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PROMISE OF BRIGHT FUTURE LIES IN MEDICAL CAMPUS

This is the time to inspect those stately side streets in Buffalo's Allentown neighborhood. The ancient trees that brood over Irving Place and Park Street are still green and full of promise.

Summer is the best season and midnight is the hour to survey those dark Italianate houses with their tall narrow windows, enormous eaves, and sheer brick walls that vault into the darkness like prows of ships.

The quarter has an elegant toughness and durability, and there is nothing quite like it left anywhere in America.

In the silence, a century and a half melts away and one is transported back into an era just before the city's giddy gilded age. Men, and some women, got rich quick from hydropower, the transshipment business and building cheap wooden housing for mill workers east of Main Street.

Later these fortunes would be plowed into iron and steel and chemicals, and Buffalo became the nation's fastest-growing, most optimistic town. Most of the plants are gone now and people think about what used to be.

Before these factories were shuttered, the folks who ran them left large parts of their fortunes in trust to charity. The names of many of these families, like Hamlin, Cary and Gratwick, are chiseled into granite walls but are otherwise forgotten.

Old and new donations must now compensate for the loss of geographical advantages that Buffalo once enjoyed. Private wealth gave birth to the economic dynamo that is now the University at Buffalo, the big hospitals that form the Kaleida Health System network and two jewels, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Campus.

Several hundred yards to the southeast of enduring Allentown, the men and women who help run these institutions are creating something wonderful-The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

I met with some of the principals of this effort after they held a session in Washington last Thursday morning with those who represent the Buffalo Niagara region: Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Reps. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, Jack F. Quinn, R-Hamburg, and Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence.

Close to where the UB medical school set up shop 156 years ago, the medical campus is putting a big foot down in the biotech century with new wonder drugs and cancer research using genome maps, bioinformatics and things I can barely spell and don't understand.

Closer to the ground are the campus' economic plans -- $600 million in annual spending, more than $300 million in new private-sector spinoff and 8,000 employees, 200 of them with doctorates.

Led by David C. Hohn, head of Roswell Park, Bruce A. Holm, UB senior vice provost, and Jane F. Griffin, a research director at Hauptman-Woodward, they outlined their benchmarks for federal aid.

While corporate and foundation money provides the critical leverage for the campus, and state operating money the bulk of funding, federal aid is the final piece. The group said the congressional delegation has come through for them -- with tens of millions mainly for bioinformatics. There's a difference between the medical campus and other redevelopment schemes floated in the last few decades. This one is already working. Great science is being done by the member institutions.

The intellectual leadership is in place. UB is studying plans to return some of its programs to the city, including downtown. Derelict precincts along the campus borders are being reborn.

Matt Enstice, executive director of the medical campus, handed me map of the 2003 master plan as we parted. "This one's already outdated," he said with a wink.

e-mail:dturner@buffnews.com

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