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Editorial: Allen Street’s welcome development has to respect the neighborhood’s needs

There’s nothing wrong with critical mass. In fact, it is desirable in a burgeoning downtown Buffalo that has come alive in recent years. But when an increasing number of bars create an atmosphere less hospitable to orchestra attendees and longtime residents, then there is a reasonable concern about sustainability.

The Allentown neighborhood is experiencing a welcome change as young people flock to the bars opening on Allen Street. We should be in the business of encouraging vibrancy in Buffalo.

But growth also creates conflicts and the new congestion has caused traffic and parking problems, while the flow of alcohol has fueled fights. It is not the sort of optics that welcomes the nearby Kleinhans Music Hall community, or imbues a sense of safety for residents.

Chippewa Street owners know all too well that bar brawls, inside or outside establishments, are bad for business. Not to mention the negative effect they could have on the nearby Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus with thousands more staff, faculty, students and workers.

Somehow, there has to be a middle ground between rowdiness and noiselessness. It’s not too difficult to balance if everyone cooperates – bar owners, patrons and residents. There’s something in it for everyone in fostering harmony among diverse demographics in the form of a safe environment, healthy economy and an enjoyable atmosphere where millennials and baby boomers can coexist.

Right now, that goal is being threatened as the decibel levels outside bars increase and fights break out. Police have responded appropriately by increasing patrols, and the State Liquor Authority, fire inspectors and community police officers have also boosted enforcement. But longtime residents living near Allen Street and Elmwood Avenue can attest to the pressure on quality of life.

News business reporter Karen Robinson’s interviews with neighbors, police and bar owners who close early speak to the change. Photographer Derek Gee’s images capture the striking visual of young people gathered outside establishments.

Robinson wrote that a Buffalo police report for September outlined “complaint calls for at least five fights, an assault, some gang activity, a slew of illegal parking and some larcenies.” That’s a problem, especially given that some say not all incidents are reported, meaning the total number of complaints offers an incomplete picture.

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda plans to meet with the community in mid-November. Councilman David Franczyk, who also bemoaned all the “bars, bars, bars, bars,” set up the meeting. It could be a productive start to managing the changes on Allen Street.

Mark Goldman, who decades earlier played a lead role in rescuing the Chippewa district and now co-owns Allen Street Hardware Café with his son, made a good point about the big picture and “potential of losing the residential neighborhood and alienating the thousands of customers going to the BPO and the thousands pouring into the Medical Campus.” And he asked: “Wouldn’t that be a shame?”

It would.

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