Erie County has just spent millions revamping the Buffalo Convention Center. Will we really ever have any real conventions unless we fix the structural problems in our central business district?
The World Junior Hockey Championship has shown that people don't mind coming to Buffalo but they want something to do. Many international visitors were surprised when they got here and asked, "Where are the restaurants? Where are the bars? Where are the discos and shopping?" This kind of negative impression spreads furiously on the Internet. Many prospective conventioneers reading these blogs surely will look to alternative options.
We must correct the root problems that are affecting Buffalo's viability as a convention destination. Fixing the convention center is like putting makeup on a corpse -- it does nothing to breathe life back into this city.
Buffalo needs to reinvent its central business district into a shopping mecca and back-office network for the Internet and financial community. Buffalo and Erie County have record reserves, meant as rainy-day funds. Thunderstorms are looming.
I propose that the city and county each contribute $10 million to a downtown development fund matched by the state. The state should suspend all sales tax on parking in Erie County and allow Erie County to impose a 10 percent development fee on all parking including meters, ramps, surface lots and airport parking.
The general public would not feel the effects of this fee, which would produce about $3.5 million yearly for the development fund. The $3.5 million can be collateralized over 10 years and produce $30 million on day one.
The state should also suspend the $5 million cap on historic tax credit, allow bifurcation of the credit and carve out the $2 million cap on the use of state tax credits.
The formation of a $70 million development fund would create $500 million in new development in the central business district.
The state should allow us to form a sales-tax-free zone from Genesee Street to the inter-harbor that would help create a sales-tax free outlet promenade in downtown Buffalo. This would attract millions of Canadian visitors to Buffalo yearly. When conventioneers come to Buffalo, the first thing they want to do is shop. We could offer shopping that could be matched by none.
Our empty office buildings should be marketed to Canadian businesses at reduced prices with special low-cost electric rates. Empire State Development Corp. should pay the first year's rent for any Canadian company relocating to Buffalo. This would produce jobs, increase property values and sales tax receipts.
Buffalo needs to become a bedroom community of Toronto and a shopping mecca for the East Coast. Only after that is done will people be eager to come to Buffalo and want to return.
Rocco Termini is president of Signature Development in Buffalo.