Buffalo Place expansion deserves another look
Almost like clockwork, the notion is raised by someone, somewhere that Buffalo Place Inc. should expand its boundaries to cover a larger geographic territory.
For nearly two decades, the idea has been broached at least once a year. And this year was no different.
While directors were reviewing the $3.9 million operating budget for 2013, several directors - each of whom has significant holdings in downtown real estate - wondered this: Is it time for Buffalo Place boundaries to expand west from Main Street toward Delaware Avenue and east to include the Cobblestone District and Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino? Waterfront Village is also being eyed.
Such an expansion would include many high-profile buildings and developments. It would raise extra funds, to be sure, but it could overburden a stretched-thin Buffalo Place staff.
For now, workers said they are willing to hold a brainstorming session with the directors and other interested parties to at least consider the proposal. No date has been set for the special meeting. Where it goes from there remains to be seen.
The call for expanding the district comes from the ripple effect the organization has on all of downtown, not just within traditional boundaries. The argument is that marketing, maintenance and promotional work done by Buffalo Place can be felt just as much on Delaware Avenue or in the Cobblestone District as along Main Street.
"Our mandate is important, but it goes beyond the district," said Paul Snyder III, a Buffalo Place director. "It helps all of downtown Buffalo."
The discussion comes against the backdrop of Buffalo Place raising its special district tax levy 3 percent in the 2013 operating budget. The new levy - the first since 2006 and only the second time it has been raised since 1993 - comes as the result of rising operating costs.
Buffalo Place's total budget is just shy of $4 million.
"If we don't expand the district, all we are doing is taxing ourselves at a higher rate," Snyder said. "A lot of people will say 'thank you' for solving our problem."
The special district charge is based on a formula that considers a building's use, square footage and occupancy. It provides a significant portion of Buffalo Place revenue - roughly $2.5 million. The increase will add sightly more than $30,000 to the organization's bottom line.
In coming years, that bottom line will be aided by the opening of Benderson Development's One Canalside Building and the Buffalo Sabres' HarborCenter project.
When Buffalo Place and its special taxing district were formed in the 1980s, the focus was clearly the Main Street spine of downtown Buffalo. The Metro Rail construction had turned downtown into a barren, non-user-friendly area, despite its best intentions.
"The (financial) risk of sharing all the good things that has happened has to be spread among others," said Carl Paladino, another Buffalo Place director.
But downtown Buffalo of 2012 is decidedly different than downtown circa 1985. Chippewa Street was a red-light district in 1985, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus was not in the local lexicon nor was Canalside. First Niagara Center and Coca-Cola Field were on blueprints and just wishful thinking. Upscale apartments and condos were years away from development.
Buffalo Place over the years has done a masterful job in breaking the gritty Metro Rail construction era perception.
Thursday at the Square concerts, now called Thursday at the Harbor and Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor, helped break that image. They played a major role in making downtown cool.
So has the twice-weekly country market and skating at Rotary Rink.
Buffalo Place has served as a backdrop for Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills rallies. It was the driving force, no pun intended, for the Cars Sharing Main Street initiative.
The organization's efforts helped lay the foundation for more than 1,500 residential units that have been developed since the late 1990s and are now occupied. That downtown Buffalo is considered chic is due in large part to efforts championed by Buffalo Place.
"This is exactly the time for that (expansion) dialogue," Snyder said. "Talk of expanding the district is not new, but it has never had the traction behind it as it does now."
Does that mean an expansion is in the immediate offing? The short answer rests somewhere between "maybe" and "not likely." Again, this is not a new discussion. It is seasonal and cyclical in its own right.
"There are number of parallel issues we should be discussing," said Paul Ciminelli, a Buffalo Place director. "Do we expand the district? Do we raise our special district fees? We have to look at all of downtown and not just our existing district."