Buffalo, NY – Buffalo, the second poorest city in the nation has a plan to stimulate a long depressed local economy by making Buffalo and the Great Lakes one and the same in people’s minds. That is right, the Queen City has rediscovered her historical link to the Great Lakes and expects this revival to lead to more jobs and transform the quality of life for those already living -in or relocating -to Buffalo.
“For the last few years, the city of Buffalo has been trying to rebrand itself as a Great Lakes City,” said Jill Spisiak Jedlicka of the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.
“Re” brand is the key because Buffalo is, and has always been a Great Lakes city through-and-through. Buffalo was built at the nexus of the nation’s original trade route. There was a time when every product made in the Midwest sailed first to Buffalo and then to the world from the mouth of the Buffalo River and on through the Erie Canal. But that past has been buried and abandoned and Buffalo has still to recover from the “recession” of the 1970s that sent so many residents into a southern Diaspora.
The Mayor and the City’s leadership have been touting a strategic plan to revitalize the downtown area, develop a tantalizing waterfront and bring back Olmsted Park.
“There is a widespread belief that the revitalization of Buffalo’s waterfront is key to the revitalization of the city and the region as a whole,” says Craig Turner, director of Public Policy for the Buffalo-Niagara Partnership. “It’s not difficult to see in many cities – such as Baltimore or New York’s Battery Park – that strategically utilizing the natural resource of a waterfront can be an economic stimulus on its own. In addition to the obvious job creation in tourism, retail, etc., we believe our region’s connection to the waterfront will offer opportunities and new technologies related to fresh water that will further enable Buffalo Niagara to shed some of its old “rust belt” renown.”
The City is on the right track, according to a Brookings Institute report that found that by investing in Great Lakes restoration the entire region would experience 2-1 economic dividend. Now, sometimes with and other times without help from the Feds or Albany, Buffalo is moving forward with its Queen City Hub strategy. Recasting Buffalo with a direct connection to the Great Lakes, the City is convinced, will be good for the economy.
“If focus is placed on the Great Lakes environment, and appropriate investments are made, the Great Lakes themselves have the potential to help stimulate the regional economy. For Buffalo Niagara, we see this is tremendous opportunity for job creation and a draw for private sector investment that is unique to our part of New York State,” said Turner.
Turners group along with 30 chambers of commerce from across the region have joined forces to lobby Washington on behalf of the entire region arguing that restoring the lakes will be a economic boon that will reverberate throughout the nation.
“Obviously, our involvement with the Great Lakes coalition of chambers of commerce and the Great Lakes Business Agenda is an indication of our recognition of the economic development potential of the Great Lakes,” he said.
The Mayor of Buffalo has been to Albany and to Washington to ask for stimulus funds to update the city’s wastewater infrastructure and provide more than 900 jobs with this one project. And Spisiak Jedlicka and the Niagara Riverkeeper have been working with Great Lakes Legacy Act funds that will provide jobs while cleaning up the Buffalo and Niagara Rivers – miles of which are contaminated by dangerous chemicals.
“The companies came here built up their industries and cut and ran and left us with the legacy of contamination in the rivers,” said Spisiak Jedlicka. The Great Lakes Legacy Act -that is up for reauthorization- has provided funds to clean up the Buffalo River for which Spisiak Jedlicka is the RAP Coordinator.
The City’s waterfront is divided into Inner and Outer harbors and it is the inner harbor project that is moving forward. Spisiak Jedlicka expects shovels in the dirt by next year, but there are still nearly 40 miles of the Niagara River that need to be addressed and the GLLA continues to be under-appropriated.
“People in Buffalo are so hungry for revitalization,” she said, “but we have the stigma of a contaminated river and who wants to relocate to an area of concern? We want to eat the fish and swim in the water and I think that is a realistic goal.”
By realizing these seemingly small goals, with the help of a renewed Great Lakes Legacy Act and significant local commitment, the city would make real progress toward this renaissance. “That is how it [cleaning up the Buffalo and Niagara rivers and restoring the ecosystem] contributes to the revitalization of the City as a whole,” explains Spisiak Jedlicka.
Buffalo, the second poorest city in the nation, has a plan – a plan to truly be a Great Lakes city.