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Downtown Market Rate

By Torontonian Lorne Opler:
Can we say the stars may finally be lining up for Main Street? I’m hoping so. Because a trio of good news stories emerging in the last couple of weeks gives me hope that things are looking up for Buffalo’s downtown.     
From all indications, the Governor is still planning to sign a bill that substantially increases the tax breaks offered to developers who invest in rehabbing neglected but significantly historical commercial buildings. Indeed, Rocco Termini has even stated that as soon as the bill becomes law, he’s ready and raring to move construction crews into the AM&A’s building and begin an ambitious renovation of the sprawling complex.    
Next we learned that as early as this fall, work will begin on the long awaited plan to bring vehicular traffic back to the 600 block of Main Street.  And on the heels of this announcement we read this week that the wheels are already turning to convert the shuttered Ya Ya Brewhouse into a new high end restaurant with a 1,000 bottle wine cellar and a unique dry aging facility for meats. Indeed, the imminent return of cars to Main Street must have been one of the deciding factors for Jay Haynes, the owner and visionary behind Perfetto restaurant, to move forward with his plans.  Bravo for Mr. Haynes.  And all this happening only two months after the resplendently restored Hotel Lafayette opened its doors to business… and to continuing rave reviews. 
Imagine living in the Lafayette or in one of the AM&A’s Warehouse lofts, and being able to walk just a few blocks north for dinner in what I hope will soon become one of downtown Buffalo’s most popular eateries.   And then cross the street for a theatre performance at Shea’s, and still be home at a decent hour.  That’s the vision I have for a future downtown Buffalo, and the vision I know many of my fellow Buffalo Rising readers and contributors share with me. 
But there is one piece of this picture that’s still missing.  No doubt, living only blocks away from live theatre and great food is one of many incentives to move downtown.  But what about the day to day amenities needed to sustain urban life?   With so much development happening in Buffalo’s core, I believe it is only a matter of time before we see a full service grocery store serving all the new residents who call downtown their home.
Yes, I understand that there needs to be a critical mass of potential customers needed for any supermarket to contemplate setting up business.  So my questions are… what is that critical mass?  And what will convince a market that the time is right to set up shop?  Could the AM&A’s project be that tipping point?   Once completed, it will add new retail, hotel, office and apartment life to Main Street. And with 5,000 new employees expected to be added in the next few years to the emerging Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, could this too not bolster the need for a full scale downtown market?  
The trend is inevitable.  More and more people are willing to work and live in the city’s hub. It’s equally inevitable that as this trend continues, a market will need to be built to meet the demand.   
As I see it, the question no longer is if… but when.
Photo: Hotel Lafayette

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