2013 was a landmark year for growth and development throughout Buffalo Niagara. More than $1 billion in new construction is underway, former industrial lands are attracting major new employers, our economy is branching into new sub-sectors like green technology and our urban centers are being revived with new jobs and population. The resurgence of Buffalo Niagara is unmistakable and it is being reflected in our built environment.
Progress within the Partnership’s Regional Development Council reflects the momentum of the region as 2013 marked a year of continued success. Lobbying efforts within New York State were successful as the Council’s top policy agenda item, extension of the State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit program, was approved. Additionally, beginning in 2015, credits will be made refundable which widens the potential pool of development project investors.
Implementation of the Buffalo Building Reuse Project (BBRP) was accelerated in 2013. With partners at the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC), we established the downtown BBRP Revolving Loan Fund; a low interest loan program made available to developments within the BBRP project area. The program’s first loan was awarded to the Planing Mill project, an adaptive reuse of a former industrial complex into residences and office space. Infrastructure upgrades have also been evident throughout the BBRP area. The conversion of the 600 block of Main Street in the Theater District to accommodate auto traffic sharing the LRRT right of way went under construction with an expected completion in spring 2014. Court Street was approved for an $800,000 improvement to be constructed in 2014. Additional funds will be allocated to project in the upcoming year.
Year two of One Region Forward, Buffalo Niagara’s HUD Sustainability Project, was highlighted by a series of education forums and community interaction. As a part of the Partnership’s commitment to engaging the private sector in this landmark initiative, we hosted the Economics of Sustainability Series. Attracting more than 300 attendees, the events informed and advanced the discussion regarding smart growth development.
In January, the 38th floor of the Seneca One Tower was host to 150 folks engaging in a panel discussion regarding sustainable development models that included out of town panelists, John Knott and Steve Leeper along with local developers, Paul Ciminelli and Dennis Penman. In March, we welcomed a panel that included renowned economist, Joe Minicozzi and local municipal officials for a discussion on the economic value and tax returns of dense development.
The end of the year continued that discussion with Chuck Marohn, a professional engineer and author of the Strong Towns Blog, who provided perspective on the long-term impacts of development decision making at the municipal level. These sessions complemented two series of Community Congresses and a total of seven forums in which the public from throughout the Region came together to discuss their visions for the future growth of Buffalo Niagara. This input will help shape the regional plan for future development.
The year was capped with a December 2013 downtown housing forum at the Partnership’s offices, called by Mayor Brown. This forum was an opportunity for the region’s developers to engage director with the Mayor to discuss development opportunities downtown and how the public and private sectors can work together to accelerate the growth of the urban core. Attended by more than 40 members of the development community, the meeting resulted in the formation of a series of working groups comprised of developers and city officials to address specific issues facing downtown development.
Stay tuned for 2014… The upcoming year promises to bring heightened momentum to the great progress seen since last January. Among the Regional Development Council’s top priorities are the extension of the Brownfield Cleanup Program in the 2014/15 State Budget and well as expanding the program to include asbestos and lead paint. One Region Forward will move into implementation planning, defining the tools for achieving the growth vision set forth by the Community Congresses. The first half of the year will see the completion of an Infrastructure and Public Realm Master Plan for downtown Buffalo. The Council will stay on top of other regionally significant issues such as the rollout of the draft Buffalo Green Code, the Buffalo Brownfield Opportunities Areas, the Buffalo Billion and Regional Economic Development Council (REDC).