"Small ball" leads to economic wins

Chapter preisdent Bob Richardson wrote this op-ed, which was published in The Buffalo News on Oct. 11, 2017.

There is plenty of buzz surrounding Amazon’s search for a second headquarters and the thousands of jobs that come with it. Admittedly, it’s a long shot, since countless U.S. and Canadian cities are also in pursuit of what would be an economic grand slam.

While swinging for the fences makes headlines, when it comes to economic development, Buffalo and its surrounding communities have found success by playing “small ball” – hitting singles and focusing on advancing those areas that are thriving.

In the past, our region has taken unrealistic approaches to economic development, usually with disappointing results.

Excellent examples of how small ball can succeed can also be found in the Town of Hamburg’s successful efforts to revitalize the village and develop new capacity for business attraction.

Between 2008 and 2010, local businesses were expanding into Hamburg’s industrial park, which was rapidly running out of space. That prompted Town Supervisor Steve Walters and his team to come up with an innovative plan to acquire a large parcel of property for future economic development.

They created a land development corporation and purchased 170 acres for what is now known as the Lake Erie Commerce Center. It has been developed as one of the few pre-permitted sites in Erie County and all of Western New York.

Because of the town’s forethought, FedEx now occupies 57 acres. The company built a 310,000-square-foot main facility and three smaller buildings. The town’s pre-permitting – preparing for success – created the opportunity.

The redevelopment of the Village of Hamburg is also a regional model for revitalization and using economic development small ball to get big wins. Creating pockets of success and expanding from them is the art of small ball in real estate.

As of late, Buffalo has scored some economic development runs: the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where the new John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital and the University at Buffalo Medical School are about to open, is a relevant example. While the Medical Campus may seem like a grand slam, it’s really the principles of small ball at work – creating a pocket of economic strength and expanding upon it. The impact the Medical Campus has on Buffalo is the result of many small victories compounded.

In the City of Buffalo, people are once again investing in neighborhoods like the Elmwood Village, the Hertel strip and the waterfront, where businesses are breathing new life into those communities, property values are up and more people are moving in – small victories compounded.

In baseball, there’s nothing more dramatic than a walk-off home run. But moving runners around the bases with singles wins games, pennants and championships. The same is true for economic development.

While we’re taking a swing at Amazon HQ2, let’s remember what created the resurgence of Buffalo – going small.



Call for Entries – 2017 Commercial Real Estate Awards

NAIOP Upstate New York (The Commercial Real Estate Association) is seeking nominations for its prestigious 2017 Annual Awards in Commercial Real Estate. The awards will showcase the finest development projects throughout Upstate New York.

Winners will be honored at the Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center in Buffalo.

Award Criteria

Projects must have been completed between Oct. 1, 2016, and Sept. 30, 2017. Categories include Mixed Use, Adaptive ReUse, Industrial, Office, Medical, Urban Multi-Family, Retail, and Residential.

Entrants should explain why their project deserves to be recognized.  All project submissions should include the following:

  • Property description
  • Development concept and objectives
  • Design process – innovations and challenges
  • Project strengths, features, and amenities
  • Project challenges
  • Economic/Financial success

Judging criteria will be based upon how the project differentiates itself from other projects based on creativity, uniqueness of design, sustainability, and economic and community impact.

All entries must be received by Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017.

For more information:

Erie County Comptroller reports on Inclusionary Zoning

NAIOP’s September Developer’s Summit in Buffalo featured Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, who discussed his “Report on Erie County Industrial Development Agency Lower Incoming Housing Component Proposal.” 

When Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz proposed a form of inclusionary zoning in his 2017 State of the Country address, Mychajliw said he took a close look at the data, examining its potential impact on developers who would be required to designate up to ten percent of available apartments in downtown Buffalo as affordable housing.

Mychajliw called it a “very negative proposal.” He said this major initiative blind-sided the development community, which he said the county executive did not consult with developers before raising the idea.  “While inclusionary zoning may have a neutral impact in larger cities like New York and Boston, it cannot work in Buffalo.”

The comptroller talked to developers and bankers about how it would negatively impact the local economy. “To force this would be a monumental mistake.  It would set back the tremendous progress we’ve made in Buffalo over the past 10 to 15 years,” Mychajliw said.

“Requiring low income units in every development project will not put a dent in the affordable housing problem, but you do put every real estate investment at risk,” said Bob Richardson, president of the NAIOP Upstate New York chapter. “Instead of figuring out how to work together proactively (developers and government), the current proposal will force us  to go to government and say, "there is a negative consequence to your requirement" and persuade them to undo it.”

Hamburg Towner Supervisor Steve Walter also addressed the summit, discussing his town’s successful efforts to develop new capacity for business development.

Between 2008 and 2010, local businesses were expanding into Hamburg’s industrial park, which was rapidly running out of space.  That prompted Walter and his team to come up with an innovative plan to acquire a large parcel of property for future economic development.

“We created a land development corporation and purchased 170-acres from Middle Steel,” he said.  “It’s now known as the Lake Erie Commerce Center. We developed that property as one of the few pre-permitted sites in Erie County and all of Western New York.”

To alleviate potential environmental challenges tenants might face at the industrial park, the corporation completed the SEQR (New York State Environmental Quality Review Act) process for the entire site. “Whoever came into the property would not have to take on the risk of objectors suing under SEQR.”

FedEx is now a tenant at the site, occupying 57 acres. They built a 310,000-square foot main facility and three smaller buildings.  Because SEQR approval was already in place, Walter said it took less than three months for FedEx to begin construction once they closed on the sale.

70 acres remain for development on the property.  “It’s a great use of a piece of property that was in an industrial section of the town.  We took proactive steps.”