Buffalo Mayor Outlines Plan to Become Leading 'Smart City' in Nation

Though often short on details, which presumably will come later, Brown outlined a variety of proposals to make Buffalo a technology-savvy, inclusive community.

The Buffalo News

By Deidre Williams

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- During his 14th State of the City address, Mayor Byron W. Brown outlined a laundry list of initiatives that fit into his vision for making Buffalo a "smart" and inclusive locale using technology to propel the city while creating opportunities for everyone.

These strategies are driven by the city's desire to compete in the global race for talent, while also ensuring a diverse and inclusive workforce, Brown told a crowd of more than 2,000 in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center as he talked about efforts to use data to solve problems and become the nation's leading "smart city."

Brown's proposals include:

Accelerator Buffalo Fund

The ABF is a $40 million fund for infrastructure improvements that are critical to attracting new businesses and workers to the city, Brown said. The $40 million includes $15 million in tax exemptions that developer Douglas Jemal, the owner of Seneca One tower, is foregoing and directing to the fund. The city is committing another $25 million, Brown announced.

The fund will provide spaces outside Seneca One, along the waterfront and up to about Court Street with the latest in infrastructure improvements and upgrades, including car-sharing on Main Street and free 5G technology. The purpose is to attract talent and workers from around the world, Brown said.

So it's not just streets, sidewalks and parks. Now we have to put in a lot of technology now that everybody expects," Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of the city's Office of Strategic Planning, said after the speech.

The agreement will be introduced to the Common Council for its approval in the coming weeks.

Mobility Fund

The mobility fund will be financed by selling the Fernbach Ramp to Main Place Liberty Group for nearly $20 million. Those dollars will be committed to initiatives that focus on transportation, like enhancing the Buffalo Roam mobile parking app, adding parking spaces and providing technology for "dynamic parking pricing," in which parking prices could change throughout the day based on demand to ensure there is available parking for everyone, Mehaffy said. It will alleviate transportation burdens on commuters to downtown Buffalo, Brown said.

Specifics on how to use the money from the Mobility and Accelerator funds are being discussed this week while the Congress for the New Urbanism is in town for workshops on the "Future of Mobility: Remaking Buffalo for the 21st Century." The workshops are focused on mobility solutions for future decades.

We have the funds. Experts are coming in. We'll be talking about how do we spend the money," Mehaffy said.
A Remade Main Place Mall

Brown announced that owner Patrick Hotung intends to transform the location, which has lost much of its retail over the years, into a state-of-the-art office complex to attract tenants from Buffalo's growing research and information-based economy, which is being driven by companies like ACV, Campus Labs, Athenex, Flora, Thinking Robot, REAC and Tesla.

Buffalo's Race for Place

The Race for Place is a new initiative to foster public-private partnerships like M&T Bank's plan to have 1,000 employees working at the tech hub it is creating inside Seneca One tower. The Race for Place campaign is being led by the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation and will seek other public-private partnership opportunities to create critical mass and vibrancy and match the interior enhancements already underway at downtown locations, Brown said.

Also during his address, Brown announced that the city has launched BUFFALERT, which will send notifications to enrolled residents via email, text or recorded phone message alerting them to an emergency, public service announcement, event or opportunity of interest. To enroll, text JOIN BUFFALERT to 30890, which the mayor invited attendees to do during his speech.

As he outlined new initiatives and funds to enhance the city, one thing the mayor did not talk about was how to replenish the city's cash reserves, which have dwindled in recent years. The comptroller, rating agencies, the city control board and some on the Common Council have all expressed concern, even as the mayor described the city as "strong and getting stronger."

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