In 2012, faced with more than 2 million square feet of vacant and underutilized commercial space, downtown Buffalo was at a crossroads.
Real estate values were treading water and there was a growing residential population that had yet to reach the critical mass of a neighborhood, presenting an opportunity for reinvention.
At the request of Mayor Byron Brown, the Partnership led a broad collaboration between public and private sectors to plan for the revitalization of our urban core: the Buffalo Building Reuse Project (BBRP.)
Fast forward to 2014: significant progress has been made in downtown Buffalo.
The Partnership and the City, with the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC) as the primary coordinating agency, have led a comprehensive implementation program with the goal of re-purposing vacant and underutilized commercial space to stimulate a stronger real estate market.
Downtown Coordinator: In 2013, BUDC created its first staff position wholly dedicated to downtown. The downtown coordinator serves as a resource for all things downtown including development assistance, infrastructure planning and collaboration among stakeholders.
Special Issues: In December of 2013, the Partnership hosted a developers forum with Mayor Brown focused on obstacles facing downtown residential development.
The forum resulted in the establishment of three special issue committees which have been active for six months: problem properties/code enforcement, real estate assessments and retail strategies.
Infrastructure Funding: More than $6 million has been dedicated to improving the streets of downtown Buffalo, with the priority of leveraging private development projects.
Downtown Gap Financing Fund: The City of Buffalo has dedicated more than $5 million in public funding to the Buffalo Building Reuse Project Revolving Loan Fund which provides low interest gap financing loans to private development projects.
As presently capitalized, funds are short term repayments. As funding increases, it is envisioned to also provide long term debt and grants for pre-development assistance such as asbestos remediation.
Public Realm Master Plan: With funding provided by National Grid and National Fuel, a Downtown Public Realm Master Plan will set the course for public improvements that will help transform the downtown area into a more livable place.
We have hired international planning and urban design consultants led by Urban Strategies to complete the project.
Core recommendations will include:
- prioritizing micro-neighborhoods within downtown that have exceptional potential as mixed use and residential districts
- project selection criteria to guide which projects to complete first
- design guidelines to establish a design vocabulary for streetscapes and public spaces
The project is 50% complete and will be re-engaging stakeholders in August.—
What’s to come moving forward?
The framework is set for downtown’s revitalization and we have already witnessed success.
The development of the waterfront and the Buffalo Niagara medical campus showcase the tremendous growth the region is already experiencing.
The next step is to continue that growth in the core of the city to accelerate downtown’s rebirth and re-shape its identity as the economic engine of the region.
As industry leaders, it is critical that the private sector community takes charge of shaping the “New Buffalo.” We need to continue this leadership to bring about real change.
To revitalize the urban core, our business community must be involved in our investments in public and private projects, collaborate with peers and political leaders and commit resources for the betterment of the city.
It has been working thus far, let’s ramp it up!