Back in 2002 I worked downtown for a telecommunications company and lived off of Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo. Unfortunately the company I worked for folded. Before they shut down operations my manager secured a great job in the Twin Cities and offered me a substantial raise in both pay and profile if I came with him.
At the time I was unmarried with no kids and the IT market in Buffalo was not friendly to people starting out, so I left.
When I first arrived in the Twin Cities people would ask me to describe why Buffalo struggled and I had one way to sum it up.
"If your local government has a decision to make, go look at something Buffalo did to address the issue. Study hard what the leaders in Erie county did and then do the opposite"
This is not a dig at the people of Buffalo, they are and have always been spectacular in their strength of character, warm disposition, and enduring dignity. Even 30 years of hard times had not eroded the blue collar tenacity which pervades the area.
The dig was aimed at the political class which used machine politics to produce useless councilmen, Mayors, and County Executives for decades on end.
For example, Want to know why I can look out my window and see the Mall of America in Minnesota?
Well the story goes that the initial plans were to build the Mall of America in Niagara Falls NY but the local politicians smelled blood... I mean Money in the water and they managed to price themselves out of the running.
That was the Buffalo Politics I grew up on.
Year after year of silver bullet solutions failing one after another to create substantial improvement for the city because they were aimed at elevating politicians not the people. Things like the light rail project? Well that killed main street and some argue was the coup de grâce for downtown.
In 2007, Harvard Economist Edward Glaeser declared Buffalo dead.
In 2008, the Great Recession hit. As all of America started to feel sting of fickle economics, Buffalo for the first time in a long time, saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
This isn't a story about the values of the blue-collar legacy of industrial Buffalo, this is a story about Buffalo's future.
The last time I was in Buffalo was the summer of 2013. I spent a week there after attending a weeding in Boston and left the City of Lights with an impression that things had really changed. It started with my sister, a Buffalo expat who moved back, telling me that things were turning a corner. I was skeptical.
Then I had a fantastic week! It was beyond a trip home to see my family. For the first time in many years Buffalo was a fun family vacation! I lived in Buffalo for a quarter century but the reinvigorated water front and renewed atmosphere in the city made it a great place to visit.
The Erie Canal Harbor was dead as recently as the 2000, I used to work on the Canal and saw nothing, it was devoid of life.
Today it has a busy boardwalk, a "re-watered" commercial slip, picnic tables, Adirondack chairs and the excavated foundations of several canal-era buildings. More important, it has people. The area is bustling because of the 400 plus events and activities scheduled throughout the summer and fall, from music and theater performances to archaeological digs.
It was such a pleasant surprise that I decided to do a small series aimed at opposing fans from schools EMU, UConn, Stony Brook and UMass. Each called out something you could do on a Friday or Saturday on a Buffalo Trip.
These pieces featured Niagara Falls, the Waterfront bot tours, Architecture walks around the city, and of course sampling Buffalo's vast swatch of tasty treats.
Those things were once "the only game in town" for Buffalo tourism but now I consider them to be just the low hanging fruit, the easy things to do on your first trip for an American Athletic Conference games. Now the city seems to be creating new ways to enjoy yourself, no matter what your interest might be.
The next phase of Canalside is under construction on the site of the torn-down Memorial Auditorium. The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. is "recreating" canals, towpaths and bridges from the heyday of the Erie Canal. The canals will be refrigerated so that in the winter visitors can enjoy skating.
Despite Buffalo's reputation as frigid I can assure you that until mid-January it's rather nice for a northern city. The same unfrozen Lake that occasionally drops a heap of snow on the city does provide a bit of warmth until it freezes over in the deepest part of winter.
The best part about all of this development is that it's not happening for no reason. These things were not built for tourists, they were built for the revived and resurgent people of Buffalo.
Buffalo has always been a great place to live, if you could find work. Despite being a Metro area of 1.1 million people, it has a community feel. But the recession that hit it's peak in the 70's seemed to drag on in Buffalo for decades.
Wise decisions and investments by UB have, over the past 10 years, tunrned Buffalo into a post-recession college boomtown. From 2000 to 2012, the Buffalo metro area rose to seventh in the nation in the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with a college degree. The cost of living in Buffalo allows young people to build their lives without drowning in debt. As a result, of low costs, more jobs and more education, Buffalo ranked tenth in the nation in per capita income gains from 2009 to 2012.
A big part of the resurgence is the University at Buffalo. Leveraging the medical research and education campus as an economic development strategy started under the terms of Mayor Anthony M. Masiello. His successor, Mayor Byron W. Brown, directed his economic development aides to support the project with city funds, fast-track permits, and business and professional recruitment.
UB recently added a third Campus. There is the origional in North Buffalo and 10 minutes north of that is the Amherst Campus where most all of the undergraduate studies happen. Now UB moved their medical school to the Buffalo Medical Corridor near Roswell Cancer Center.
Brendan R. Mehaffy, the executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning, said the Buffalo Niagara campus growth has encouraged the construction of new hotels, retail space and luxury residential development. The area was not completly forgone but had been hit by hard times. Now with UB in the area home prices in the neighborhoods closest to the campus have risen 15 percent in the last two years.
In other words Buffalo has found its footing as a post industrial city and is leveraging every asset at it's disposal to improve the life of the people who live there and the experiences of those who visit.
Yesterday Bull Run took a look at some of the wonderful places to visit that are already in the AAC. After my last visit to the City of Lights I believe that Buffalo has become an area that can stand up with those American Conference Destinations as a great place to visit.