The proposed $1.4 billion plan to transform the Main Street corridor and Buffalo waterfront into a vibrant commercial and residential center articulates a clear vision not usually seen in this area. If done correctly, this could bring a vitality and life downtown that has not been seen since the 1950s.
The Bass Pro center as the cornerstone of harbor district development will bring much-needed tourism and revenue to the downtown area. A well-known corporate brand would give immediate credibility to the project and downtown development and identity. However, this should not be seen as an end-all to our woes.
Local history is full of relying on one business or industry to provide jobs and economic stability. Anyone who remembers Bethlehem Steel knows the disadvantages of putting all of your eggs in one basket. Adelphia Communications planned a major downtown expansion, only to later go bankrupt because of fraud, and now General Motors is on the brink of bankruptcy and cannot be counted on to provide jobs in the near future.
Just as vital to lasting success will be the small businesses that will occupy the surrounding area. It should be a high priority for local and state leaders to woo locally owned small businesses and encourage start-ups to claim a stake in the new Harborfront Market and surrounding area.
Grants, short-term loans and other incentives, while not a viable long-term option, are needed and will give local entrepreneurs the support they need to get up and running. Being a realist, I know that not all businesses will succeed. But as a city, and as a community, we need risk-takers to get to the next level. Failure is part of the process of success.
Locally owned small businesses will also provide a financial windfall to the service industry. While franchises may bring instant name recognition, corporate behemoths such as Starbucks, McDonald's or American Eagle will not give as much back to the local economy as would local retailers.
Large corporations will send all profits back to headquarters, relying on corporate for all administrative and personnel functions. A locally owned and operated business will need services provided by local firms. Advertising agencies, payroll companies, accounting firms, law firms, print shops and many more businesses will be in high demand to provide services to local owners.
The money that is spent by the new businesses on local services will stay local and be reinvested into employee payroll, development, training and possible expansion to meet demand. These are all services that would be farmed out to national firms by a large corporation.
Balancing the downtown business mix will require visionary planning by visionary leaders who won't focus on short-term success at the expense of long-term growth. Too often politicians get too bogged down in bureaucratic infighting and turf wars to see the big picture. Let's come together and get this done. This is too important of a task to fail. Don't let us down; we're counting on you.
Craig S. Clark of Buffalo works for a financial planning firm.