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Schumer seeks $25 million to restore cars to more of Main Street

As crews continue work on bringing car traffic back to the foot of Main Street, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer announced a new lobbying effort to secure a $25 million federal grant to help pay for the next phase of the project between Exchange and Church streets — including the roadway underneath Seneca One tower.

Standing in the shadow of Buffalo's tallest building, New York's senior senator — together with Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, M&T Bank Corp. executives and Seneca One developer Douglas Jemal — unveiled plans Monday for the next stage of the city's Cars Sharing Main Street initiative.

That would cover another three-block stretch of the downtown artery, restoring a two-way road alongside the train tracks for a fifth section of Main. Work would likely take at least two years, but trains would continue to run throughout the phase, as they have in the past.

The project would link with the $22.5 million phase of work that is now underway south of Exchange, connecting downtown Buffalo to Canalside. And it comes just after Buffalo-based M&T agreed to bring up to 1,500 new jobs to a technology hub it plans to create at Seneca One, helping to bring the massive complex back to life.

"M&T Bank’s economy-jolting, job-creating investment in Buffalo tells us that Buffalo is back in a big way," Schumer said during a press conference. "Not only are these 1,000 jobs, but they are the kind of jobs that we want. That's just the shot in the arm that Western New York needs. But to help this investment take root, we need good infrastructure."

City officials have submitted their application to the U.S. Department of Transportation for funding under the government's new BUILD program, but the backing of Schumer — the Senate Minority Leader — will provide a major boost to the effort.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Schumer wrote that the growth of Canalside, the revival of Seneca One by Jemal, and the arrival of M&T's technology hub "makes the need for an updated and modern downtown center all the more pressing."

"We must strike while the iron is hot. There has never been a better time to invest in downtown Buffalo," he wrote. "The ability to attract tech talent will be dependent upon Buffalo’s growing status as a desirable place to live."

M&T tech hub and its 1,000 workers headed to Buffalo's One Seneca Tower

Similar support by Schumer for previous grants — under the earlier Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grant Program — already yielded $33 million for the Cars Sharing Main Street initiative in the past, out of $53 million in total investment. Including the current and future phases, total spending will top $100 million.

"He’s been incredibly helpful," Brown said. "So we are very, very pleased that he remains supportive of the project, and that he is playing a leadership role in helping us with this new application."

If approved, the funding would cover most — but not all — of the $37.7 million cost of this latest phase.

The rest — more than $10 million — will come from the city and Jemal's Douglas Development Corp., through a "public-private partnership" that will involve a rarely-used financing tool called a PIF. That's a "tax diversion strategy" where money from a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement that lowers a site's property taxes is used to pay for public infrastructure improvements.

The deadline for grants is July 15, and officials hope to receive an answer by late fall or early winter. Schumer said the combination of municipal participation and the private-sector involvement, along with his own lobbying, is expected to strengthen the application.

"I’m excited by this. I’m going to use all the clout I have in Washington to do everything I can to get this done," he said.

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