Time to Fight Buffalo’s Institutionalized Hopelessness

I first have to acknowledge Bill Tooke who tweeted the phrase “institutionalized hopelessness” as a characterization of Donn Esmonde’s column criticizing the need for a new Bills stadium.

It’s fine for Esmonde to question the need for a new stadium along with urging decision makers to consider all stadium options. In fact, it’s responsible civic commentary. My problem was his overwhelmingly negative tone that came off as cherry-picked to fit a negative column. It’s this institutionalized hopelessness that seems to be pervasive in our community’s narrative. It’s almost as if some people just don’t think we deserve nice things.

"Buffalo isn't some pathetic, poor place scrounging to remain competitive."
“Buffalo isn’t some pathetic, poor place scrounging to remain competitive.”

Buffalo is often either characterized by unbridled optimism or cherry-picked pessimism. But the reality likely falls somewhere in between. Buffalo isn’t some pathetic, poor place scrounging to remain competitive as Esmonde seems to suggest. Do challenges remain? Of course. But recent facts suggest our place as both an evolving community and an NFL market are on the rise.

Let’s consider some of the positive facts. While it’s accurate for Esmonde to write that Erie County lost population over the last decade, it’s also relevant that it added population last year for the first time in decades.

Buffalo has dropped from the 2nd to 4th poorest city in that nation. I know some of you might laugh at that as an accomplishment, but it’s worth pointing out because change in combating poverty doesn’t happen overnight. A city’s improvement happens is measured gradual steps.

A zip code within the city, 14222, has rocketed up the list as the 2nd most expensive real estate sub-market in Western New York and will likely overtake East Amherst for the top spot next year. Imagine that, a zip code in the city.

As for our poor NFL market scrounging to compete, it simply isn’t true. According to Forbes, the Bills generate more revenue than 10 other NFL markets. Despite missing the playoffs for 14 years and playing in a pre-renovated stadium, the Bills made more money than markets like Arizona, Detroit, Atlanta and even San Francisco, who was a batted down pass away from the Super Bowl. Call me a homer, but imagine the excitement and revenue generated if the Bills were on the verge of a Super Bowl berth.

To constantly point to Western New York’s lack of Fortune 500 companies and a perceived struggle to sell suites is just an easy way to tell an incomplete story. Given their revenue position, the Bills in Buffalo do very well in other business aspects, despite their well documented on-field struggles. Oh, and by the way, regionalization is working and has been a big part of that. The Buffalo Bills market has grown to be much larger over the past two decades. Am I crazy to think that if the Bills were consistently a playoff team they could be in the top half of revenue generating teams? I don’t think so.

Highlighting the negative without acknowledging the positive facts is just a tired reflection of that institutionalized hopelessness. Thanks again, Bill. Maybe I don’t share the need to paint an overly negative picture because I wasn’t around to witness the employment catastrophe that was the Bethlehem Steel closing, among other large corporate exits. That was a tough time for the region, but there’s another generation that simply doesn’t carry those wounds any longer.

The Western New York area, including Rochester and Niagara, has plenty of room to improve. But we’re headed in the right direction. We’ll face more challenges, but we’ll also experience more success on our way to rebirth. It isn’t black and white. It isn’t all positive. But it’s far from being negative.

And as this is a rebuttal of sorts, I’m going to steal a line from the great Paul Harvey and write “now you know the rest of the story,” or at least a more balanced version of it.

5 Replies to “Time to Fight Buffalo’s Institutionalized Hopelessness”

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  5. It’s good to see a few facts in this conversation. There are so many whiners out there who reinforce this ‘institutionalized hopelessness’ attitude because they are afraid any optimism will be punished by another 6-10 season. I am optimistic about the Bills’ future and hey–at least they didn’t go 4-12 last year