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Spreading the academic, medical wealth; Partnerships described as key to unleashing economic potential of 'anchor institutions'

Academic and medical institutions can be powerful generators of economic activity, but it takes planning and partnerships to capture the spinoff effects.

That was a view shared by experts on an Urban Land Institute Western New York panel Thursday, about capitalizing on "anchor institutions" such as the University at Buffalo and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

All of the "academic energy" at places such as UB "is not a force of nature," said Robert G. Shibley, dean of UB's School of Architecture and Planning. Partnerships are the key to unlocking the potential of their work, he said.

"If you're waiting for the [UB] medical school to create the economic benefit all by itself, it probably isn't going to happen, because what they're really good at is research and teaching," Shibley said.

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus has become a focal point for research, health care and business in the city. The UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and Women & Children's Hospital are moving to the campus. Millard Fillmore Hospital has shifted its operations from Gates Circle to the site. Other developments are also coming.

The Innovation Center shows how small, maturing companies nurtured on the campus can benefit the region, said Matthew K. Enstice, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. "A win for us is people leaving our building."

The goal is for these companies to move out of the center into larger space in the community as they expand, allowing private developers to play a role, he said.

About 12,000 employees will be working at the 120-acre Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus by the end of this year, Enstice said. By the end of 2016, that total is expected to rise to 17,000.

The campus is handling some of its growth with a $40 million parking ramp with spaces for about 2,000 vehicles. But Enstice said the campus partners want to find ways to make better use of public transportation and encourage people to live at and around the campus, so that more parking decks are not the only solution for an expanding work force.

Lisa Prasad, a principal at U3 Ventures in Philadelphia, said academic centers can have a meaningful economic impact on their surrounding neighborhoods through a combination of planning and commitment.

She cited improvements made around the University at Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia, and revitalization efforts by institutions in the struggling Midtown section of Detroit.

Prasad talked about preventing "economic leakage": ensuring the neighborhood where an institution is located directly benefits from the high-wage jobs on campus. One of the Midtown initiatives in Detroit involves incentives to buy, rent or improve the exterior of homes.

"The greatest economic impact you have as an individual is the community in which you live," Prasad said. "It's where you own your home, buy your car, buy your groceries, where your children go to school."

Similarly, she said, there are efforts in Midtown to connect the institutions with Detroit businesses for purchases.

Smaller universities and colleges can have a positive effect on their home communities, as well, Prasad said. "The difference is the geography they can impact is smaller. But they have the same demand drivers."

The panel discussion was held at the Burchfield Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College.