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Long Story Short: Night—and day—moves


illustration by JP Thimot


Children’s Hospital moves, but it could have been a different story

Wouldn’t you know it? It was a record-breaking, frigidly cold autumn day when they moved 150 patients a mile and a half, from the nineteenth century into the twenty-first century. A tale of two hospitals ended with a flawless patient transfer, and smiles all around. But if the public had had its way, this seamless move might never have happened.


The details:

The day had finally come when Women and Children’s Hospital, now John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, would leave its original 1892 location on Bryant Street and occupy a new location downtown, joining the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Many more staffers than usual were needed that day, so both hospitals could briefly operate simultaneously. The hospital staff was already trained to use the brand-new facilities that would open as the old hospital closed. So, when patients arrived, everything was ready. In fact, by Friday afternoon, the first surgery had been performed at the new hospital, even as ambulances were continuing to transfer patients. Months of planning went into the move. Patients had been assured that their care would be uninterrupted throughout the process.


The move was necessary because the old facility was badly outdated. The massive structure had a confusing layout, and was economically unviable for its owner, Kaleida Health. The new Oishei Children's Hospital is a state of the art facility, with single-family neonatal intensive care rooms, a smart patient-friendly layout, plenty of natural light, and imaginatively-designed leisure quarters.


But in 1999, when Kaleida announced plans to move the hospital, public reaction was swift and severe. Save Our Children’s Hospital became the rallying cry around which many groups united. Elmwood business leaders feared the loss of a major employer that contributed to the economic health of the area. Many had a sentimental connection to the facility. The hospital staff feared it would lose its discrete status in the move, and get lumped together with other Kaleida hospitals. In 2002, a Save Our Children’s Hospital rally in Niagara Square brought Jim Kelly and Pat LaFontaine out to support the cause. Other celebrities, former patients, and community leaders joined in, as anti-move forces created a giant public relations headache for Kaleida, which was painted as an uncaring, profit-focused corporation.


So Kaleida began collaboratively working with doctors and the community to develop a plan that would win favor among the staff and public alike. Eventually there was a huge stakeholder gathering in New York City, out of which came an agreement to keep the free-standing facility where it was.


This still wasn’t good enough for many people in Buffalo. In 2007, a new proposal met with dissatisfaction among area residents who were concerned that building design changes would alter the character of the neighborhood. Lawsuits followed. To many, it seemed the public wanted to have its cake and eat it too. So again, the hospital looked at proposals to move the facility, now to the new medical campus downtown, which was shaping up as a major player in downtown development. Those plans eventually went forward, and on Friday the hospital moved, leaving a giant vacant facility in the Elmwood Village.


Over the past eighteen years, prime property in good neighborhoods, like the now-vacant Woman and Children’s Hospital, has become highly desirable for redevelopment. The plan now is for the existing buildings to be largely reused, adding a new apartment building (which, of course, will exceed Green Code height limits). The reuse includes a charter school, grocery store, some additional retail, restaurants, and a daycare.  The neighbors don’t want the charter school, but a community advisory group is otherwise pleased with the plan. Some people however, have voiced concerns on social media about the grocery store, and the added density the proposed apartment building will bring. Others don’t want retail at all in a residential neighborhood.


The takeaway:

By watching various development proposals in the Elmwood Village area, I have learned that no proposal makes everyone happy. Some people resist any change. Others only want change that matches their personal tastes. Many want the city to remain frozen in time, yet somehow grow and become better. A squeaky wheel can derail a good proposal, but you need to pick your battles. Not all development is bad. Not all developers are the enemy. The message going out is that the public is never satisfied. Such a message will lead to planners and planning boards becoming cynical (or more cynical), and public outcry will just be another bump in the road to development. 



Tax reform: what it means for Buffalo

No surprise that there’s disagreement between Democrats and Republicans as to whether there will be losers under Congress's two proposed tax cut plans. But almost everyone agrees who the big winners will be. Hint: if you’re reading this, it’s probably not you. 


The details:

Governor Cuomo says that the House Republican tax reform proposal that removes state and local tax (SALT) deductions would impact 91,041 Erie County taxpayers, raising their annual tax bill by an average of $2,884. That’s $16 billion more in taxes paid by New York taxpayers every year. And the recently proposed Senate plan, would completely eliminate the SALT deduction altogether, which would be even worse.


Cuomo wants House Republicans like Tom Reed of Corning and Chris Collins of Clarence to oppose the proposed plan. Reed and Collins say Cuomo is wrong, but the governor released an analysis, based on IRS data, that shows all Western New York counties have thousands of taxpayers who would pay appreciably higher taxes under the proposed measure. Some of the seventy-three House Republicans from high-tax states such as New York and California have also raised questions about the repeal of the SALT deduction. Reed, however, is extolling the virtues of cutting the corporate tax rate from thirty-five percent to twenty percent. The United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, so to many this sounds like a good idea. But it’s not that simple, and both liberal and conservative economists doubt this plan will stimulate growth.


The largest cuts in the proposed plan would go to—wait for it—businesses and the wealthy. As a bonus, if you’re the progeny of an immensely wealthy family, under this plan you can inherit the whole fortune that you may have done nothing to earn, without paying an estate tax. Because, you know, it’s important to keep most of America’s wealth in as few hands as possible.  


The bipartisan Congressional Joint Tax Committee states that the proposed plan would increase federal budget deficits by $1.7 trillion over ten years, which exceeds the limit that can be approved by a simple majority in the Senate. Lowering the deficit—not raising it—has been Republican battle cry for many years, but the allure of cutting taxes, particularly for the wealthy, has apparently (pardon the pun) trumped that. 


Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, and Congressman Brian Higgins have urged New York House members to oppose the bill. Many other local leaders are concerned too. The New York State Association of Realtors took out a full-page ad in the Buffalo News to thank Higgins for opposing the bill, which they say would hurt Buffalo’s burgeoning housing market. The Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors agrees. The bill also cuts historic preservation tax credits, which have enabled the development of the majority of high-profile historic properties in Buffalo. Other provisions of the plan would hurt major government-backed projects. The American Council on Education says the bill would add $65 billion over ten years to students’ college bills. Buffalo-area charities worry that the bill will result in a major decrease of charitable giving.


The takeaway:

Simplifying the US tax system is a holy grail of government reform that has eluded lawmakers for many decades. Tax cuts and simpler IRS forms sound good when politicians propose them, but it’s not so simple to achieve. People like Reed and Collins believe that the money the wealthy will save will be reinvested and trickle down to average Americans. Others call that voodoo economics. A simpler way to help the middle class is to close loopholes that only the wealthy enjoy, and pass the windfall onto the rest of us.



The Albright-Knox: figuring out where to go

You can read a discussion of the issues and controversy over the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s design concept for restoration and expansion of the museum here.  For over a decade, the museum has explored plans to restore and expand the existing facility, which will add much-needed exhibition space. After a spectacularly successful fundraiser, museum officials previewed an early design by the OMA architectural firm. A flurry of negative feedback followed, and the museum stated that a revised plan would come in September. But that month, it instead announced that it was hiring two preservation firms, Buffalo's Preservation Studios, and PBDW Architects out of New York City, to guide further planning. Now, the museum might change direction entirely.


The details:

The original OMA design might be the first in the world to consider the potential impact of self-driving cars on architecture, but it neglected to take into consideration the impact of preservationists. Museum director Janne Sirén recently met with a four-member subcommittee of the Buffalo Preservation Board, and separately with the New York State Historic Preservation Office, to discuss their concerns. Following this, on November 9, the Board of Directors approved a proposal presented by the Chair of the museum’s AK360 Project Development Committee, Michael Joseph, to reexamine the expansion concept. The museum is now considering a plan to place the addition on the north and northwest side of the campus. But it isn’t giving up on the original plan: "The museum continues to believe that the initial concept provides an excellent operating solution for the future Buffalo Albright-Knox-Gundlach Art Museum,” the gallery said in a statement.


Sirén previously predicted that the expansion would be completed in late 2021, but if anyone knows whether this timeline now needs to be pushed back, no one is saying so at the moment. Museum representatives say they still want to hear from the public.


The takeaway:

The museum is putting a good face on it, but this has to be frustrating. It managed to do what was once considered near-impossible, raise $122 million dollars for an expansion, but is still stymied by a trio of conditions: the public’s desire to build on the existing site (also an economic necessity), the mandate not to infringe further into Olmsted-designed Delaware Park, and the resistance from preservationists to altering the existing historic buildings. How this ends is anyone’s guess.



Blotto Tales #3

Remember the drunk driver who hit twelve parked cars after leaving a strip joint? Then there was the guy who ran into several stationary houses while inebriated. Now, in the continuing battle for most brainless driving achievement involving alcohol, we have a man who hit a metal light pole in Buffalo, and dragged it to Orchard Park.


The details:

That’s right, Orchard Park is one light pole richer, say police, thanks to a Hamburg man who allegedly transported the fixture there on the bottom of his car Friday night. You would generally think that a guy would notice a twenty-five-foot, goose-neck steel pole hanging off the back his car over the course of a ten-mile ride. The first hint might have been hitting the light post, and not seeing it in the rear-view mirror while leaving the scene.  However, blood alcohol levels of .13 are known to decrease driver attentiveness.


Several alert citizens called 911 to report the unusual sight, as the car and pole traveled along Route 219 sending a shower of sparks into the evening sky. Police suspected that they had spotted the car in question when they noticed the lengthy pole hanging off the back, matching witness descriptions. As Lieutenant Patrick Fitzgerald caught up to the vehicle, the ill-fated pole lost its grip on the car, clanging across both lanes of southbound traffic on Abbott Road. Then, in a virtuoso display of intoxicated stunt driving, the car jumped a curb, drove across a Mobil gas station lot, and stalled. The driver attempted to leave the vehicle, but was arrested.


Unsurprisingly, the man was charged with driving while intoxicated. He was also charged with leaving the scene of a property damage accident (though technically he had brought the damage with him), possession of an open container, and failure to affix a registration sticker, making this the perfect crime. Leaving no potential violation uncharged, the police also cited him for having an unsafe tire, and failing to signal when jumping a curb. Police impounded the vehicle.   


The takeaway:    

Know your limits. Always pull over upon hitting stationary objects, because the objects are not the problem.



Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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