Residents’ pride and commitment to their neighborhood leads to renaissance, rebirth
By Patrick Curry
While not completely immune to the suburban flight and economic decline that has taken its toll on many neighborhoods in industrial cities, South Buffalo has not only survived the difficult conditions of the past half century – it is thriving once again. The neighborhood is enjoying a renaissance, with record public and private investment that is bringing a new look and new life to this “city within a city.”
How has South Buffalo been able to avoid – and reverse – the tough economic conditions that have left similar neighborhoods empty and forgotten? The answer is simple. It is the residents’ pride and love for their neighborhood, the deep connection South Buffalonians have to where they live. Rather than moving away to a “better” neighborhood when times are tough, South Buffalonians have committed to making their neighborhood better.
There is no “silver bullet” that will solve all the problems in a neighborhood. It takes a comprehensive, coordinated effort from government officials, the business community, non-profit organizations, block clubs, and individual residents to sustain a healthy, vibrant neighborhood. A short drive through South Buffalo, and you can see evidence of this team effort.
If you enter South Buffalo via the Skyway, the first thing you will see is an area that was completely transformed from an industrial wasteland to a waterfront wonderland. Through the determined efforts of Congressman Brian Higgins, the shoreline that many people struggled to even find has become an exciting public destination. A new boardwalk, park, bike paths, benches, and trees in and around Gallagher Beach have given the public unfettered access to the water’s edge. The replacement of Fuhrman Boulevard with the beautiful tree-lined Outer Harbor Parkway has further improved access to both the waterfront and the Tifft Nature Preserve.
The improvements continue up Tifft Street, which connects the waterfront to the heart of South Buffalo. The main arteries of South Buffalo – Seneca Street, South Park Avenue, Abbott Road, and McKinley Parkway are all in the midst of improvements that are making the thoroughfares more attractive. Assemblyman Mark Schroeder and state Senator Tim Kennedy, with the support of Mayor Byron Brown, are spearheading multi-million dollar streetscape projects on Seneca Street and South Park Avenue, respectively.
Seneca Street is now adorned with top-of-the-line, custom made spun concrete street lights, with two historic designs unique to the strip. The Botanical Gardens designed an urban garden for the corner of Seneca and Cazenovia Streets, which is complemented by a wooden carving of 18th Century Seneca leader and orator, Red Jacket, and two public chess tables. Around the corner, a brand new LED message board sign welcomes passersby to the business strip, as well as informing them about upcoming community events. 25 new sandstone benches, handcrafted by Roycroft artisan Tom Bojanowski, have also been installed on on the street. Custom garbage receptacles, concrete planters, ADA compliant handicap sidewalk ramps, stamped brick crosswalks, new trees, and paving are all set to be installed on Seneca Street in 2011.
The improvements to South Park Avenue, also to be completed in 2011, include new street lighting, paving, sidewalk improvements, enhanced crosswalks, signal improvements with count-down timers for pedestrians, ADA compliant ramps, landscaping, and a major tree planting.
A stretch of Abbott Road surrounding the Buffalo Irish Center has been designated the Irish Heritage District. The project, a collaboration between Schroeder and the civic group Can U Dig It, includes a gateway sign in Heacock Park and Irish language street signs for each road in the district.
The beautifully landscaped circles on McKinley Parkway, as well as the improvements to Morgan Park, are thanks to the tremendous efforts of South Buffalo Alive. Each year, South Buffalo Alive partners with the Greater South Buffalo Chamber of Commerce to showcase the enchanting parkway in the annual Parade of Circles.
The Greater South Buffalo of Commerce also sponsors other popular community events, such as Christmas in Cazenovia Park, where youngsters can meet Santa Claus, ride on a horse-drawn carriage, enjoy some pizza and hot cocoa, and go home with some free toys. Every September, the chamber presents the Shop in Your Neighborhood Expo, a neighborhood trade show in Cazenovia Park that coincides with Goin’ South’s South Buffalo Irish Feis,a celebration of Irish music and culture. In recognition of South Buffalo’s diverse ethnicity, the chamber also puts on the South Park Italian Festival every summer on the lawn of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.
On Cazenovia Street, a former public library on the edge of Cazenovia Park has been transformed to the Cazenovia Community Resource Center, thanks to the efforts of Common Councilman Mickey Kearns.
All of the efforts by government officials and non-profit organizations to improve the quality of life in South Buffalo have not gone unnoticed or unmatched by the private sector.
Catholic Health Systems just completed a $32 million dollar expansion and renovation to its emergency room, making the cutting-edge ER the largest in the area.
Walmart has announced that it will construct a 115,000 square foot store on Seneca Street at the city line, creating 300 jobs for local residents.
Delta Development and the Diocese of Buffalo are transforming the former Holy Family elementary school on South Park Avenue into a state-of-the-art senior housing facility, the first of its kind in South Buffalo.
What used to be a B-Kwik on Seneca Street has been completely renovated into a brand new Tops Markets, including an expansion with a full-service Tim Horton’s.
DePaul Community Services has turned a long vacant parking lot on the corner of Seneca and Elk Streets into a beautifully landscaped campus for its residents.
New small businesses have also been cropping up in the neighborhood lately. Conlon’s Bar & Grill and the Hop Inn have joined the Blackthorn, Charlie O’Brien’s, and the Nine-Eleven Tavern as great places to have a cold beer and a hot meal. The magnificently decorated and long-awaited Francesca’s has brought fine Italian cuisine to South Buffalo.
With the opening of Caz Coffee Café, residents no longer have to leave South Buffalo for the urban coffee shop experience. While they are enjoying a latte, customers can sit down and read a good book at Dog Ears Bookstore, located in the back of the coffee shop.
South Buffalo is also becoming a hotbed of organized labor, with the Asbestos Worker’s Local #4 and American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local #264 opening headquarters on Seneca Street, in addition to the Communication Workers of America Local #1133’s new facility on Elk Street.
These improvements and investments are just a few of the exciting projects that will ensure that South Buffalo will continue to be a strong, viable, and friendly community – and a great place to raise a family – for years to come.
Originally published in the Greater South Buffalo Chamber of Commerce Business Diretory and Community Guide 2011-2012