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The transformation of Ohio Street: where public money sparked private investment

When Peg Overdorf bought land along Ohio Street in 2006 for a park, there were a lot of people who thought she was crazy because everyone knew if Ohio Street was going anywhere, it was continuing downhill. However, public money has helped turn it around.

Ohio Street was a waterfront industrial strip, with buildings out of a century ago and showing the wear of the decades, with the old Erie Freight House looking like it would fall down on its own.

If you ride your bicycle there now, like many do, or paddle by in a kayak or watch from the rhythmic rowing of a crew shell, it's suddenly very different, a few years and millions of dollars in private development have transformed the street, with more on the way. Fillmore District Common Councilmember David Franczyk said it is amazing.

"That just shows you how that whole area is starting to pop, it's starting to be very popular," Franczyk said. "I'm not sure I ever thought I would see that, but I'm delighted that we have and the city has put a lot of infrastructure and commitment to it to take it away from a trucking industrial street into a street that is opening up the waterfront for living and recreating and having an esthetic ambiance that people really enjoy."

Just Ohio Street itself shows the millions that have gone in along the street, replacing a tattered old industrial highway into a high-tech roadway of green infrastructure to handle storm water.

With that new road and the millions of dollars Valley Community Association Executive Director Overdorf had pried loose in 17 different grants to start building Buffalo River Fest Park, the essential building block of today's exciting Ohio Street, looking across the Buffalo River to the symbolic enormous beer cans of Buffalo Riverworks.

"We received NYPA's cooperation and they built Mutual Riverfront Park, down at Hamburg and South Street, which made two nice parks on the river and then [Congressman] Brian's [Higgins] money on Ohio Street and it all came together and that's what spearheaded the development," she said.

There is more coming, with Ellicott Development CEO William Paladino saying work should start this fall on turning the old Cooperage factory to more apartments. By spring, Buffalo Scholastic Rowing Association should have enclosed its Patrick Paladino boathouse, named for William's brother, for the high schools and others rowing out of the club.

Paladino said the public dollars encouraged private dollars, lots of them.

"It was instrumental in helping the private investment down there, both what we have done and Savarino and Riverworks," he said. "I know there is still a lot more in planning down there that others are looking to do, including Peg. That sort of beautified the area, gave people a reason to be down there. It's helped with the additional shoreline things they are looking to do right now that should further improve it."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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