recent committee meeting that the revenue derived from advertising is necessary to keep the system running. Without it, they would have to receive more taxpayer dollars or curtail their operations. They noted that roughly $100,000 could be attributed to the beer ads, alone.

Although I certainly see Legislator Grant’s point, I will be voting against her resolution. I think it would set a bad precedent if the Erie County Legislature starts dictating advertising policy to other governments. Still, I wish the NFTA could find $100,000 someplace else. This brings me to the second issue.

I attended a presentation on June 26th by the Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex (GBSEC), the group that is looking to build a domed football stadium, hotel, conference center and sports museum on the outer harbor. The presenters included three individuals from HKS, the group’s architect. This is the same firm that built stadiums for the Dallas Cowboys and the Indianapolis Colts and is in the process of constructing one for the Minnesota Vikings. This is not some fly by night operation, but a group of world class architects who get grand things done. Their plans for building a complex which can be used year round, will link downtown to the outer harbor and are compatible with public access to the waterfront were exciting and deserve serious consideration.

The problem is they need a 9-12 month option on the property from the NFTA to flesh out their plans and line up their investors. They have offered $500,000 for such an option. If they can realize their dreams, the group would save taxpayers the cost of an eventual new stadium, while providing a breathtaking complex resulting in considerable further spin-off development. Although this is no “silver bullet,” it certainly makes sense for the NFTA to give the GBSEC a year to see if they can enhance land that has been barren for decades. The $500,000 might also reduce their need for “beer trains.”

If you have thoughts you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted by phone at 858-8672 or via email at kevin.hardwick@erie.gov.

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