From now on, the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center is going to do something with its Court Street Plaza that it hasn't done before -- use it.
The parcel at the corner of Court and Pearl streets was virtually dead, said Newell Nussbaumer, editor of buffalorising.com, so he wrote a Web post in June 2010 challenging the Convention Center to make the plaza more vibrant and inviting to the public.
A year later, the Convention Center has met the challenge, at a cost of about $7,000.
"[The plaza is] just not a practical entrance," said Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, Visit Buffalo Niagara's president and CEO. "It's more of a place where people leave [the Convention Center]."
So Tuesday afternoon, Visit Buffalo Niagara and Convention Center officials unveiled the new and improved area, fitted with picnic tables, landscaping, a repaired staircase and an ice cream vendor. Bicycle racks are on the way.
The purpose of the area is not necessarily to provide an entrance or exit for the building, but to provide a place where the public can gather and enjoy themselves, said Paul Murphy, the center's facility director.
Convention Center and tourism officials also point to the benefits such a plaza will have when large-scale events, such as the New York State Bar Exam, come to the facility. The event attracts about 3,000 people to Buffalo each year.
The ice cream vendor will be an occasional attraction in the plaza, Gallagher-Cohen said. Other outdoor vendors can apply to conduct business there.
"You could see the reaction this morning alone from people coming up and saying, 'What's going on here? Can I buy an ice cream cone? Can I sit down with my friends?' " Murphy said. "We think that alone is very positive."
Nussbaumer was just surprised his voice was heard so clearly. His original suggestion to the city was to focus on providing bike racks in the area around the Convention Center.
"The more I looked at it, I thought, there's so much potential for more than bike racks here. There's a potential for really turning this into a community plaza," Nussbaumer said.
About 50 people were present at Tuesday's celebration, including some who were just passing by.
Buffalo resident Weldon Hester stopped by the Convention Center to observe its makeover -- and to try out some complimentary ice cream being offered during the event.
"It's a good idea for the city," he said.
Nussbaumer said the project is similar to what other cities across the country are attempting to accomplish.
The picnic tables -- constructed by area Boy Scouts as a preview of their Legacy 11 program also include umbrellas and stands donated by Coca-Cola. New signs, flags and garbage receptacles are on display as well.
But it's the people who are drawn to the area who will truly prove to be the most encouraging sign for Buffalo, Gallagher-Cohen said.
"Creating walking, sustainable neighborhoods is really a key to our future, to really honor our past and respect the future," she said.