Street Corner Soapbox: Hotel Wars

Categories:      News & Politics    Opinion
Wednesday, December 11th, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Scott Enterprises recently released its $150-million master plan for development on its harbor front property – and it’s a doozy.

Town houses, apartments, two hotels, event space on the waterfront, office space, an acre of public park, retail space, a 1000-space parking garage, a sky bridge across the Bayfront  Parkway, a traffic circle with a water fountain at the State Street-Parkway intersection, the Penelec smokestack transformed into a lighthouse…

I could go on. I will go on.

The plan proposes a public drawbridge across the entrance of the East Inner Harbor – which leads to the Flagship Niagara’s berth at the Maritime Museum. Can you imagine the sight of the Niagara passing under a drawbridge to head out into the lake? In fact, the Scott Enterprises proposed development wraps around the Niagara and the museum and the Maritime Center, in a sense making it the focal point of the development.

Erie City Councilman Dave Brennan on his Facebook account called the Scott Enterprises plan, “dynamic, dense, and forward thinking,” praising the plan’s focus on “public access and year round activity.”

It’s hard to disagree with that assessment.

The Scott Enterprises proposal links public walkways to public parks and plazas, through shop spaces – an outdoor café? – keeps the edge of the waterfront in public hands, integrates all of the existing space into a cohesive whole, would provide the city with tax-revenue office and living space while keeping a public and maritime feel to the development.

Did I forget to mention there’s a public skating rink and floating entertainment barge?

It’s obvious this plan conceived of the land not as a private gated community, but as a public space for Erie. It’s also nice to see Scott Enterprises refocus its business on the downtown area. Up until now, Scott Enterprises’ biggest “accomplishment” was developing the scathingly ugly big-box empire of upper Peach, which drew people away from downtown.

Regardless, the Scott Enterprises plan is everything the GAF plan was not.

That plan, you may recall, simply filled in the existing GAF site with a hotel, parking garage, and a row of town houses without any visible connection to the rest of the city – no skywalk, no realistic pedestrian access – without integrating into the existing Bayfront, not even reimagining the adjacent Convention Center space. Basically, the plan proposed a parking garage and hotel looking out onto the Convention Center’s parking lot.

Yes, that proposal was designed to allow reclamation of the site to begin, to get state approval for the environmental cleanup process based on the intended use of the site. Convention Center Authority Casey Wells did call that plan “a road map,” not a “blueprint.”

But it hardly inspired confidence. Neither has the Authority’s recent announcement of its own plan for building a “mid-price” hotel next to the Convention Center. That hotel plan was slammed in September by our own Rebecca Styn, who questioned the necessity of the $25-million state grant to build it and disliked the idea of county government getting into the hotel business.

“It makes little sense,” she wrote then, and it makes less sense now, after Scott Enterprises unveiled their proposal. Why waste valuable waterfront property on a discount hotel? Why use taxpayer money to build something private capital is willing to do?

(And don’t get me started on Gov. Tom Corbett’s $25 million grant for the hotel. Wouldn’t that money be better spent on, say, education, which the Governor has consistently slashed during his tenure? Or maybe invest it in the Niagara, which is going to need a refit soon, right?)

Wells denied that the Scott Enterprises plan would interfere with either the GAF development or the new hotel. “We encourage more development,” said Wells in an Erie Times-News interview. “We believe that the additional development can help develop critical mass that is good for everybody.”

Well, maybe. But I’m sitting here scratching my head wondering why we need so many hotels in that area off of State Street. What the hell is everybody going to come to see?

Jay Stevens can be contacted at Jay@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @Snevets_Yaj. 

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