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Who are you with? For all the tedium of the political campaigning we must endure in the coming weeks at least British developers are spared the question all American counterparts face.

Three years ago, I spent a week in Buffalo, upstate New York, near Niagara Falls on the banks of Lake Erie, with Bashar Issa, the ill-fated Manchester-based developer who had acquired the prominent Statler Towers on the main square in downtown Buffalo opposite City Hall.

Issa had hired me to ghost write his autobiography. His composer was on the trip as well, to score a piece about the Statler. Yes, quite.

We enjoyed one steak dinner after another with local business leaders – the young Iraqi was greeted like a celebrity – and the question of whether Issa was with or against the Mayor would always come up. Issa said he was apolitical, with nobody. Sooner or later he would have to decide, was the blunt verdict of his knowledgeable new friends. Being with no-one was to side against the Mayor. The tax breaks that drive much of American property revolve around the colour of flag you wave, and where your donations go.

Political persuasion was second only in importance to the issue of car parking. Nobody walks. Nobody that is apart from visiting journalists and the poorest workers. Urban sprawl rules, with all its divisive consequences. The city centre, or downtown, was ghostly. Drink driving remains rife. I (stupidly) got a lift home from one late-night bar from an off-duty policeman who was himself well over the limit. He reassured me the only people we could hit would be other drink drivers. That's all right then.

No scheme went ahead without parking sorted first. Half a dozen dominant Buffalo developers controlled parking between them and sometimes teamed up to share the cost and spoils of a new multi-storey in order to get another mall out of the ground.

Issa didn't have car parking at the Statler and hastily set in place plans to dig under the massive building to create new underground decks.

Needless to say, like many of his plans, and the book, the Statler renovation didn't happen. Issa fell into bankruptcy on both sides of the Atlantic and the US courts have ordered the Buffalo building to be auctioned off. No buyer has been found.

Your Comments

you can add to ‘no walking’ that it’s impossible in smaller US cities to get a taxi, the buses are useless, trains go out of town not through or around it and the silly trams they often have going down Main Street are a tourist joke that only a few shoppers and commuters use to get from the grocery store to the bank. public transport doesn’t exist

By Jack
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