Wealth of downtown development generates new sense of optimism - The Buffalo News

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Wealth of downtown development generates new sense of optimism

Lately it seems as though good news about Buffalo’s present begets more good news.

Take the Tishman Building in downtown Buffalo. The former National Fuel headquarters on Lafayette Square has undergone an amazing change behind its glass facade, which is unchanged to comply with historic preservation requirements.

Its new owner, the Hamister Group, has already moved into the top three floors of the 20-story tower after a top-to-bottom makeover. On the next three floors, residents have moved into 18 luxury apartments, a mixture of one- and two-bedroom units with spectacular views of downtown.

Much of the 140,000-square-foot building will be a new Hilton Garden Inn, with 124 rooms, a restaurant, meeting rooms and a pool on the remaining floors. Work by contractor R&P Oak Hill is continuing on that portion of the project, with the hotel scheduled to open by Oct. 10.

There are other successes in repurposing older buildings in downtown. News business reporter Jonathan D. Epstein has written about them recently, including Rocco R. Termini’s renovation of the Lafayette Hotel into the Hotel @ The Lafayette and Benderson Development Co.’s Courtyard by Marriott at One Canalside, not to mention the Buffalo Sabres’ HarborCenter project going up next to First Niagara Center.

Other new apartments will be coming on line, including 22 in the old E.M. Hager & Sons Planing Mill at 141 Elm St. – the onetime home of the Spaghetti Warehouse – being redone by TM Montante.

We are seeing a parade of developers – small, medium and large – stepping into the spotlight to reclaim old buildings, turning them into something fresh to meet the increasing demands of those living and working downtown.

Another kind of momentum is building on the outer harbor, where the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. is fast-tracking planning for that key piece of property. Travel between downtown and the outer harbor is about to take a huge step forward with the reconstruction of Ohio Street. Work on the $11.3 million project is ahead of schedule and should be operational by the end of the year.

A 1.4-mile stretch of Ohio Street is being transformed from a dreary industrial street designed for truck traffic into a two-lane parkway with bicycle and pedestrian paths and improved lighting and landscaping.

With prodding from Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, the inner and outer harbors are changing in remarkable ways. Where scant traffic once traveled Fuhrmann Boulevard because people had no idea how to access it, increasing numbers of people are drawn to the new Wilkeson Pointe park next to Times Beach and other attractions on the outer harbor. Those visitors will finally have a pleasant way to get there.

In another vein, a welcome development is a new service at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, which for too many years has been international in name only. Sunwing Airlines, a Toronto-based airline, will begin flying out of the airport directly to Mexico and the Dominican Republic early next year.

These are believed to be the first direct international flights offered from Buffalo since Transat Holidays, another Canadian airline, provided weekly trips to the Dominican Republic in the early 2000s. The flights should boost the local economy by adding to the nearly 2 million Canadians who passed through the airport in 2013 seeking better service and lower fares than they can find in Canada.

The effort to revitalize the city needs a plan, and Mayor Byron W. Brown’s administration has done a good job delivering new zoning and land use strategies contained in the city’s proposed Green Code. That planning complements the Queen City Hub and other guidelines for development. Actions aligned with this work include returning cars to Main Street and new infrastructure delivered by the Buffalo Building Re-Use Program.

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, RiverBend, IBM, repurposing of old buildings, waterfront development and more business at the airport. It is stunning to think about the progress made in just the past few years. Better still, that progress is generating new hope for what we will see in the next few years.

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