The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation isn't ready to accept U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins' two-week deadline for Bass Pro to decide one way or another if it will put a store on Buffalo's waterfront. Congressman Higgins (D-Buffalo) issued that ultimatum on Monday but he's not part of the group that is doing the negotiating with the outdoor retailer.
Higgins has been given much credit for improving Buffalo's waterfront and he played a key role in securing funding from the New York Power Authority to build Canal Side on Buffalo's inner harbor. He's now trying to bring to a conclusion nine years of talks with Bass Pro about a waterfront store as construction on Canal Side gets underway. "Either they're going to be a part of waterfront development or they're not but we need to move forward," said Higgins on Tuesday.
Others share his frustration. "I don't think anybody should talk about Bass Pro again unless they are signed on the dotted line and I'm glad that Congressman Higgins said either fish or cut bait," says Buffalo Common Council President David Franczyk (D-Fillmore district).
The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation is doing the negotiating with the retailer and has a different take on Higgins' ultimatum. Corporation Chairman Jordan Levy issued a statement on Wednesday in response to Higgins' ultimatum. It reads, in part: "Although we always welcome the Congressman's input and appreciate the overwhelming assistance he has given to this important project, we do anticipate being able to resolve this frustration by bringing this process to a positive conclusion in the next few weeks. It remains our sincere desire to bring Bass Pro Shops to Canal Side as our anchor tenant and we are working closely with the company's management in Springfield, Missouri."
The ECHDC declined our interview request and would not say if the corporation has its own deadline for reaching a deal with Bass Pro. Levy's statement also says that the ECHDC's development partner continues to have "substantive discussions with not only Bass Pro, but with several additional tenants" for Canal Side. It's not known though if these are potential anchor tenants should a Bass Pro deal fall through.
Construction is scheduled to start on the Canal Side buildings this October and more local leaders are sounding more comfortable with the possibility of Bass Pro not being a part of it. "It's only 12% of the overall Canal Side plan. There are a lot of other things happening. There are a lot of other businesses that are interested in making investments in our waterfront and we have to make sure that we are continuing to move the development forward," says Mayor Byron Brown (D-Buffalo).