A rendering by Trautman Associates of Queen City Landing LLC's proposed 23-story tower on the fomrer Freezer Queen site on Buffalo's Outer Harbor.
A rendering by Trautman Associates of Queen City Landing LLC's proposed 23-story tower on the fomrer Freezer Queen site on Buffalo's Outer Harbor.

The Public Record: Queen City Landing's Fuzzy Numbers

by / Aug. 23, 2016 5pm EST

FUZZY NUMBERS AT QUEEN CITY LANDING: Back in mid-April, when he first sought (and quickly received) Common Council approval for his proposed 23-story Outer Harbor tower on the former Freezer Queen site, developer Gerald Buchheit valued the project at $40 million. In a recent sworn affidavit, Buchheit testified that the cost of the project lay somewhere between $60 million and $85 million.

(He also testified in that affidavit, which is dated August 12, that construction was expected to begin in “summer of 2016.” This seems optimistic, given that September is a week away and the lawsuit to which the affidavit responds intends to prevent the project from moving forward.)

The jump from $40 million to $60 million in just five months seems significant, but might be attributable to changes in the plan’s scope. He may also have raised the price of the project in order to raise the financial cost should the judge—Donna Siwek of the New York State Supreme Court—allow the lawsuit to proceed. In the paragraph after Buchheit offers the most recent cost estimate, he suggests that the US Federal Reserve is considering raising interests rate in the third and fourth quarters of this year, meaning he’s in a hurry to nail down financing now, which he can’t do if this pesky lawsuit is not dismissed. If it’s not, he says, the putative increase in interest rates could cost him $11,000 per month over 30 years, or $3.93 million. That cost would be lower, of course, if the price tag on the project were the $40 million he cited in April.

Whatever the reason for it, the range Buchheit currently avers—$60 million to $85 million—seems awfully broad. One would pause, for example, before buying a a used car if the dealer told you the price was similarly flexible. Which is it? How can a developer enter into a project with such cost uncertainty?

The attorney handling the lawsuit that seeks to stop the project, Wooster vs. Queen City Landing, is noted environmental advocate Art Giacalone, and he has a theory. In his affirmation opposing Queen City Landing’s  motion to dismiss the lawsuit (Buchheit’s affidavit serves that motion), he writes that the broad cost estimate “suggests that [Queen City Landing] is still uncertain what precisely it plans to build. That is hardly surprising.” Giacalone then describes the many times that Buchheit’s expressed plans for the property have changed in just the past year.

Giacalone then argues this: 

The 40 percent (40%) discrepancy between Mr. Buchheit’s low- and high-end estimates may also suggest that the ultimate scope and design of the Queen City Landing project will depend on who ultimately is providing the financial support for the project.  If respondent QCL is unable or unwilling to proceed with the project without the assistance of additional financial partners, then the entire project, its costs, and potential profits, are presently too speculative to be the basis of an undertaking if preliminary relief were to be granted. 

In other words, the court should not dismiss the lawsuit to provide relief to Queen City Landing if Queen City Landing can’t even describe with certainy what project is being damaged by the lawsuit.

PUBLIC HEARING ON SCHOOLS TRANSGENDER POLICY: The Wednesday, August 24 meeting of the Buffalo Board of Education will include a public hearing on the school’s transgender policy, which drew characteristic bile from board member Carl Paladino last week. The meeting takes place at 5:30pm on the seventh floor of City Hall. Call 816-3570 if you want to speak at the meeting.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY CANDIDATE FORUM: On Thursday, August 25, the four candidates for Erie County District Attorney will debate law enforcement philosophies at the Burchfield Penney Arts Center. The forum begins at 7pm and is presented by the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and the SUNY Buffalo State Communications Department.