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UPBEAT ON DOWNTOWNS IN DOWNTOWN BUFFALO, MOMENTUM - AND SETBACKS

The word "momentum" is being used more often these days as planners discuss efforts to transform downtown into a thriving people-magnet.

If you ask many business leaders, developers and government officials, the mission is finally picking up speed.

They point to recent coups in the Theater District, including the expansion of Shea's Performing Arts Center, the opening of the Angelika Film Center and the scheduled opening of Empire Brewing Co. in the Market Arcade. Several new restaurants have opened or expanded in recent months.

They cite ambitious expansion projects that are under way at the Adam's Mark and Hyatt Regency hotels, and a decision by Benderson Development Co. to build a $4.5 million Hampton Inn & Suites on Delaware Avenue.

Plans are moving forward to redevelop the downtown waterfront, and officials remain cautiously optimistic that a new $124.5 million convention center will eventually be built on Washington Street in the central business district.

Then there's Chippewa Street, a bustling bar corridor that continues to attract a large after-hours crowd, including many suburban patrons.

And there's the very successful effort of Buffalo Place to bring crowds downtown for Thursday evening concerts.

There are even multimillion-dollar plans to transform the Trico building and the former L.L. Berger complex into apartments. And the city recently finished work on 10 upscale apartments that were built above the Irish Classical Theatre on Main Street. Most experts agree that fostering a diverse residential base is key to creating a critical mass that's needed for a "24-hour downtown."

Alan H. DeLisle is president of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., Mayor Masiello's main development agency. He's convinced that downtown's prospects are improving.

"We've made enormous progress. It's not going to happen overnight, but there's a lot more energy down here than there was several years ago. There is genuine momentum."

But there have also been setbacks. Taylor's Department Store closed earlier this year, ending a brief and unprofitable experiment with upscale retail. The Breckenridge Brew Pub closed last summer, costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in subsidies that it will never recover.

"You're going to have bumps in the road, there's no doubt about it," said DeLisle. "But when you look at all the positive things that are happening downtown, it's easy to be optimistic."

He added that one of the most positive signs involves the recent relocations of several information-technology companies into the downtown core.

Some veterans of downtown development underscore the importance of achieving early successes. John Hickenlooper is a Denver businessman who has been involved in projects in 20 cities. He opened the Pearl Street Brewing Co. at Pearl and Seneca streets two years ago, an establishment that is thriving.

Hickenlooper said luring early risk-takers into downtown districts can be powerful catalysts for growth.

"There's a banker in Denver who is fond of saying that pioneers get the arrows, while the settlers get the land," he said.

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