Mayor Byron Brown lays out his plan for more development in Buffalo – Buffalo News

Mayor Byron Brown lays out his plan for more development in Buffalo

Byron Brown (copy)

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown says ” uffalo is a great place to do business.”

Harry Scull Jr.

Cities that focus on recovering from the pandemic and getting back to business more quickly are expected to benefit more than others from a flood of both public and private-sector investment in search of opportunity.

So Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown has a message for the world: The Queen City is ready and raring to go.

“Buffalo is a great place to do business,” Brown told a gathering of commercial real estate professionals last week.  “Buffalo is open for business. And our goal is to make Buffalo the best business bet in the State of New York.”

To do so, he’s focused on partnering with both the state and county – as well as developers and other private companies – to drive further commercial and residential investment throughout the city.

He’s setting his sights on creating more affordable housing, senior housing and medical services, including on the long-neglected East Side, while encouraging more minority participation to spread the benefits more evenly in the community.

“We think it’s important to set high goals, to set ambitious goals, to get things done,” Brown said. “We want to be one of the addresses of choice in our county, in our region. We want people to not only want to build in Buffalo but to live in Buffalo.”

Brown’s remarks to the Western New York State Commercial Association of Realtors came as the four-term mayor seeks to counter criticism during last year’s mayoral race that he was too focused on downtown Buffalo and other wealthier areas of the city, and had not done enough for the city’s impoverished neighborhoods – especially on the vast East Side.

Opponent India Walton and her supporters said Brown failed to prioritize affordable housing and the needs of the city’s low-income and minority communities, placing many at risk of being priced out of their neighborhoods by gentrification while putting the business community and developers first.

So as Brown prepares to enter his fifth term as mayor of New York State’s second-largest city, he is seeking to demonstrate that he’s paying attention now – even as he continues the business-friendly policies that helped get him re-elected through a historic write-in campaign.

“Don’t scare us like that again,” joked Carolyn Casilio Vinci, the current president of the real estate trade group.

According to city statistics, Buffalo has seen more than $8.3 billion in development activity since Brown took office in 2006 – most of that since 2012.

That economic revival continued this past year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, with another $540 million of real estate investment.

“Our goal is to continue that renaissance, as quickly as possible,” he added. “Things are being built in the City of Buffalo, and we are very proud of that.”

Among his new priorities, Brown said he wants to invest further in streamlining the permitting process in the city, to make it easier for residents and businesses to get things done.

“That’s going to be something that we invest more in as we go into 2022 and we focus on rapid pandemic recovery,” he said. “We want to be absolutely the fastest place in the region and in upstate to be able to get a permit to build things.”

Since 2017, nearly 5,000 housing units have been planned, are under construction or have been completed – including 2,800 market-rate apartments and 2,100 affordable housing units. About 25% of the city’s housing stock is now considered “permanently affordable,” and Brown said he wants to increase that to 40%.

Much of the activity has occurred in downtown Buffalo, and Brown said he’s “very excited about what’s happening.”

“Downtown has become one of the fastest-growing residential communities in the city,” he said.

But the city is also turning its attention to the East Side, where officials secured a $10 million state grant for the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood – including for improvements to the Central Terminal grounds, interior renovation of the Broadway Market, assistance for small businesses, funding for business facade improvements, and enhancements to the streetscape.

One area of success has involved conversion of former schools, churches and other commercial buildings. There are still landmark churches that could be redeveloped – and Brown noted that the city has resources available to help with that, through a competitive bidding process.

“We believe that they offer significant opportunities,” he said. “I’m very happy to say that I don’t believe there are any former school buildings left for development in the City of Buffalo anymore, which is very good news.”

The city also wants to invest in medical offices in the city, to bring more health care services to city residents. It also plans to invest in building a senior living facility in the city.

“We have an aging population, and I’d like people to be able to, as they age, remain in the city,” Brown said.

Finally, he said, the city’s diversity initiatives include a “minority developer assistance program,” to encourage both business growth and the cultivation of new players in the real estate world, from within the neighborhoods.

“If all of our residents are doing well, if all of our residents are working, if there is development in every section of our city, it will produce more opportunity for each and every one of us,” Brown said.

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