Being a Buffalo nut who optimistically (and realistically) views the future of Downtown as a huge success story, I took the liberty to go on-and-on about all of the new projects underway, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment that are making a strong foothold in Downtown. I expected to be met with the same disgusting self-inflicted pessimism that I tend to run into when detailing Buffalo’s under-appreciated (and unsung) successes, but I encountered a refreshing point of view on this sunny scorcher from my brother’s girlfriend – a 21 year old college grad visiting Buffalo for her first time. “I think it could be really cool down here,” she said as we sat on a bench in Lafayette Square, “but you can tell it’s not meeting its full potential.”
If you’ve been Downtown recently, you’ll recognize things are happening. Both large and small projects are taking shape on the heels of organizations and developers who understand the regional value of Downtown, and the tremendous assets it boasts. Decades of sprawl and disinvestment in urban areas has left many cities to deal with a lot of the same issues we are facing (we’ll leave that issue for a separate blog), but the cities who are doing the best (economically and otherwise), are those who understand the lynchpin role their downtowns play in the future and success of their region.
I could go on and on about how and why downtown is so critical to our region – the world class architecture and long entrenched spirit of innovation, its history and current presence as the regional hub of commerce and business, its role as the cultural and entertainment center – but I think everyone reading this innately understands and agrees. After all, Downtown is the gateway to our region and our face to the world. Most importantly, Downtown offers some of the most compelling opportunities to drive our region’s economy forward.
The Tishman building on Lafayette Sq. - plans are currently in the works to convert this office building into a mixed use development, similar in concept to Uniland's highly acclaimed Avant building on Delaware Ave.
The Hotel Lafayette on Lafayette Sq. - Rocco Termini's Signature Development is in the process of converting this historic hotel into a mixed of residential and a "one-stop-shop" wedding boutique.
There is plenty of literature and demographic trend analysis out there that chart the fundamental shift in lifestyle preferences that is beginning to take hold in our nation’s cities and shows no sign of stopping. The approximately 80 million people that fall within my generation (I’m 24), overwhelmingly prefer to live in vibrant, walkable urban centers. According to a recent Brooking’s study, over 88% of college graduates would prefer to live in a vibrant, walkable urban environment. Additionally, a recently released CEOs for Cities Report, reported that over 63% of college grads choose the city they want to live in before they begin searching for jobs. I can attest to this as I have seen friend after friend go city hunting before job hunting.
The other large demographic constituent is the baby boomer generation (approx 70 million nationwide), whose kids have moved out and therefore no longer need their big sprawling suburban castle, and instead are downsizing for walkable and highly serviceable urban environments. I can vouch for my parents when I say that this lure is circling in their heads (they currently live in the suburbs).
While our region is beginning to understand the economic benefits of reinvestment strategies in our tradition urban areas (take the Village of Hamburg as an excellent example), there are still principle impediments that face these communities, and most of all Downtown. One of, if not the most, fundamental barrier to the influx of private investment in downtown, is the building stock. Years of disinvestment and neglect have left numerous old and impressive buildings in a state of under-utilization or vacancy. As a result, the process of rehabilitating and reusing some of these magnificent structures puts developers in the red as the money needed to upgrade older building systems, remediate environmental issues such as asbestos, and dance around modern building codes adds substantial costs to their proformas that cannot be recouped with market rents (or at least just yet). As a result, these buildings are in limbo – too unfeasible to privately tackle either through demolition and new construction or through adaptive reuse and rehabilitation.
Acknowledging this issue, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, at the behest of Mayor Byron Brown, has undertaken the Buffalo Building Reuse Project, in order to identify strategies on how to better match our current building supply, with demand – creating a more vibrant regional center. With the assistance, knowledge, and vision of over 40 subject matter experts, we have been working to develop effective solutions, while building off of the International Award Winning Queen City Hub: A Regional Action Plan for Downtown Buffalo, the City’s comprehensive planning document for Downtown.
The project kicked off in March and final recommendations and strategies will be together sometime late fall. Check back next week to get a more comprehensive understanding of where we are in the process, and get a glipse of the strategies we are pursuing.
In the mean time, to prime the pump, check out some of these related articles: