An article in the Buffalo News this morning got me thinking. Briefly, the article is about Robert Wilmers, chief executive officer of M&T Bank Corp. Wilmers spoke to an audience of venture capitalists about revitalizing the upstate economy.
He pointed out that New York City’s economy — until recently — had been doing "a lot better than the economy upstate."
Part of that is due to what he called the "innate attributes" of the city itself, but he also cited the "billions and billions of dollars" spent on projects such as the 42nd Street revival, the South Street Seaport, the Jacob Javits Center and Ground Zero.
By contrast, "in upstate, including Western New York, we have not seen any large projects."
Indeed, Wilmers said he was told by former downstate Empire State Development chairman Patrick Foye that up to 70 percent of the agency’s money was spent upstate, but "I was having trouble finding that."
So this got me thinking. Rochester tried for its home-run project some years back. Who here remembers the fast ferry? Connect Rochester to Toronto. Boost tourism. Bring in the money. Yeah... So, that one tanked. Big.
But what about Batavia... what could we do for Batavia that would give it that shot in the arm, get the kids out walking the streets and the old folks dancing in their homes? Money rolling in, fame, glory. We're not on a body of water, so we don't have to worry about a ferry flop. We've already got the "mall" that people love to hate.
Finally, the region should combine tourism and its renowned architecture to draw in visitors. “We’ve been less successful than most communities in upstate New York,” he said dryly. “We have not destroyed as many architectural sites as other parts of the country.”
Batavia has plenty of architecture to show off: glorious old homes, towering brick churches, regal crumbling mansions.
So... We had the chance to ask Pat Weissend what he would want for Batavia. Weissend is the director of the Holland Land Office Museum. He says, why not think even bigger. Something huge, something humungous! At a recent meeting of the Kiwanis Club, Weissend heard a presentation by economic developer Chad Zambito about erecting an enormous technological-industrial park in Alabama. This industrial center would create 10,000 jobs and entirely transform the character of the region, says Weissend.
Well, either that, or establish the state of Genesee. "We could be the 51st state," he says. Just make sure there's enough money left over to triple the size of the museum.