Quinn: How to spend Cuomo’s $1B

Self-portrait, Larry Quinn

Larry Quinn, a developer and former managing partner of the Buffalo Sabres, weighed in yesterday with his thoughts on the team, Canalside and the future of HSBC bank in downtown Buffalo.

Today, Quinn fields questions posed via-e-mail from Jim Heaney of Investigative Post on what ails local economic development efforts and what he thinks of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to invest $1 billion in state incentives to revitalize the region’s economy.

You’ve been very critical of economic development efforts in Western New York. What’s the problem?

Too many organizations and little chiefs and not much capital.  There should be one agency for economic development. The cost of supporting all these staffs, office leases and ineffectual capital budgets is in the tens of millions per year.

How would you reform the system?

I would consolidate everything under the local Empire State Development Corp. office, get rid of Sam Hoyt and hire a real professional, and supply it with a $100 million capital budget. The city can contribute block grant funds, as can the county, and the state can do what Gov. Cuomo has proposed.

Name one economic development project in the region that’s been done right.

Well, there have been a number of them. I like to think the hockey arena was done right, as was Hauptmann Woodward Institute. But if I had to pick a recent success, it would be the Global vascular center. It had its growing pains, but there was great private sector leadership form Dr. Nelson Hopkins, a scale of cooperation between Kaleida and University of Buffalo we have rarely seen, and a strong quasi-public support from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

What projects have left you shaking your head?

Sandoro’s car museum.

What’s your take on Gov. Cuomo’s $1 billion plan for the WNY economy?

I think it’s brilliant. I’ve always though that state government did development half-assed. They always make you chase them for money to enhance their political power and control. As a consequence everything is project-driven not plan-driven. Governor Cuomo’s vision is crystal clear and promotes action planning which should produce great results.

How would you spend the billion dollars?

I think there are opportunities to attract industries with cash and real opportunities need to be pursued. But outright cash to industry does not attract the kind of long-term, system-changing opportunity that we need.

I believe that future economic growth will turn less on location and more on the value of the local human resource. A stable, well-educated work force will attract jobs and will also create them.

Create an environment that young risk takers want to live and entrepreneurship will flourish. Silicon Valley has produced more jobs and more new industries than anywhere in the world primarily because of Stanford, the California university system and the Pacific Ocean. The capital and the ingenuity all followed.

So how do you transform Buffalo into B-Lo? In other words how do you make Buffalo the most happening cool small city in the east? How does Buffalo become Austin?

1) Ignore Sheldon Silver and use some of the money to start building John Simpson’s 20-20 vision for the University of Buffalo. Teddy Roosevelt pushed America into being a superpower when he first sent the U.S. Navy on a round the world tour as far as Japan. He didn’t have the money to pay for it. But, as he said with words to the effect, “I can get them there, the Congress can worry about getting them back.” Get 20-20 going, The state will have to follow on its success.

d'Orsay Museum, Paris

2) Marry the area’s greatest cultural treasure with the area’s greatest architectural treasure. The Albright-Knox has a world class collection of over 7,000 works of art, most of which are in storage an unseen. If you have ever been to Paris and seen the thousands of people from all over world who line up outside the Museum d’Orsay every single day, you can easily imagine what can happen here if we helped the Albright-Knox realize its full potential. Musee d’Orsay is an old Paris railroad station beautifully restored as perhaps the greatest museum for impressionist paintings in the world.

The Central Terminal on Buffalo’s East Side in an architectural giant and one of our most precious but hidden assets. Move the Albright-Knox to the Central Terminal; move the Broadway Market to the Central Terminal; re-establish the city railway station at the Central Terminal, as high speed rail may be in the future; and use one of the buildings as a new historically preserved convention center.

Establish a Pratt Institute or Cooper Union style design and art school on the campus. Finish William Street as a grand Paris style boulevard connecting downtown to the Central Terminal. Start an intensive housing preservation and building program on either side of William Street from downtown to the terminal.

3) Water Water Water. OK, we don’t have the Pacific Ocean, but the lake and the river could be just as magnificent.

One of our designers for Hauptmann Woodward grew up in Iran with her father in the British Foreign service in Tehran. She went for a walk one night with us at the Erie Basin Marina and as the sun was setting, she turned to me and said, “You people don’t appreciate what you have here. Do you realize that millions of people go to bed every night in the Middle East dreaming about a place like this? The water, the setting sun, the cool breeze, it’s what they think of when they think of heaven.”

Maybe it’s not heaven, but the plan should include a major effort, not the “easy, quick, let’s build a hot dog stand” approach or whatever they call it now, but a comprehensive approach to transform the lake, river and surrounding parks into a national treasure. Neighborhoods up and down the river, every conceivable water sport, water tours of the relics of industry from the Great Northern to the Bethlehem Steel Harbor, real sand beaches in place of the small boat harbor, the Buffalo Ship Canal and the greatest sailing marina on the great lakes, a waterfront boulevard connecting the city to our gateway to Canada. DO IT RIGHT!!!

4. Canada is the largest trading partner of the U.S. Ontario is the fastest growing part of Canada. CONNECT BUFFALO TO IT. BUILD THE DAMN BRIDGE.

Who would you like to see interviewed? What questions would you pose? Send us your suggestions.