By Howard Zemsky
The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s decision to exit the “waterfront business” is a sound strategic move grounded in the belief that focusing our time and resources on transportation makes good and compelling sense. Our board is unanimous in this important strategic decision.
Similarly we are unanimous in our decision to transfer the property to an entity that is in the public domain, and that will help assure public access and public involvement in planning the waterfront’s future.
Selling 400 acres of waterfront property from a public authority to another entity, even a public one, is not as simple as some would have you believe. We live in the public realm and we follow Public Authorities Law when we dispose of property.
These laws require us to conduct a competitive process when selling public property to obtain property’s “estimated fair market value” when we transfer to a public entity. But even in this case, the definition of fair value depends in part on whether the lands will remain with the new public entity or will be transferred in part for private use.
Additionally, we require necessary approvals from government entities that have funded improvements on our lands over the years. We also need to follow state environmental requirements to ensure compliance in all areas.
For all these reasons we are planning to run the NFTA Small Boat Harbor during the 2013 season so as to ensure there is no disruption to the growing public enjoyment, while at the same time working through the necessary requirements to transfer the land. Thankfully we have an excellent team at the NFTA, led by Chris Todorov and crew, that has seen business soar by all possible performance measures. Kudos as well to Tucker Curtin and his associates at Dug’s Dive who have been a vital part of the ever-improving waterfront experience. We are proud to have reached agreement with Tucker and Dug’s Dive to extend his operation year-round.
The NFTA is resolute in its commitment to transfer our waterfront property to the City of Buffalo or to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., or, potentially and hopefully, to a collaboration of those entities.
But we will absolutely follow the appropriate and applicable laws that govern this public authority. These laws are intended to protect the public interest from transactions that might put cronyism or personal bias above broader public interest. And in our case, these laws are also intended to protect the users of public transit from holding the short end of the stick.
Political declarations that led to the Oct. 13 article, “Higgins blasts NFTA’s delay on outer harbor,” do not reflect the considerable good work under way to transfer 400 acres of NFTA waterfront property in a responsible manner.
Howard Zemsky is chairman of the NFTA.