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Another Voice: Thruway signs should present the New Buffalo

By Craig W. Turner

In 1996, the City of Buffalo won the prestigious All-America City Award presented through the National Civic Foundation. In 2002, the Buffalo Niagara region as a whole captured the national

award again.
To this day, visitors approaching the city via the Thruway from both east and west are greeted with a sign: “Welcome to Buffalo – An All-America City.”

I remember this competition well, as I worked in the media at the time and covered Buffalo’s entry extensively. There was a great deal of community energy around our region’s application, which highlighted some terrific initiatives, and spirits were high when we won.

It was an uplifting success for a region struggling at the time with job losses, young people leaving and poverty.

Next year will be 15 years since the region won the All-America City Award, and so much has changed. Throughout the entire region there is a vibrancy that doesn’t require special awards to be felt, and is now being regularly recognized in travel magazines and major metro newspapers.

We are a very different community than when we won that award.

Yet visitors are still greeted by a throwback to Buffalo’s past – an award that was important, prestigious and encouraging, but is now a decade and a half old.

More than 140 All-America City awards have been given since we won. Isn’t it time for Thruway travelers to see a branding renewal to match the real-life renewal that our community has experienced?

We have two options: Replace the signs with a message that is more “Buffalo, 2017,” or let’s make another run at the award.

One of the beauties of the Western New York revitalization is that while federal and, especially, state investment have been greatly beneficial, our spirit of community has driven the momentum.

Our homegrown development community is doing great new things with great old buildings. Local restaurateurs are getting creative and growing their interests in the region. And communities that were in disarray in 2002 have been revitalized through grassroots engagement.

In other words, if this community was able to win such important national recognition back in 1996 and 2002, when we had all kinds of problems, we should be able to make a strong showing now.

But the signs on the Thruway are reminiscent of a region that many people in this community have worked very hard to improve, and we owe it to ourselves to present the new Buffalo to visitors.

Craig W. Turner is president of Momentum Public Affairs in the City of Tonawanda.

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