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While it's only a beginning, the Masiello administration's Downtown Strategic Plan offers a unified concept for urban-core revitalization that, until now, has been a piecemeal collection of projects and proposals.

Mayor Masiello's concept of an all-day and all-year city center that can be "a place where you work, where you play, where you live" sets the right standard. This draft plan offers both a much-needed strategic vision and an implementation timetable that can measure performance in reaching redevelopment goals.

This city has seen more than its share of plans, too many of which failed to deliver on exaggerated promises. While there is no guarantee that this effort will be any more successful, there is reason for cautious enthusiasm.

For one thing, the goals seem realistic. While the plan incorporates the big-ticket convention center project and allows room for possible casino development, it rightly places even more emphasis on the need to encourage residential development in order to bring both people and new vitality downtown.

The residential emphasis, too, rightly "thinks small" in seeking modest rehabilitation projects that can convert existing buildings or parts of buildings into small clutches of rental units, blocks of 35 to 40 apartments or condominiums. Such "residential infill" development has proven effective elsewhere, and emphasizes private development over public subsidies.

Residents and downtown "stakeholders" will get the chance to bring this vision into community focus during a review process. But by January, the city hopes to have the first few priority projects defined. Project action teams would track progress and report back to a council of government, agency, private and not-for-profit organization representatives. Quarterly public progress meetings also are planned.

Development of the draft plan already has drawn on a partnership involving the city, Buffalo Place and the University at Buffalo Urban Design Project. Both the open review process and the performance-based management approach seem right.

Combined with ongoing efforts to redesign downtown traffic flow and assess parking needs, and coupled with much-needed action to streamline and simplify the city's building-permit process, this plan offers a good framework for discussion about the future of the city's core. It's just a start -- but a promising one.

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