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Smart public investment paves the way for a new neighborhood along Ohio Street

This is how progress works. One of Buffalo’s most forlorn streets is being remade into a modern urban thoroughfare, a project that is about to spur residential and commercial development. Soon, Ohio Street will be home to a thriving neighborhood, instead of continuing as a vacant, desolate no man’s land.

The $11 million remaking of Ohio Street began with the determination of Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, to open the city’s neglected Outer Harbor and was boosted when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion provided the funds to begin the job of creating a park on the Outer Harbor. They led the way, making the street attractive for developers.

That is what is happening now. Public investment is about to beget private investment, as local developers plan to piggyback on the initial work to create the beginnings of a neighborhood where people will want to live. Ohio Street is about to become something more than a place to leave as quickly as possible.

The projects are intriguing, and include two apartment complexes, both with docks for boaters. Carl Paladino of Ellicott Development plans a complex of three or four apartment buildings on six acres, each building three or four stories high. He expects construction to begin next year.

Paladino is also planning for a two- or three-story office building on five acres across the street. The project will begin after he finds a tenant for it.

Meanwhile, developer Sam Savarino of the Savarino Companies is planning for 78 luxury apartments in a five-story building at the intersection of South Street. Groundbreaking is scheduled for spring. The top monthly rents are expected to hit a breathtaking $2,700. This is definitely not your father’s Ohio Street.

In addition, the Buffalo Scholastic Rowing Association is planning for construction of a new boathouse just south of Paladino’s planned residential project, on land the association leases from the developer.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Street project continues. When it is completed in June, it will have transformed 1.4 miles of road between Michigan Avenue and Fuhrmann Boulevard into a two-lane parkway with bike and pedestrian paths. Landscaping, lighting and signage are expected to add to the remade street’s attractiveness. Improvement are also planned between Michigan Avenue and Canalside, ultimately providing an easy and attractive link between the Inner Harbor and Outer Harbor.

The Ohio Street project is only the latest contributor to the reclamation of the Buffalo River area. Buffalo RiverFest Park was established four years ago. Silo City on Childs Street has become an arts destination. Buffalo RiverWorks began offering hockey and curling earlier this month, and its development is continuing.

Farther upstream, the RiverBend project is under way. When it is completed, it will be the largest solar manufacturing plant in the Western Hemisphere.

And running through it all is the river itself, subject of a $44 million cleanup. Eventually, the waterway will be clean enough for fishing and swimming.

Not all public investments pay off as handsomely as the remaking of Ohio Street and the other projects along the Buffalo River. But these certainly have.

Paladino has owned his land along the river for 30 years. Other factors contributed to his decision to build now, including the attractiveness of city living to young people and empty-nesters. But the work on Ohio Street turned the key, and the whole city will benefit.