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Building Elmwood Village ?into a regional destination

Carly Battin has a personal stake in seeing the Elmwood Avenue area thrive: she's a neighborhood resident, and was recently named executive director of the Elmwood Village Association. Battin, 28, brought with her a background in marketing and promotions from previous jobs with the Basil Automotive Group and The Buffalo News. The Elmwood Village Association has 300 business and residential members, and the district itself has been in the news lately.

Q: Panera Bread has made news for its plan to replace Blockbuster Video at 765 Elmwood Ave. (at Cleveland Avenue). How do you see that change affecting the district?

A: I guess I would say we're always for positive development on the street. We as an organization have done our best to support local business, but we're also concerned with continuing to have a very vibrant neighborhood here.

Q: Across the street, at 766 Elmwood Ave., there is a plan for a mixed-use development with housing and retail. What impact will that project have?

A: A great goal of city planning is always ?density. We see that as being a very positive aspect of what's going on there. 766 has been an undeveloped lot for many years. Benchmark has been gracious for those years in allowing it to be used for parking, and so obviously that's a concern for us going forward, the loss of those 40 or so spaces that are in that area right now. … In general, we see it as being a positive development but we are working very closely with the city to come up with solutions to the parking problem that may arise from there.

Q: Women & Children's Hospital will eventually move to the medical campus. Do you have concerns about the effect of its departure on Elmwood?

A: We do. Obviously Women & Children's Hospital occupies a huge space within our district, and then the ancillary effects of that on housing and the businesses in that area. It is something we're very much concerned about, and we're trying to be proactive about it.

Q: Elmwood Village is moving toward being designated a Historic District at both the state and the national level. What would this mean?

A: There are two different aspects. One is for the residential portion of it, and [the other] for the commercial properties. What we see happening for our residential properties is, they can take advantage of a 20 percent state tax credit before doing improvements on their properties that align with the historic preservation standards. For businesses on the street, they actually have the possibility of taking a 40 percent tax credit — 20 from the state [government], and 20 from federal — for doing the same sort of improvements. So we see it as really being a boon for people who are interested in doing those improvements to their houses, but also not having the potential negative effect of a local [historic preservation] designation, which would be a lot more stringent. … It's very much by choice.

Q: What's the overall health of Elmwood retailers, in terms of vacancy rates or occupancy?

A: They're very healthy overall. We have an economic development committee that deals with issues of developing those businesses and helping support them. Our vacancy rate is really very low, and pretty in line with national standards. Right now I believe it's about 3 to 5 percent. … We really don't have a vacancy problem, but there are some areas on the street where there are more vacant properties than we'd like to see. So our role with the economic development committee is to try and be proactive with those and try to attract businesses to invest in Elmwood Avenue.

Q: What makes Elmwood different from other retail districts?

A: I think the combination of a great commercial strip with diverse retailers and restaurants and salons in it, in addition to the great neighborhoods that surround it. I think really that's what makes it really as vibrant as it is.

Q: What are the top concerns you hear from Elmwood retailers?

A: A big one that comes up generally is the ease of doing business here. So we really try to work with our retailers to make it as simple as possible to invest in a business here and start one and also to continue to be successful. We do that in a couple of ways. We do merchant meetings where we'll have some programming to help businesses not only deal with the issues that may arise in the area, but also just general things that will help to strengthen their business. And we also do marketing. So one of our big goals right now is to help attract more consumers to the area. And I think we've always done a good job with that, but I think knowing how much business is coming down here from the Canadian market is something we have the potential to take advantage of, and our job is to help drive traffic to those businesses. … We've really become at this point a regional destination, which I think is great to see.

Q: As the new executive director, are there some new programs or ideas you want to implement?

A: We kind of have an opportunity for reinvention here, in a couple of ways. Not only my background being different from the people who had served before me — a lot of people came from an urban planning background, and I come from a business and marketing background. … Going back to the beginnings of the Elmwood Village Association, one of our biggest concerns and one of our biggest victories was the Elmwood Village design standards, which this group helped bring to fruition a number of years ago, and which has since been made city code. Those design standards will be made part of the city's new ‘green code,' so we will still have a lot of involvement in design issues. But we do have an opportunity now to sort of look at the big picture and see where we want to go next.

Q: Your group has about 300 members. Do they take a strong interest in the association's work?

A: They do. One of the challenges that we have is weighing the concerns of the residents, which sometimes are not exactly the same concerns as the businesses'. And their goals sometimes aren't quite in alignment. So because we serve both the residential members and the business members and the community as a whole, we sometimes have to work to balance those two things.