It is not hard to imagine a new look for Ellicott Street, one that is inviting and pedestrian-friendly, stretching from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to its south end at Sahlen Field.
The reason is simple: The city landscape is changing, in many parts for the better, and the re-imagined Ellicott Street, which city officials and stakeholders have been working toward for years, is already coming to fruition.
The work involves a series of streetscape and infrastructure projects that would link three centers of activity in the Medical Campus, the business and government zone and Canalside.
The result would encourage more walkability, housing and business in downtown Buffalo. It would also bring more visitors to the city’s core.
Downtown has changed for the better over the past several years, when walkability was discussed as concept. Sure, people walked from point A to point B; it was more utilitarian than pleasant. Now, that has changed and walking is becoming more the point.
The gradual change in scenery and experience has been incremental and intentional, pushed by Mayor Byron W. Brown’s administration and other stakeholders in response to the recommendations outlined in the city’s Downtown Infrastructure and Public Realm Master Plan. It is also in the Downtown Housing Demand Study produced last year by the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. along with the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
Those reports suggested the city address the proposals piece by piece, in concentrated areas, to produce a greater impact.
The goal has always been to convert not just downtown but many neighborhoods to embrace walkability. As a start, the city, working with BUDC and Buffalo Place, is implementing a first phase to re-create a greenway from Church Street to the Erie Basin Marina. Construction is planned for next summer on a second phase to enhance the Entertainment District on Chippewa, Franklin and part of Court Street. And that is not all.
Officials will begin a third phase, using Ellicott Street as a critical north-south link. It is being called the “Ellicott Street Node” – a corridor from Tupper to Swan streets – which has already become a hot location, with new restaurants and breweries.
The north end is brimming with activity. Uniland Development Co. is completing a new medical office building. It is also starting construction on a new post office and will soon begin work on a planned co-working facility. As noted in these pages, the southern end boasts restaurants – Tappo, Toutant, Marble & Rye, Big Ditch Brewing Co. and Deep South Taco.
Also welcome and adding to the mix is the opening of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library’s new reading park. South of the library, Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. is moving ahead with a new 201-unit affordable housing and urban grocery market at 201 Ellicott St., on a 2.5-acre parking lot.
Mayor Brown called Ellicott Street a “critical area of focus to stimulate additional development and job creation in downtown Buffalo.” It is a well-made point that speaks to the quality-of-life and well-being that helps places grow. Streets, sidewalks and crosswalks are important, but as one city official said, more goes into creating an inviting streetscape. The formula also requires windows that are not covered by signage to make people feel safer, plantings and activating the space through concert series and ChalkFests.
Ellicott Street and its surrounding area offer even greater infill opportunities through better use of parking lots and transformation of neglected buildings.
Much of the core environment that makes for a vibrant city has always remained in the City of Buffalo but the intentionality required to achieve the walkability and urbanism may have been missing. Now that seems about to change.