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The game-changer Return of automobiles to Main Street fits nicely with downtown's rebirth

While no one is ready to declare downtown Buffalo reborn, slow but steady progress has been made over the past several years. In the latest bit of good news, work to return cars to the 600 block of Main Street is due to begin in a few months. It's a critical piece of an increasingly potent mix of developments.

"Cars Sharing Main Street" is, as Buffalo Place Executive Director Michael T. Schmand indicated to The News, not a "silver bullet." But he's right about it being a game-changer.

The return of two-way automobile traffic adheres to the nationally recognized Queen City Hub plan, which called for the inclusion of cars and two-way traffic on Main Street.

The multimillion-dollar federally and locally funded effort to return traffic to all of Main from Goodell Street to the Buffalo River has involved a huge effort by the City of Buffalo and its Public Works Department, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the New York State Department of Transportation and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.

Part of the goal is also to return those who left following a decision in the 1980s to bar vehicular traffic from that part of Main Street in favor of an approximate 6-mile Metro Rail and wider sidewalks. The assumption then was that customers would be drawn to downtown shops. It didn't happen. The automobile culture wanted to be able to drive and park cars, trucks and later SUVs. Customers vanished and so did businesses.

Like Citizens for Regional Transit, a public transportation advocacy group, we also bemoan the loss of the Theater Station that the plans dictate, but there is never going to be an all-encompassing solution that is satisfying to all parties.

The start of the critical mass is manifesting itself through investment in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the governor's $1 billion pledge to the city and the hard work by developers in repurposing old, historic buildings.

Rocco Termini's Hotel Lafayette is set for a grand opening on May 29. Some of his earlier downtown work includes the IS Lofts, Ellicott Lofts, Ellicott Commons and Oak Street Apartments. There is also his continued work converting the former AM&A's warehouse buildings into apartments and office space.

Included in the new downtown housing mix is the revival of Buffalo's Corn Exchange Building by developers Kent Frey and Anthony J. Baynes. The building is now called 100 South and has been converted into upscale loft apartments within sight of City Hall. And Uniland Development Co. has redeveloped the Dulski Federal Building into the upscale hotel-condominium Avant.

There is First Amherst Development Group LLC's Lofts at Elk Terminal and Granite Works developments. And developer Mark Croce's continued good deeds in bringing back the long-neglected Statler Towers.

The list is non-inconclusive and, with apologies to those missed, the point is clear. Downtown revitalization is happening, even if in spurts. Harmonizing those efforts must include returning cars to Main Street in order to catalyze business and offer a place for those returning to patronize.