Long Story Short: The greening of Bethlehem, marching orders, Fair advice, success stories


illustration by J.P. Thimot


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Oh little plant of Bethlehem:


Can the postindustrial wasteland known as the former Bethlehem Steel Plant be repurposed into premium commercial real estate? That’s what Erie County is counting on, and this time they’ve brought cash. 


The details:

What do you see when you drive down Route 5 by the abandoned Bethlehem Steel Plant, in Lackawanna? Devastation and urban blight, right? Wrong; the correct answer is promise and opportunity. At least, that’s what local government leaders are banking on. By the end of the year, Erie County will own 150 acres of prime waterfront brownfields, purchased in stages from Tecumseh Real Development. The Erie County Industrial Development Agency will cap the site by covering the gently contaminated land with a nice clean layer of earth (severely toxic areas may never be useable).


Close to $19 million dollars in federal, state, and local funds have been committed to turning today’s painful reminder of the region’s bygone industrial might, into tomorrow’s thriving technology business hub. The money will go to land purchase, cleanup, rail line relocation, and the extension of Dona Street into the site. As a bonus, the Outer Harbor Bike Path will gain about a mile, on land donated by Tecumseh.


The plan is to add infrastructure over the coming years, making this a highly desirable location for green technology. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz—who’s been working on this since being elected four years ago—says there is a shortage of large industrial parks in the Northeast. With access to water, rail, and highway, he believes the site will be very desirable. Deputy County Executive Maria Whyte led the negotiations for the county.  


The takeaway:

If we clean it, they will come. Just post the clean industry wanted sign.



Trump to upstate NY: move


Donald Trump called New York State home before he moved into the White House (and Mar-a-Lago on the weekends), but he now seems enamored with Wisconsin, which voted for him. Trump recently announced that Apple supplier Foxconn would build a new factory in Wisconsin. (Then) chief of staff Reince Priebus told a Milwaukee news station that Trump suggested the location to Foxconn when they visited the White House: “So when Foxconn came into the White House into the Oval Office, the president said, ‘I know a good spot that you should go, that place in Kenosha,’” Priebus recalls.


Utica, New York had also been vying for the Foxconn factory, so Trump had a message for upstate New Yorkers. He told the Wall Street Journal, “When you have an area that just isn’t working like upper New York State, where people are getting very badly hurt, and then you’ll have another area 500 miles away where you can’t get people, I’m going to explain, you can leave. It’s OK. Don’t worry about your house.” Thanks, Don.


Safe thrills


Wow, the Erie County Fair had a tough week. First a tornado rips through the grandstand, and throws picnic tables and trees around. Then, as crews are cleaning that up, the Ohio State Fair Fireball ride disintegrates, killing and injuring people, and sending a chill through fairgoers everywhere. A horrific video of people being jettisoned out of the high-speed ride circulated online. But Erie County Fair officials want the public to know that its rides are inspected by the midway provider, New York State, and an independent safety service. Inspections take place every day. And really, think about it; those rides will never be gone over more carefully than they will be this year. So while wary fair patrons may experience a thrill boost in light of the recent tragedy, they will be safe. If you really want to live dangerously, get yourself a donut burger with bacon-ade and a deep fried Twinkie.



enLIGHTen dazzles


Maybe you were one of the thousands that gathered to witness EnLIGHTen, the magical union of light and sound that appeared Friday at the H.H. Richardson Complex on Elmwood. Or maybe you saw it plastered all over Facebook. The collaborative effort between the always-splendid Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Projex, Keith Harrington's  audio/video mixologist team, blew people’s minds.


Minutes after the event, I talked to Harrington, who was still amped on adrenalin. Lest you think the life of a sound/media artist is all glamor, he had spent six hours that day hanging paper behind each window of the massive building—which he had to take down that evening. But he took a moment reveal a few secrets in between accepting congratulatory hi-fives from the crowd. “Around 9:10, just before the show” Harrington says, “I saw a light on [in one of the windows, which were supposed to be off, but briefly came on again later], and I ran all the way around [the building] and I said you gotta turn the light off. So they were trying to figure out how to turn the kitchen light off, while I found a white tablecloth and tied it up over the window, because we hadn’t covered that one.”


Artists are their own worst critics. While the audience was still in post-event awe, Harrington had this to say: “In my opinion it could have been significantly better. There were a lot of hurdles to overcome. We’ve been working on it for most of the last year, but the timeline that our team had to develop this content with the template and everything was not ideal; we pretty much cranked this out in the last three weeks.” He is however proud of the “immersive experience” achieved by lighting the grounds and trees.


So will this become an annual event? Harrington doesn’t know, but he has his eyes on other buildings that would be well-suited. “I can say this,” he adds intriguingly, “the things people liked; we are just scratching the surface.”



She’s hanging in there


Who: Erica Cope
What: Buffalo Aerial Dance

If, silk, sling, and corde lisse sound like S&M accessories to you, maybe think trapeze. Erica Cope has trained throughout the country and in Canada to become an authority on all these aerial apparatus, and then she learned to teach others through the New England Center for Circus Arts. Ariel Dance involves executing a variety of acrobatic stunts and moves while suspended in the air in one of several devices. It can be graceful, or dramatic, often both. The sport—and we’ll call it a sport in the athletic sense of the word—is wildly popular in Montreal, where Cirque de Soleil is based. Many world class aerialists are also based in our neighbor to the north, Toronto. Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh all have thriving aerial arts scenes, but until Erica Cope brought the skill to Buffalo in 2014, this city was left (not) hanging.


For the past few years, Cope has made a living performing and teaching the suspension arts. It’s not an easy life. There’s endless practice and long days that end in exhaustion. She teachers a variety of classes for students eight and up that emphasize fitness and skill. Some integrate yoga. She even does birthday parties. And Cope is constantly improving, searching for new techniques. “Much of what drives me is Buffalo pride,” she says, “putting this city on the map in the national and international aerial scene.” 


Cope has plans to bring aerialists from other cities to Buffalo. She particularly likes the Pittsburgh group, who train in facilities similar to hers, and mix in dance elements like she does. Aerialists coming to Buffalo from other cities are often worried that we may not have what they need. When they see we do, “it’s gratifying,” says Cope. “I want people from places like Seattle, Chicago, and Atlanta to see we have a real studio,” she explains, “with all of the elements of knowledge and artistry that make it so; not just a studio space with silks in it.” And she wants her students to be able to visit other studios in New York or San Francisco with confidence that they are properly trained. 


Some of Cope’s students have even begun teaching in Buffalo, but the original Buffalo aerialist stays ahead of the crowd. “I ask myself what can I  do that others aren’t doing yet,” she remarks, and then adds, “There are a few things I have my eye on.”


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Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Spree.


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