Special Report: Walkable Streets

Revitalizing Elmwood Village in Buffalo Continues to Lead the Way

Hamilton Council continues to shun investment along King, Main and Cannon Streets, and then complain that they don't contribute enough to the tax base.

By Jason Leach
Published July 17, 2013

I was in Buffalo again recently, spending money in a different city. I saw this proposal for an infill project in the already-booming Elmwood Village:

The three-storey mixed-use building in the core of the 700 Elmwood block will greatly enhance the urban character and vitality of the block. The building meets the sidewalk and storefronts wrapping around the building will provide ample window shopping and eye contact between store owner and shoppers on the street. The parking is tucked away under the building and accessible from the alley in the rear. The curb cuts are eliminated guaranteeing a contiguous pedestrian environment where safe congregation can take place. The tenants of the upper floor apartments will support and enhance the commercial activities in the Village and the project will contribute to a substantial increase to the City’s tax base.

Note the praise for increasing the tax base.

It's too bad so many of Hamilton's City Councillors prefer to shun private investment along King, Main and Cannon by leaving them as empty freeways - and then complain that downtown and the lower city don't contribute enough to the city's tax base.

Lane Capacity

It should be noted that the daily traffic on Elmwood Avenue ranges from 15,000-23,000 cars per day, or 7,000-11,500 cars per lane.

I've never seen a traffic jam or slowdown in my years of coming here to visit.

Those daily traffic numbers fall in line with most of King, Main and Cannon from the 403 and points east:

These streets should be re-allocated to aim for 7-9,000 cars per lane, not 2-5,000. The only place where traffic comes close to normal urban volumes - not gridlock, just normal traffic - is on King east of Catharine, where it goes down to two lanes that are still free-flowing most of the day and are never "gridlocked".

We just missed a great opportunity to make King Street East more people-friendly without costing anything other than the paint we ended up using to re-establish the huge excess capacity on that street.

And we wonder why King Street is not more successful for local businesses. They've been sounding the alarm on our neighourhood-destroying highways since the 1950s, but Council refuses to listen.

Elmwood Walking Tour

Enjoy a walking photo tour of a wonderful neighbourhood in downtown Buffalo filled with character, complete streets, parks and booming street business.

Spot Coffee side street patio
Spot Coffee side street patio

Spot Coffee front patio
Spot Coffee front patio

Bike parking at the Lexington Food Co-Op
Bike parking at the Lexington Food Co-Op

Patio at Lexington food Co-Op
Patio at Lexington food Co-Op

Street Art
Street Art

Delaware Park
Delaware Park

Thousands streaming to Delaware Park for Shakespeare in the park
Thousands streaming to Delaware Park for Shakespeare in the park

Curb parking on literally every street, including for park theatre-goers
Curb parking on literally every street, including for park theatre-goers

Typical boulevard sidewalk design with 24-7 parking
Typical boulevard sidewalk design with 24-7 parking

Boating in Delaware Park
Boating in Delaware Park

Delaware park boats
Delaware park boats

Delaware Park rose garden
Delaware Park rose garden

Delaware Park homes
Delaware Park homes
Delaware Park homes
Delaware Park homes
Delaware Park homes

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By Hamiltonian (registered) | Posted July 17, 2013 at 16:47:47

OUR RIVALS!!!!!!!!!!

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted July 18, 2013 at 08:07:45

There's plenty we can learn from Buffalo. Looks great! Thanks for sharing.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted July 18, 2013 at 10:54:27

Never spent much time in the city of Buffalo out side of Sabres games.

Would love to visit downtown to see the architecture, as well as Elmwood village and Delaware park.

Are there any other places worth visiting? Are there any places that should be avoided?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted July 18, 2013 at 15:19:06 in reply to Comment 90264

The Darwin Martin complex, several other privately owned FLW homes, Allentown, the Albright-Knox, Larkin Square, the central terminal restoration, the list goes on and on.

Buffalo was one of the wealthiest cities in the US at its peak, and all the top architects in the 19th and early twentieth century are represented here. It's a mini Chicago right on our doorstep. Don't miss Ellicot Square, HH Richardson's psych hospital, the Guaranty building, city hall, too many to name here. It's an embarrassment of riches.

Check out http://buffalorising.com/ and http://artvoice.com/ for news and info.

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By NorthBuff (anonymous) | Posted July 20, 2013 at 09:33:03

There are very few spots to avoid - in general there are some spots on the westside outside of the Elmwood Village and on the East Side that one would probably want to skirt by. Common sense will dictate which spots look a little dicey. All of the locations mentioned above would make for a fantastic snapshot. The Ellicot Square building was the largest office building in the country when built - the Guaranty building was a first of its kind and features an amazing terra cotta exterior - City Hall is 27 stories of art deco magnificence - downtown has a great mix of new and old. Check out the Lafayette Hotel, the Lofts on Pearl or the Mansion on Delaware for some awesome hotel options...

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted July 20, 2013 at 16:52:56

BUFFALO, N.Y. (June 12, 2013) – The Elmwood Village Association is pleased to announce that funding is now available for a new round of projects through the New York Main Street Grant currently being administered by the organization. Funding is available to property owners along Elmwood Avenue between Forest Avenue and West Delevan and may be used for building façade improvements and interior renovations of both commercial and residential spaces.

In 2011 the EVA was awarded $500,000 in New York Main Street funding via the New York State Office of Community Renewal. The program provides funds to stimulate reinvestment in properties located within mixed-use commercial districts in urban, small town, and rural areas of New York State. Matching funds are leveraged to help communities build the capacity required to grow their neighborhood retail districts.

A public meeting for property and business owners within the target zone will be held on Wednesday, June 19th at 10:00am at the Elmwood Village Association offices located at 1068 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14222. During this meeting staff will provide an overview of the types of projects that are eligible for funding (50% match required by property owner) and the application process.

http://elmwoodvillage.org/index.php?src=news&srctype=detail&category=News&refno=132

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By ChrisBieda (registered) | Posted July 21, 2013 at 00:05:28 in reply to Comment 90264

Yup, we got architecture up the wazoo. I was a student at university and when I found that "Buffalo" was a chapter in almost everything written about the great (planned) cities of the U.S., I was agog.

The downtown musts are, of course, the Guaranty Building, the Ellicott Square Building and City Hall, but if you thought New York's Twin Towers had a strange beauty, you will get a shiver down your spine when you see One M&T Plaza. You should also hit the Erie Community College City Campus (an adaptive reuse of an old, grand central post office). The location of the central library for the county library system is worth noting: Not many libraries get that kind of spot in any city. (The building itself? Meh.) If you seek adaptive residential reuse, call me out and I will compose a list: An old trucking terminal began the trend, and not many months go by without another project being announced (and these are usually big money guys, locals, who do not announce "vaporware").

One thing worth checking out is the park system. While Olmsted and Vaux designed, it's not as impressive (to me) as some of their work in other cities, yet I regard Cazenovia Park as beautiful as Central Park (though much smaller), and the Victorian botanical conservatory in South Park will make you smile (yes, it's basically a model for the one in New York--a recurring theme, no?), especially for 'Tonians used to the RBG (which I think is one of North America's underappreciated jewels).

The years, active (as opposed to passive) recreation and the burgeoning automobile culture have rendered the Olmsted plan a shadow of what it once was, but there are remnants of the vision even 125+ years later (the southern "half" of Delaware Park, coupled with the parkways surrounding, Lincoln, Chapin and Bidwell).

My favorite Buffalo Olmsted park is Days Park, [a] 'cause I used to live a block away in my salad years, and [b] I get to see it every day during the school year because my daughter's school is across the street from it--yeah she takes recess in a 125-year-old FLO park that is as close to his original as any of which I am aware, anywhere (if only the American elm were still here to decorate it--sigh). That's Buffalo's heritage.

One striking facet of the "new Buffalo" is the willingness, nay, eagerness to establish greenspace wherever possible along the water: I call to your attention Seneca Bluffs, Red Jacket Riverfront Park, the Katherine Street peninsula, Mutual Riverfront Park, Riverfest (Peg's) Park, all within the city limits, all along a single kayakable waterway and none older than a decade. On the Outer Harbor, the venerable Tifft Farm Nature Preserve has been complemented by Union Ship Canal Commons, Tifft (Street) Pier, Gallagher Beach & Pier, Wilkeson Pointe and the (spiffed-up) Times Beach Nature Preserve, none of which are more than five years old!

My personal favorite is the off-the-beaten-path Squaw Island Park, again, less than a decade old, and right on the Niagara River. Mad volleyball action there.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted July 21, 2013 at 08:10:36 in reply to Comment 90325

Yes! Thanks so much for all this. Speaking of the waterfront, another not-to-be-missed attraction, and indeed worth the trip to Buffalo all on its own, is the Fontana Boathouse, a new build of a 1905 Frank Lloyd Wright design. A spectacular little gem. G

The most important feature of its waterfront IMO, is the ongoing preservation of its industrial heritage, in particular the grain elevators. There are river boat tours of the elevators offered throughout the summer.

And now, methinks I shall start planning a weekend! You probably need a week to do it justice, but the nice thing about Buffalo is its so close, you can go anytime.

Comment edited by highwater on 2013-07-21 08:15:30

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2013 at 07:12:26

Alexis Agnello has lived through a whirlwind. The 32-year-old commercial banker and her husband, a 33-year-old landscaper, bought a house in North Buffalo, sold their old house – and had a baby – all in three weeks.

The couple lived in half of a two-family home but were tired of being landlords. Two days after an open house, they had three offers. The house they bought – after just five days on the market – had six offers. They won the bidding war by offering nearly $28,000 more than the listing price.

Welcome to real estate these days in Buffalo, long considered a sleepy market immune to the booms and busts that roil the rest of the country. Thanks to a big drop in the number of homes for sale, coupled with a rush to get low interest rates before they are gone, Buffalo and Western New York are living a seller’s market not seen in years.

The result is a buying frenzy – and price increases that are distinctly un-Buffalo. Realtors talk about listings that drew half a dozen offers. The median sales price has risen each of the past 12 months and is up 6 percent just since January. Hunt Real Estate Corp. agent Robert Blake had a client offer $340,000 on a $315,000 home in the city – and still not get the house. Matthew Hamed and his fiancee, both pharmacists, found only about six homes in their price range in the city and not that many more in their preferred suburbs. Some bidders are paying all cash upfront, then refinancing with a mortgage after the deal closes. Others are forgoing inspections and other contingencies – or turning a blind eye to problems – just to get ahead.

“I personally have had some buyers who have really been through the wringer,” said Robyn Cannata, a real estate broker at Hunt in Williamsville. “I am representing some buyers who have put in four offers, on four separate houses, and had to deal with multiple offers each time.”

Said Susan Lenahan, head of the city office for M.J. Peterson Corp.: “It’s crazy. I’ve been in business for over 30 years. I’ve never seen a market like this.”

....

Kristin St. Mary and fiance David Barber liked a three-story, white-and-gray home for sale on Bird Avenue, west of Richmond Avenue. The kitchen had been upgraded. The bathrooms were updated. The owners had added a mudroom. The house was well-maintained.

The $169,900 asking price was less than others the newly engaged couple had looked at. “We’ve seen other houses that needed more work,” said St. Mary, 36, a local attorney and Syracuse native. “This house was great. It’s move-in ready.”

But although the house was listed only a day earlier, there was already one offer and another showing later in the evening. And the couple had lost out on another house after bidding $25,000 above asking price, only to be beat by a similar offer in cash. They eventually decided not to bid.

“People are snatching things up quickly,” St. Mary said. “There’s a lot of pressure.”

Unlike the “sand states” – California, Arizona, Nevada and Florida – Western New York never experienced the housing boom before the recession and didn’t suffer the bust, either. The sales volume is consistent, and builders are cautious. Prices appreciate here, but not by extreme rates or to extravagant levels.

Nevertheless, the current activity reflects some changes from recent years.

For one thing, interest rates, while they remain at low levels historically, have ticked up and are widely expected to rise further as the economy recovers. That provides an incentive for buyers to act now.

“I’m very encouraged by this set of circumstances, but it can’t last forever,” said Peter Hunt, CEO of Hunt Real Estate. “So if you don’t take advantage of it now, you may miss out.”

And buyers feel more confident. Economic and jobs reports are better, stock prices are rising, and steady home price growth around the country means people “aren’t worried they’ll lose their shirt if prices go down,” said Ken Fears, an economist with the National Association of Realtors.

“There were a lot of fence-sitters out there who were lacking the confidence to get back in the market, despite having low rates,” Fears said. “With the spectre of rising rates on the horizon, the fear of missing out has taken hold. Those who are on the fence have realized they have a small window here.”

On the other side of the supply-and-demand equation, homebuyers have faced a smaller and declining inventory of good homes on the market, as sales increased but new homes weren’t being added to the market fast enough to replenish it.

Nationally, the inventory in April was down 13.6 percent from a year earlier and the pace of sales means the current supply would run out in 5.2 months – well below the “neutral” pace of 6.5 months.

In Western New York, the pace of sales means the current supply of homes would run out in 5.8 months – down from 7.5 months a year ago. At its trough in December, the inventory locally was at its lowest point since March 2005.

“The market’s hot, the listings are down,” said Philip L. Aquila Jr., general manager of residential real estate for M.J. Peterson, and former president of the regional multiple listing service. “We’re back to where we were pre-recession.”



http://www.buffalonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130720/BUSINESS/130729878/1005

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted July 27, 2013 at 10:52:37

Downtown Central Library hosts annual book sale

I Spy Rooftop Fridays at the Buffalo Museum of Science

news
View from above: Toronto’s The Grid sheds light on Buffalo - INTERVIEW

blog by Ben Tsujimoto • July 26, 2013 @ 9:53am

Toronto’s The Grid has an affinity for road trip series, which are useful guides for exploring neighboring cities that may appear intimidating and foreign for urban Canadians.

Dedicated to “capturing the vibe and energy of a city in ascendance,” The Grid has wisely explored neighboring cities—not only to find out what’s accessible nearby, but also to appreciate the special attributes of Toronto. While Southern Ontario towns were the emphasis of last year’s road trip series, the 2013 version examined Buffalo, Detroit and Pittsburgh. We’re obviously most interested in The Grid freelancer Denise Balkissoon’s reflections on her brief foray to Buffalo—you can learn the most about your own city from an visitor’s insights—which led her to highlight the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Gabriel’s Gate, Elmwood Village, Blue Monk, Betty’s, Allentown, the Hotel at the Lafayette (pictured, right), Amy’s Place and more Buffalo staples in the near vicinity...... Balkissoon concluded that Buffalo was a city on the rise—especially creatively and architecturally—and she determined that the Queen City’s future vision was a little wiser than her home city’s. “There are a lot of young people [in Buffalo] doing art and design,” Balkissoon reflected. “I knew what to expect in terms of the historic architecture, but you can tell that the buildings were built to last, too.”

http://www.buffalo.com/news/blog/view-from-above-torontos-the-grid-unveils-rust-belt-road-trips-interview/50304

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted July 27, 2013 at 14:30:54 in reply to Comment 90319

Averaging the median household incomes of the four census tracts between West Delaware Avenue and Delaware Park gives us a household income of $75,738. Median household income for Buffalo is apparently less than half that: $30,230.

http://www.city-data.com/poverty/poverty-Buffalo-New-York.html
http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36/3611000.html

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