The sparring between Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is less about what should happen with the authority’s waterfront land than how much the 384 acres should cost whoever winds up with it.
The NFTA wants to unload its property on Buffalo’s outer harbor. It owns the land because, in a previous incarnation, it was a harbor authority. But it’s an expensive distraction from what should be the authority’s exclusive focus on transportation and, as such, it is looking for a buyer.
After initially opening the bidding to anyone, the NFTA thought better of its approach and decided to keep the land in the public domain. In that narrower context, only two interested parties have emerged: the City of Buffalo and the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. Given the predictable and inevitable intrusion of politics into anything handled by City Hall, the better choice – clearly better – is the Harbor Development Corp.
Higgins is incensed that the NFTA is seeking what he considers an exorbitant price for the land when it is simply being transferred to another governmental agency. He says a price of $2 would be fair, based on the NFTA’s purchase price of the property and the recent transfer of 21 acres at Times Beach to the harbor corporation for $1.
The NFTA responds that although it acquired a small portion of the 384 acres for just $2, it is selling a much-larger parcel of land into which it has invested millions of dollars. It says it is not looking to sell it for its $17 million fair market appraisal, but it wants substantially more than $2.
Fine. The price is more than $2 but less than $17 million. There’s an agreement to be had somewhere in there. If Higgins’ frustration is partially about the glacial pace of completing a deal, we sympathize.
That’s not to say there aren’t issues to be hashed out. For example, while the authority cites some $12 million it has spent on the site, Higgins counters – correctly – that the NFTA has been a poor steward of the land – hardly surprising, since its mission has nothing to do with that property. Higgins also notes that more than $30 million worth of repairs will be required to keep the Small Boat Harbor a viable operation.
Yet, the NFTA says it received two private offers for the land earlier this year, ranging between $2 million and $3.5 million. So, fine. The price is more than $2 but now less than $3.5 million – substantially less, we would argue.
It is important for the NFTA to get out from under this burden so that it can devote all of its energies to its critical responsibility of public transportation and also so that a prime piece of waterfront land can be developed and put to appropriate public use.
The entity that does that should be the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. It has the expertise and mission to accomplish that goal, and it is not fatally distracted by the currents of Buffalo city politics. The sooner this transaction can be completed, the better off the people of Western New York will be.