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Mayor Brown vows 'outside-the-box' economic development in 2020 State of City address

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Mayor Byron Brown is vowing to make the City of Buffalo an "address of choice," by introducing more housing along Main Street, improved parking access and improved digital technology to deliver services. Such improvements are part of a new "Roaring 20s" he outlined in his 2020 State of the City Address.

Brown opened his 14th annual address by telling an audience estimated at 2,200 people, "I am proud to report to you that the state of our city is strong, and getting stronger."

He then proceeded to detail a strategy known as Buffalo's Race for Place, to identify potential public-private partnerships, improve infrastructure and embrace further technological advancement."

"Our roaring 20s will reimagine the same old spirit of industry, innovation and achievement that divined our city a century ago. But with a shared vision that we embrace and execute with passion, and purpose," he said. "We must innovate our approach to economic development, job creation, and skills training. We must focus on efficiency, data analytics, digital connectivity, and building an intelligent Smart City."

One such public-private partnership involves Douglas Jemal, and Douglas Development, which purchased the former Buffalo Police headquarters at Church and Franklin Streets and is redeveloping Seneca One Tower. Mayor Brown noted that Jemal has offered to forego $15 million in tax breaks to make that money available for returning auto traffic to Main Street through the Accelerate Buffalo Fund.

"It'll be a living downtown, which is what we should have," Jemal said. "It should be a living downtown, a living city for everybody and the canal should be extended all the way from Canalside, all the way from Main to the medical center. And cars should be back on Main Street as they once were. That's our objective at the end of the day, and all ships rise when the tide comes up."

As for Seneca One Tower, Jemal says the apartments within it are ready but because it remains a construction site, he is waiting to give the building "an opening it deserves."

Mayor Brown announced the city will invest $25 million that, along with the money Jemal is passing back, will build the Accelerator Fund to $40 million.

The mayor spoke of another large-scale transformation to come downtown, at Main Place Mall. Its owner, he said, is ready to convert the space into an office building that would attract what he described as a "knowledge economy."

"To help facilitate this transformation, my administration will sell the Fernbach Ramp to Main Place Liberty group for nearly $20 million and commit these funds to initiatives that will create mobility solutions for downtown, ensuring access to commuters of every income level," Brown stated.

While speaking of the goal to create a "Smart City," he also announced the formation of what he calls the first-of-its-kind public-private data analytics partnership.

"We will partner with SAS Institute to expand Citizen Services, improve government efficiency and become the nation's leading intelligent, smart city," he said. "Our data and analytic center will deliver insights to make Buffalo the government technology leader. Together, we will develop an innovation laboratory to produce data driven solutions and create a talent development hub that will produce a new generation of skilled talent in Buffalo."

Plans for a Smart City buildout also include updating technology for infrastructure improvements ranging from street lights to better control of flow in sewer systems. Brown also announced the launch of what is called BuffAlert, a civic alert notifcation system. He encouraged guests in attendance to register on the spot by texting the program's name to 30890.

He also announced a plan to improve the city's parking app, Buffalo Roam, which has surpassed 50 percent utilization by those needing to pay for a city parking space.

When addressing housing, Brown called for his city having 40 percent permanent affordable housing stock. And he announced that, in partnership with Erie County, the City of Buffalo is rolling out a plan to construct 2,100 new housing units along the Main Street "knowledge corridor," from Canalside to the University at Buffalo South Campus.

"The housing along the Main Street Knowledge Corridor is already getting a jumpstart," he said. "Developer William Paladino plans to build 100 units of modern housing at St. Paul Mall for new residents. Main Street will no longer be the line that divides our city.

"In this new economy, the Main Street Knowledge Corridor will unite our city around an economy that ensures opportunity for all. That's why today, I am announcing a commitment to ensure that 40% of housing units in the city of Buffalo will remain permanently affordable for the middle class and low to moderate income residents. I am also making a commitment to work with the City Council to create a $100 million fund from the city of Buffalo over the next five years to close the racial wealth gap in our community and communicate to the world that buffalo is a city of opportunity, equity and inclusion."

He also declared, "We will not leave public housing residents behind."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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