Making room for the eventual arrival of Bass Pro presents the city with a new opportunity to help change the landscape of downtown.
Currently, the 43-year-old Donovan State Office Building stands where developers are planning to build a parking garage and transportation center to serve the huge retail project going into Memorial Auditorium.
The state Office of General Services has said the state wants to keep its state offices in the downtown core, though it has no plans to re-create a state office building. While downtown Buffalo already has plenty of empty office space to accommodate the 430 employees from the Donovan Building, those workers would make little impact in restoring downtown.
But the state's plan to abandon the idea of putting up a new office building is short-sighted. Instead of the state spending money to divide up its offices among multiple buildings across the central business district, Buffalo would be better served if the state would pool its money to rehabilitate or create a new, top-flight office building downtown that could grace a city yearning for more modern and architecturally significant landmarks.
To attract outside businesses -- and suburban residents who may be thinking of moving back into the city -- Buffalo needs lots of help in shaking its image as a dying city. That can't be done without visible signs of positive change and growth. By putting up a striking new building, and adding 400 workers to help build the critical mass needed to revitalize downtown, the state is in a unique position to continue the momentum that downtown has just begun to enjoy.
The popularity of the new Niagara Center building on South Elmwood Avenue and the Larkin at Exchange building on the fringes of downtown shows that there's demand for new and attractive city office buildings that meet modern business needs. While the city's overall vacancy rate for office real estate may be high, a major contributing factor is the existence of older and outdated space that many larger tenants simply won't consider.
To keep existing employees downtown and attract new ones, the city must be able and willing to continue developing prime office space that contributes to the city's image and vibrancy. The greater the concentration of smart and attractive development in the heart of the city, the greater our ability to strengthen not only downtown, but the future of the entire region.
At this point in time, only the state can make that happen.