Like many Rust Belt cities Buffalo, New York entered the 21st Century with a local unemployment rate over 13%, rapid population decline, and acres of industrial property contaminated during times of prosperity. Determined to pull the city out of crisis by revitalizing and recommissioning abandoned properties, the City of Buffalo applied and was awarded a Brownfield Opportunity Areas (BOA) grant to focus on the Tonawanda Street Corridor in 2011.
The Tonawanda Street Corridor BOA follows the Belt Line rail corridor, encompassing 650 acres in the northwest section of the city. This roughly one square mile area includes 8 acres of water (the Niagara River and Scajaquada Creek), 130 acres of vacant land, and 192 acres of industrial land. All told, 46 parcels of varying sizes can be categorized as brownfields. Stakeholders, led by a steering committee, came together over the next several years to develop a vision for the area with goals, zoning guidelines and a set of implementation strategies intended to remedy and build upon the industrial past.
The City of Buffalo and the BOA consultant team took the community’s vision and developed land use and zoning recommendations for implementation under the city’s proposed Green Code (adopted in 2017). The Green Code is the first major overhaul to City zoning laws since 1953 and the City’s blueprint for zoning and development in the 21st Century. Most importantly, the Green Code is a form-based code, a type of zoning code that focuses on aesthetics and architecture over separation of use. This was critical in encouraging the reuse of the historic buildings throughout the BOA area.
By December 2016 the BOA Nomination Study was completed, and in November of 2017, the BOA area received designation by the NY Secretary of State. In order to further encourage cleanup and redevelopment of sites in designated BOAs in a manner consistent with the community’s vision for revitalization, a “BOA bump-up” may be available for sites developed in conformance with the BOA plan. (A“BOA bump-up” is an increase of up to 5% of the allowable tangible property tax credit component of the brownfield redevelopment tax credit.) The City and land developers can focus on these strategic locations throughout the BOA area with an eye toward achieving this additional tax credit.
Adaptive Reuse - Niagara Street
The infill development strategy for Niagara Street permitted in The Green Code has resulted in significant changes along this corridor, as new buildings have been built or are proposed, and older structures have been reused for commercial and residential uses. The revitalization on and around Niagara street includes the following:
- The Mentholatum building at 1360 Niagara street was constructed in 1919 to manufacture menthol-based health and beauty products. Operated until 1989, the 80,000 square foot factory was sold in 2016 and renovated as a residential mixed-use project with 40 market-rate apartments and street level retail.
- The Cresendo project at 1502 Niagara Street redeveloped the former Bison Storage building into 41 rental apartments and the restaurant Roost.
- A three-story building at 1225 Niagara Street is being renovated with street level commercial and four apartments on the upper floors. The existing structure, once a grocery and meat market with boarding rooms above, had fallen into disrepair, setting the wrong tone for the corner of Niagara and Breckenridge Street. The renovation of this historic structure marks significant progress in changing this neighborhood for the better.
- The former Niagara Lithograph Company at 1050 Niagara Street was renovated in 2017 with an eye toward historic preservation. This 45,000 square foot building is commercial office space on the first two floors and 8 apartments at the basement level.
Adaptive Reuse - Chandler Street
Located south of the train tracks, Chandler Street has many former manufacturing structures dating back to the early 20th Century; many of which have been vacant for decades. With an eye toward the BOA vision of jobs creation, environmental remediation, sustainable design and adaptive reuse of these structures, three large projects have developed as a result of the BOA designation.
- The structure at 155-157 Chandler Street received a conformance determination from the Secretary of State in August 2018. This determination allows the building owner to be eligible to receive tax credits. Reborn as the Pierce Arrow Business Center, the building was a former automotive manufacturing facility which now hosts advanced manufacturing. Like the Thin Man Brewery mentioned below, the evolution into the Pierce Arrow Business Center started by repair of the underlying environmental issues and reuse of the existing footprint of the building and existing structure. The Pierce Arrow Business Center is 80,000 square feet and houses Utilant and ENRG, two high tech manufacturing businesses that seeks to employ 150 people.
- The structure at 166 Chandler Street, now home to Thin Man Brewing, received a conformance determination in September 2019. This means that the owner of the 43,000 square foot building is eligible to receive tax credits because the reuse was designed in line with the BOA. The brewery anticipates adding 50 jobs to this working-class neighborhood.
- Redevelopment of 27-37 Chandler Street is the most recent project seeking a conformance determination. This project uses the existing footprint of the building and reuses the existing structures as business incubators for startup food companies. Called Food e’, the buildings contain 12 start-up kitchens, a commercial mushroom farm and a restaurant called Waxlight Bar and Vine. The project will create approximately 20 jobs.