Following on the success of two prior initiatives, Buffalo Place is once again seeking $500,000 in state funds that it can distribute to property owners along Main Street to help them spruce up their buildings and strengthen local businesses.
The nonprofit business-improvement district is applying for a third round of money from the state’s New York Main Street grant program, which is administered by New York State Homes and Community Renewal to help communities bolster their business districts and neighborhoods.
Buffalo Place previously received grants of $200,000 in 2006 and $500,000 in 2011, which it funneled to building owners to renovate facades and building interiors in the 500 block of Main Street and the Theatre District, respectively.
This time, the group is hoping to target the money to the 400 and 500 blocks, including buildings on Main, Washington and Pearl streets, between West Huron and Court streets.
“We’ve been trying to grease the skids in terms of private-sector investment on Main Street,” Buffalo Place Chairman Keith M. Belanger, a senior vice president at M&T Bank Corp., told the group’s board at its monthly meeting Wednesday.
Awards will be announced in the fall. “The competition will be stiff,” said Debra L. Chernoff, the group’s manager of planning. “We have no assurance of being successful.”
Buffalo Place is trying to capitalize on new momentum downtown created by the Cars Sharing Main Street project to restore two-way car traffic to the entire stretch of Main from Canalside to Tupper Street. The years-long effort, whose total cost will ultimately exceed $100 million, has already been completed in the 700 block and Theatre District area, and work is now wrapping up in the Fountain Plaza and 500 block area down to Mohawk.
“We’re getting close to being done,” said Steven J. Carmina, chairman of Buffalo Place’s Downtown Living Committee, and a partner at Carmina Wood Morris PC.
The most recent round of funding enabled the group to “push out” money to 11 projects on Main and Pearl, between Tupper and Chippewa streets. Shea’s Performing Arts Center used money to redo its projection sign and to make a new sign for the Smith Theater and the restaurant. Money was also used for streetscape improvements and to fix up Curtain-Up Alley.
“We’re very excited,” Chernoff said. “There seem to be some great ideas and new properties, things you wish would happen. It looks good.”
Typically, Belanger said, the projects involve first-floor retail storefronts, while the upper floors become office space or apartments. And in some cases, that’s a big change for buildings that either had absentee landlords until recently, or that haven’t had the upstairs levels occupied since the 1930s or ’40s.
That is “70 to 80 years of vacancy, which is kind of impressive when you think about it,” Chernoff said.
Meanwhile, Carmina said the construction work on the 500 block and Fountain Plaza for Cars Sharing Main Street is wrapping up over the next few weeks, as both sides of the street are essentially done except for landscaping and street furniture like benches.
“When we came here five years ago, where things were then compared to where they are now, it’s very exciting,” said new board member Clifford G. Benson, chief development officer for the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills.
“This whole corridor is going to bring this city back. It’s great work.”
But Belanger noted that there’s not enough money in hand yet to finish the job along Main. The city applied for another federal transportation grant to cover the work from Exchange Street to the foot of Main, but “there’s $20 of ask for every dollar they can award,” and that would still leave the portion from Exchange to Mohawk unfinished.
“We are out of money for Cars Sharing Main Street when we get to Mohawk,” Belanger said. “We have to figure out how to fund it.”