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Downtown property owners seek expansion of Buffalo Place district

Buffalo Place is considering a request by major property owners on Delaware Avenue and Chippewa Street to expand the downtown special improvement district west, enabling those areas to benefit from the maintenance, security, entertainment and related services now offered to businesses along Main Street.

The potential expansion, disclosed at the nonprofit group's monthly board meeting Wednesday, would mean the special-charge district would grow to include properties on Chippewa from Pearl Street almost to Elmwood Avenue, and on Delaware from north of Chippewa south to Mohawk Street, officials said.

That would encompass New Era Cap Co. and Uniland Development Co.'s Avant, Delaware Court and 285 Delaware buildings, among others, as well as the restaurants, bars and clubs on Chippewa.

Those property owners would have to pay the special charge imposed on all businesses within the district to fund Buffalo Place's maintenance, marketing and other functions.

Buffalo Place Chairman Keith Belanger said officials have already run some preliminary numbers to calculate revenues and expenses, assuming the Delaware and Chippewa owners would pay the full charge. But he stressed that it's still in the preliminary stages.

“It's something we could do with some contribution toward the rest of the district,” he said, meaning the expansion would increase Buffalo Place's revenues more than its costs.

Belanger said he and Executive Director Michael Schmand had been approached by a contingent from the two streets, representing Uniland, New Era, CityView properties and KeyBank. The team was led by Laura Zaepfel, Uniland vice president of corporate relations, and Elizabeth Vealey, senior vice president and Western New York market manager for KeyBank.

“It's these property owners that are talking about what services they do get and don't get, and saying there's an entity next door that delivers pretty good services,” Belanger said. “A lot of infrastructure went into those streets, but the sidewalks are still a mess.”

Buffalo Place was formed in 1982 on the recommendation of a group of property owners and political leaders to focus on improving the quality of life and economy in downtown Buffalo. The nonprofit organization manages the area extending along Main, Pearl and Washington streets from Goodell Street to the Buffalo River, including the Main Street pedestrian mall and major properties such as One HSBC Center, Main Place Mall, the Hyatt Regency Buffalo, M&T Plaza, KeyCenter, Ellicott Square Building, Rand Building, Main-Seneca Building and the Brisbane Building.

The organization markets the downtown area as well as special activities and events, and it runs programming such as the summer concert series at Canalside, the Downtown Country Market, the Christmas tree lighting and the Rotary Rink at Fountain Plaza. It maintains the sidewalks and streetscapes in the district, including removing snow in the winter, planting trees and other landscaping, hanging baskets and cleaning up.

About one-third of Buffalo Place's $3.9 million budget comes from the special charge, while 42 percent of the budget comes from marketing and special events.

Under the state law that authorized creation of the Buffalo Place district in 1983, the outer boundaries extend as far west as the west side of Delaware Avenue and as far east as Oak, so officials always envisioned a larger zone. But at that time, there wasn't a lot of activity on the edges, nor was there demand for services.

However, this is the second time in recent years that the concept of expanding the district in that direction has been explored. Buffalo Place spent 18 months pursuing such a step in 2000 at the request of a group of Chippewa property owners, but it withdrew the proposal after a few key landlords changed their minds.

“We didn't go where we weren't wanted,” Schmand said.

Now, though, the makeup of the area has changed, and some of the biggest property owners are leading the charge.

The effort needs to be supported by property owners responsible for paying more than 50 percent of the special charge assessments in the entire district.