Of all the signs of downtown Buffalo’s comeback, none may be more powerful than this: The comeback includes Niagara Street. Long the stepchild among thoroughfares in the downtown area, Niagara Street is seeing a level of interest and, more important, activity that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.
Only the latest sign of the street’s revival is contained in the just completed project by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to build a new “transit hub” in the city’s Riverside section, bringing new technology for Metro Bus and the NFTA. And that development coincides with the City of Buffalo’s $11 million upgrade to the Niagara Street corridor that, itself, coincides with – and helps to attract – private money flowing into the street from the area’s developers.
For the NFTA, the $4.5 million project includes an expanded shelter, radiant heating, electronic signs announcing when the next bus will arrive and five new compressed natural gas buses. For the city, it means synchronized traffic lights, new curbs, lighting, benches and a new “streetscape.”
The corridor has seen a 39 percent increase in NFTA ridership over the past five years. The NFTA says the hub provides easy access to downtown, the Walden Galleria and Boulevard Mall, UB North and South campuses, SUNY Buffalo State and Niagara Falls.
This project will only make the street more attractive, not just to bus riders, but to private investors, as well.
“Transit assists with this new development,” said Thomas R. George, the NFTA’s director of public transit.
Private investors already want to be there. New apartments and lofts are being fashioned from existing structures. A brewery has opened. Like the city around it, Niagara Street is coming back.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, given the level of activity all around the city, including Canalside, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Larkinville, South Buffalo and points in between. Even Ohio Street has been reimagined. Nevertheless, surprising it is.
Niagara Street has seemed especially resistant to economic uplift. That it, too, is attracting the attention of a variety of interests offers evidence that Buffalo’s resurgence is real and durable.
What remains is to ensure that the revival touches all parts of the city, including the long-struggling East Side. As part of his Buffalo Billion project, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made a start on that, with plans for a light industrial hub on about 50 acres on Northland and East Delavan avenues and Dutton Street.
As far as downtown goes, though, nothing is more emblematic of the reach of progress than the reawakening of Niagara Street. With both public and private money flowing in, the street is on the cusp of a new life in an old city with a fresh attitude.