Over the last few days, I’ve been talking to a number of developers about downtown issues, such as the recent parking rate increase debacle that has residents shouting from the rooftops. Most of our conversations have revolved around getting more people to visit downtown Buffalo. My response has been, that we need to get more people living in the urban core, but how do you do that if parking lot owners are not willing to give up their surface lots for development (a subject that was broached in this article). Not only do we need more people living in Downtown Buffalo, we need more condo ownership. Most of the empty nesters who are selling their houses on the outskirts, don’t want to rent, they want to own.
A lot of people say that it’s like the chicken and the egg. There must be amenities downtown before people want to live there, they say. But I am of the belief that, at this stage in the game, we need to get more people living downtown, and more amenities will come. There’s already a lot for people to do (other than grocery shopping). There are movies, theater productions, restaurants, Sabres games, concerts, waterfront attractions, a Metro Rail, historic architecture, and plenty more. So what’s missing? The people. Not the city workers, the people who stay after 5pm, and go out for dinner, and then walk home. I’ve said it before – we need more people living downtown… walking around, jogging, eating, working, visiting cafés… basically doing the everyday things that people do in the neighborhood where they live. As for shopping, everyone is buying from Amazon these days anyways, and the items that they purchase are delivered right to their front doors, which means that no matter where a person lives, the convenience of shopping from home is the future. That means that we don’t have to worry as much about retail, until a prime location with lots of density and foot traffic comes to pass… and that’s still a ways off. The Market Arcade is great, but I’m talking amplifying foot traffic exponentially.
Other than more residential being built Downtown, what are some of the other big opportunities that we might be missing out on? To me, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wonder what the central business district would look like if it was humming with collegiate life. That’s something that downtown could really use. Can you image what this city would be like if University at Buffalo had not exited Buffalo to build on a swamp on the outskirts of town? UB has around 30,000 students. Have you ever been to the heart of Syracuse, where it’s tough to tell where the city ends and the campus begins? There are students everywhere! Students equate to action. They are the trend setters. They are the young blood of a city, and they are the future of a city. Buffalo blew it when UB set up on the swamp. Then UB blew it when they built a $75 million building that houses their School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ Computer Science and Electrical Engineering programs on the swamp campus. Oh, and more recently, Erie Community College blew it when they opted to not build their $30 million Health Sciences Center for Excellence in the heart of the city. The list goes on.
Yes, the Medical Campus is great, but it’s not nearly enough. Remember when developer Mark Croce offered UB to have its Law School in Statler City? You know what that would have down for the core of the city? Just think about all of the missed opportunities to wrangle higher education institutions to stay, relocate, and grow in downtown Buffalo. Take a walk around downtown on any given day, and see if you can find one single student studying in a café. And there are lots of cafés… just no students. Can you imagine if UB’s sports were played in Downtown Buffalo? Football? Basketball? It would be a different city.
On another note, it would be interesting to see how many students spend their time here without ever venturing to the heart of the city. Thriving cities attract top students, and top professors, many who want to be in the thick of the action. You want Buffalo to be bike-friendly and walkable? Then you need young people to lead the way, given the resources of their colleges and universities.
A couple of months back, I was talking about the issue of the lack of higher ed students in Downtown Buffalo to a local architect. His answer? He told me that one solution to the dilemma was to attract another college or university, other than ones that we already have in WNY, to set up shop here. I asked him if he thought that was logical, practical, and/or doable, and he said why not? That got me to thinking… yeah, why not? This past December, I posted on Cornell’s close ties with Buffalo, it’s continued growth here, and its impact on the city. Now, how do you think we could supersize that relationship? What if Cornell actually had a small campus in Downtown Buffalo? And if not Cornell, then maybe another college or university? Heck, maybe if a Request for Proposal (RFP) was sent out throughout the country, or the world, there might be an educational institution looking to set up in a city like Buffalo. Could it hurt?
Earlier today, one of the developers that I have been talking to sent me this article in The New York Times (lead image). After reading that article, I couldn’t help but rethink that there’s something that we’re missing. Maybe we haven’t explored all avenues? All I know is that we need some action in Downtown Buffalo outside of the working populace, and there are smart people out there that probably have the answers, because they’ve studied other cities, and there are tried and true formulas that equate to success (more people!). I wonder if we are pushing the limits when it comes to developing a progressive action plan? Or are we just content that we’re making some incremental progress?