There’s Something About Buffalo

The following appeared on the Joe Urban blog, re-posted here with permission.  Author Sam Newberg, a self-described ‘urbanist’ currently living in Minneapolis, is active in the real estate development and planning industry. 

Since 1998, Newberg has performed appraisals and market studies for a variety of real estate types, guest lectured and presented on s range of topics.  Newberg has written for several national publications and has written various articles, book chapters and case studies for Urban Land Institute (ULI) publications, including Urban Land and Urban Land Europe, on a variety of real estate and urban planning-related topics. 

joe-urban.png

Dateline: 2:10 pm 3/11/2009

I really like Buffalo. There is something about the big industrial cities that have fallen from glory in changing economic times. Among them all, I like Buffalo best. Not sure what it is, really, although you visit there and sense just how far its fortunes have tumbled. Maybe it is the grit, the history, the vacant industrial buildings and their ghosts. Maybe it is the whiff of possibility.

DSC_0118.jpg

I visited Buffalo last summer, and what I found there was a burgeoning arts community centered on the new Buffalo Artists Lofts, developed by Minneapolis-based ArtSpace. Visit their website, or with a subscription, you can read the Buffalo Artists Lofts ULI case study and many others at the ULI Case Studies Website here.

What the Buffalo Artists Lofts offers, thanks to a broad choice of underutilized former warehouse buildings, is the low opportunity cost for development. The developers commented to me how New York City developers are literally floored at how inexpensive it is to purchase a building in Buffalo. The lofts are right on Main Street, not far from downtown, with a gentrified neighborhood to the west and a transitioning neighbohrood to the east. What better place for urban rebirth?

Don’t get me wrong, Buffalo has issues. Eating lunch downtown, my view towards Lake Erie was interrupted by a series of bad decisions, including ugly hotels and residential buildings, but especially by an elevated freeway that cuts off the city from its waterfront. The city has one of the most beautiful city halls in the United States, an Art Deco beauty towering grandly over Niagara Square, a pleasant public space. Buffalo’s city hall is a symbol of the city at its peak. Next door is a brutal city hall annex, among the worst civic monstrosities in the country. If city hall represents in all that was great about Buffalo, the annex is a symbol if its decline.

DSC_0581.jpg

Perhaps the Buffalo Artists Lofts represents a new day for the city, and perhaps it is an example of the wide range of approaches rust belt cities have to take in order to rebound. After all, the housing market was already so bad that the housing boom didn’t help. Thus, Buffalo hasn’t suffered from the housing crash in the same way. Manufacturing isn’t likely coming back, at least not the way we know it. The only way is up, baby!

Take Pittsburgh, another city that is endlessly charming, with its beautiful river valley setting and steel bridges that are an ode to its past industrial might. A recent New York Times article cast an encouraging light on Pittsburgh. Link to the article here. Pittsburgh has managed to do what few true rust belt cities have – find a way to diversify their economy and redevelop vast industrial sites.

And then there is Detroit. Like Buffalo, real estate is cheap there, but in a terminal kind of way. Last Sunday’s New York Times featured an article about artists buying $100 homes there. Read about the $100 house in Detroit here. What will become of Detroit? Perhaps it is best turned back over to agricultural uses. How cool would it be to visit the urban farmer’s market, located next to the farm fields themselves!?

The Atlantic Monthly’s March issue has a fascinating article about the future of cities after our current economic crisis plays out. Written by Richard Florida, it is a fascinating read, and mentions Detroit and Pittsburgh. Read Richard Florida’s article in the Atlantic Monthy here. Florida notes that Pittsburgh has managed a monumental task of repositioning itself, whereas Detroit must still find its way.

What will happen to our rust belt cities? Sure they should be home to artists. They should partner with whatever old money remains to support arts. Their leaders should also pursue new techology and opportunity in collaboration with local educational institutions, as Pittsburgh has shown can be done. They must refocus, rebrand and reinvest.

And even if old industries don’t come back, why we don’t produce light rail cars, high speed trains and commuter jets in this country is beyond me.

Our rust belt cities present a fascinating opportunity. Good investment value for your real estate dollar, combined with good (albeit often decaying) urban bones and nowhere left to fall can lead to good results.

The architect of the Buffalo Artists Lofts indicated the biggest problem in Buffalo is an inferiority complex among elected leadership. There is no vision. Well, I say it is time to get the word out there of the opportunities that abound in places like Buffalo. Of course there are daunting problems to address, but there is also an incredible chance to invest in the future. Let the urban experimentation begin!

DSC_0270.jpg

About the author  ⁄ buffalorising

21 comments
Crisa
Crisa

Early on, I think it was Mr. Stevens who made the comment that Wyoming County has more cows than people. I imagine he meant they wanted to see more people. I bet the Stevenes never imagined how very many people would be seeing them!!!

Crisa
Crisa

(I made the above comment this morning and just now (3:30pm) it is in the Comments, and, the STEEL in the Classified area has to do with the real stuff.)

.

I Googled the area of Wilson, Strauss and Townsend. Google's 2006 edition makes lots appear longer than life!

.

Years ago, people we knew had to actually be evacuated from the Townsend St. crime area. But that was then; this is now.

.

Now that tree the Stevens family are standing near wasn't leaning as much...

.

Maybe the Stevens parents could look into buying that beige house adjacent to the land and then rent out or sell outright the home they are presently living in?

.

Quite a bit of that entire area around Wilson had already been cleared in (Google maps) 2006 . Wonder how much more was destroyed (demolished) since then...

.

I wonder how many houses in that area are still owner-occupied and cared for or being left by REITTs and REIGs to further wear down and cleared away?

.

Habitat for Humanities could make a business venture into caring for what is still very solidly standing...

Crisa
Crisa

This is interestingly curious:

.

"Recent Comments" at BR isn't loading and wasn't loading yesterday evening, and neither is anything loading in "Classified".

.

And, in "Classified" is one about STEEL and vacant property as people in this topic are discussing vacant property?!

Crisa
Crisa

Speaking of farming on Wilson Street: It looks as if there is more open land on the street behind that two acres.

.

Speaking of farming in general, most farmers don't irrigate and don't need to. The right soil composition holds normal rainfall through a day spell--Buffalo is not a drought area.

.

I think raised gardens require more watering than planting on ground level.

.

AND, why would that soil be toxic? What was toxic on Wilson Street when the houses were there?

.

AND, cow poop breaks down rapidly leaving composted soil which smells WONDERFUL.

.

As far as watering a small farm on Wilson Street, the main water lines are still in the street. That should mean that a new line or two could be replaced on the land and hoses run from there. The lines should have shut off valves that can be turned off for the freezin season.

.

Another REALY great thing would be seeing kids having something constructive to do with themselves!

.

The only real problem would be theft, but, even in the country all farmers have to watch for "corn stalkers" in traffic stalking the best ways to swipe corn. And anyone with an orchard will have a kid or two or three swiping apples right off of a tree.

And whomever here noted about tracts of housing going up in rural areas as farmland becomes available within this City sure got that right!!!

buffbuff
buffbuff

For pete's sake, give it up on the Broadway Market. It's busy for 2 whole weekends becouse it is "tradition". In less than a week, not only will 98% of the customers be gone, but so will all the venders, for another year. If it was a viable concern, it would be busy year round. If you people love the place so much, make a point of going every single week to build it back up {deleted}

Crisa
Crisa

Speaking of The Broadway Market, there is a spot along the east wall near an entrance/exit. (Facing east, they are to the right of that doorway.) They sells the most delicious food!

.

They are located where there are chairs and tables to eat at, and they provide REAL plates with your meal--and trust those plates will be returned! And they make pigs-in-a-blanket exactly the way my mother used to...

.

When my mother made them, she used to send a ton over to our house. I could never duplicate her's so I stopped trying...

.

And then there they were, this week at the Eastertime Bway Market!

Crisa
Crisa

About the Stevens family setting up an urban farm on Wilson Street in the Bway-Fillmore section of Buffalo:

.

Instead of the City of Buffalo hoarding the land while accumulating and preserving it for developers, let the farm family purchase that land and then, gosh, in the future, if developers want to purchase that Stevens-owned land, then, golly, what ever could be wrong with the Stevens family reaping those way-too-into-the-future land sale into re-sale profits--what ever DID happen to TRUE free enterprise?!

.

All this concern about that farm family reminds me that there was an elderly person who was raised on a farm who referred to a store, Wilson Farms, as Wilson's farm!

.

Maybe the Stevens' might consider naming their new urban farm and the sale of their produce Stevens Farm or Steven's Farm?

.

The Stevens urban farm would be soo vert close to the Bway Market that the tomatoes, cucumbers and such would still be sun warmed straight off the vine--I'm talkin''bout home grown AND a great promotional tool for The Broadway Market too!!!

.

The Bway Market could be their best customer--after all, do any of the present vendors even live within the City of Buffalo so they can wheel what they sell over to the store in the perfect energy savers, a couple of wooden wagons?

.

The Bway Market would have a new reason for their cart logo!!!

.

I wonder if that close proximity to a big customer guided the Stevens to the Wilson Street location even if they never before heard of The Broaway Market--talkin' 'bout divine intervention here!?

.

It is new housing that can be located anywhere else!

QueenCity
QueenCity

Buffalo is becoming part of Canada more than part of NYS.

Windsor Ontario really only became what it is because of Detroit. It is not a gateway to Canada as say Niagara Falls and Toronto are for Buffalo.

Buffalo is an airport hub, a rail hub (freight and soon passenger) and shipping...(there is alot we can do to increase our city as a shipping destination).

Our city is a telecommunications and network hub between the US and Canada. There is alot we can do to expand that industry.

The thing with Buffalo is albany, unions, politics and patronage...where every dollar gets siphoned off intead of invested. Overcome that and buffalo has a future.

nick
nick

I think the "business as usual" attitude may be part of a bigger overall problem of people just accepting what comes to them, and being happy with the status quo. I don't know if I really buy the self-esteem issue, but then again I think self-esteem is a bit of a hallmark holiday. I do think there is an issue with people's expectations. There's no expectation that things will change or improve, that life is happy so let's just keep it the way it is. Now to be fair, if people are happy and comfortable, good for them, but at this stage of my life, I'm not ready to be content. For me as an avid sports fan, its really noticable in Buffalo sports fans who seem more and more content to just have a team and have fun, and less caring about winning. I guess that's my thought, Buffalo on a whole, is happy to be in the game, happy to make the playoffs, but not willing to take the chance to be a winner.

The Kettle
The Kettle

Meh... To each their own opinion I guess. Im sure we could go back and forth at length discussing what foremost is wrong with The Buffalo area. From a selfish standpoint, I have a job so the economy doesnt concern me too much. I stay active in the winter so the weather doesnt bother me either. Violent crime is of course more important than anything else mentioned but I dont see wny being prone to or particularly soft on crime.

I would argue the behavior and poor policy descisions of our politicians is dictated in part by the collective inferiority complex, and bitter complacency of the electorate. Take some of the recent capital projects and govt sponsored "economic development" projects that have been proposed. Many of these half assed ideas seem to benifit few others than the politicians and special interests that put them into office. The general public will either not care or say some self loathing remark like "oh well its better than nothing". You would think everyone would expect more from their govt. but many dont seem to care. The end result is the beat goes on and wny quality of life erodes.

Texpat
Texpat

The ice boom is the problem! Get rid of that darned ice boom and flowers will bloom in March and not May! Trees will grow, children will be happy and the milk and honey will flow!

whatever
whatever

No way. That problem is way, way, way down the list (if it's even on the list at all).

Our self esteem is fine.

The relative weakness of long term private sector job growth is about a billion times bigger a problem than self esteem issues. Being so soft on violent crime is another big problem. The weather is a problem most of the year but there's no sense in even considering it as a problem because nothing can be done about it.

The politicains are "business as usual" regarding big issues (taxes, spending, etc.) because that's what most citizens want. Public opinion polls back that up. It's a pro-union, pro-government area, for better or worse and elected officials make policy decisions in accordance with that. When turnover does happen, the new replacement continues the same policies because that's what the majority here wants.

The Kettle
The Kettle

"The architect of the Buffalo Artists Lofts indicated the biggest problem in Buffalo is an inferiority complex among elected leadership. There is no vision."

Amen. I would add that may of this towns citizens share this inferiority complex. Hands down the worst part about living in Buffalo. I can take the cold, slow economy, taxes and such. I cant stand the constant pi$$ing and moaning by a few of its citizens and the self serving, "business as usual" politicians that keep getting into office

bflobr
bflobr

RaChaCha....

I had the same impression as you regarding this issue. But, I think you didn't read the article all too closely when you make the accusation that the City just told these "good folks 'NO' instead of 'YES -- but how about over here.'"

Taken right from the article:

Reilly said the city is “very supportive” of urban farms, but that they must be set up on parcels that have no potential for being developed into homes or other projects.

“It’s very difficult to assemble large tracts of land for development,” he said.

“I’m sure we can find something and work together to see this happen,” Reilly added, referring to the proposed urban farm.

al labruna
al labruna

i only mentioned effectiveness as a sidebar - nothing more (hence parethisis) [or perhaps it should have been brackets?] or maybe an ellipsis . . . what else could have worked: a colon! nahhh. not a colon. MLA, where are you!!!

RaChaCha
RaChaCha

WCP, you mean Buffalo Gothic:

http://www.buffalonews.com/home/story/630158.html

When I read that article in the News yesterday, I was very sympathetic to the would-be farmers. Then I looked at the map and saw that Wilson Street runs right behind Fillmore at the Broadway/Fillmore intersection. So it helps me understand why City Hall might be thinking about the potential for future housing in an area that would be within walking distance of both the Broadway Market and a revitalized commercial area around Broadway/Fillmore. In other words, the kind of density and urbanism often promoted here: where proximity of housing to streetfront commercial nodes support each other with the housing providing customers to support the retail, and the retail and walkable scale supporting the desirability of the housing. And it would seem to me that there are areas in Buffalo where urban farming would make great sense and should be facilitated. I think Buffalo's City Hall is making a mistake (and lining themselves up for another public relations black eye) by just telling these good folks "NO" instead of "YES -- but how about over here."

Dagner
Dagner

No one suggested that government effectiveness could be measured by the size of the building. Proper utilization of resources is a valid citizen concern. But not the topic of the original post, so let's leave it.

al labruna
al labruna

it isnt really possible to evaluate the size (or effectiveness) of a city's government by the volume of city hall.

its an impossible comparison. other cities with smaller city halls may spread their offices over many buildings. i would also bet that those glorious masonry walls diminish the amount of usable space within our public edifice. for that matter, how do you evaluate the size of a building? height? floor space?

that said, the post was pleasant enough, and correct in its evaluation of the waterfront.

WCPerspective
WCPerspective

John Straubinger found this on the web and forwarded it.

Interesting that Sam mentions urban farming as an option a few weeks before the chicken and east side farm controversies hit.

Dagner
Dagner

I too had (mistakenly) heard that Buffalo city hall was the country's largest. (I swear it was a Jeopardy question). Los Angeles was reportedly the largest. LA is larger by square foot, but then so is Philadelphia's, maybe others.

According to the publication, Buffalo City Hall Americanesque Masterpiece, by John Conlin, published by the former Landmark Society our bulding has 566,313 square foot, with 316,937 of it "usable".

Your question is still interesting: how much of it is used and unused? How does that compare to other office buildings?

onestarmartin
onestarmartin

This was a great morning read, well written blog. Question...from what I understand, Buffalo City Hall is the largest in the country, or so I heard, what is it all used for? Are there that many city workers? When looking at the one photo, it is so massive looking!

© 2014 Hyperlocal Media. All Rights Reserved.
phytoceramide without gluten phytoceramide oral pills phytoceramide supplements gluten free phytoceramides at cvs