According to U.S. Census data, the Buffalo Niagara region has been outpacing the nation when it comes to the young professional population, adults ages 25-34, since 2012. But trend data indicates that over the next five years the region will lose almost one percent of its young professional population while the nation grows that same age group by almost four percent.
To maintain Buffalo’s urban renewal, we have to make sure that young professionals want to live in downtown Buffalo.
How can we make that happen?
In an effort to answer that question, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership recently released Downtown Buffalo: Looking Ahead With a Clearer View. Produced with the support and cooperation of the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation, this in-depth report provides a snapshot of the downtown Buffalo housing market and assesses the effectiveness of initiatives designed to revitalize our city.
In particular, the report looks closely at the Buffalo Building Reuse Project (BBRP) and the Erie County Industrial Development Agency’s Adaptive Reuse Program.
In 2011, downtown Buffalo had over 2.4 million square feet of vacant commercial space. That’s almost as much space as the entire Empire State Building in New York City. Now, though, the changing economic landscape of our region has catalyzed significant development on formerly vacant or derelict properties.
BBRP has implemented strategies to convert vacant commercial space into residential housing. This has successfully mitigated negative impacts on the market as downtown develops more competitive commercial space.
The impact of the Adaptive Reuse program can also be seen throughout downtown. More than 1,800 permanent new jobs have been produced and more than four million square feet of vacant derelict properties in the city of Buffalo has been redeveloped and revitalized as a result of Adaptive Reuse.
Downtown Buffalo’s population has increased more than 10% since 2011, due in large part to the effectiveness of these economic development initiatives.
The housing market itself is also growing in a promising direction.
We’ve seen a substantial increase in rental unit production and demand in the last seven years. Vacancy in downtown apartments stands well below the industry standard for a healthy market.
It’s especially noteworthy that while varying incomes have been added to the area, affordable living opportunities have been maintained and diversity has increased. In 2018, more than half of proposed rental units to be developed downtown are considered affordable. And while the demographics of the area have changed, residents at all income levels continue to call downtown Buffalo home.
It’s safe to say we’re on the right track. But we also have a ways to go. The data in the report indicates several potential concerns on the horizon.
Downtown is healthy, but we need to continue to support the market. Major new public projects and economic development anchors should be considered and designed in the context of stimulating a revitalized market.
It’s also important that we proactively align economic development programs with incentive tools. Most all downtown residential development requires a mix of these two strategies to be economically viable in the local market.
Perhaps the most crucial hurdle facing the area is downtown’s lack of a cohesive neighborhood. Investments and tools should be focused around specific geographies that can achieve critical mass and represent an opportunity to complete a neighborhood.
One obstacle to this approach is all the surface parking lots in downtown. In fact there are 29 football fields of parking lots downtown. If we want to see our city continue to flourish, we need to create tools to encourage infill development on these lots.
If you want to read more about the continued development of downtown, download our full housing report here.