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20 Years of Fostering Economic Growth in Buffalo

Revitalizing commercial corridors and supporting developments that foster economic growth and entrepreneurship has been a key component of LISC’s comprehensive community development strategy in Buffalo. 

“Healthy communities need good commercial districts to provide the products and services the adjacent populations need, as well as providing new employment opportunities for area residents,” said Michael Clarke, former LISC executive director. 

LISC has played a critical supporting role in several projects on Buffalo’s East Side, West Side, downtown, and South Buffalo neighborhoods. Our office has provided technical assistance, planning and financing to assist developers and our non-profit community partners in creating plans and understanding the potential in their markets for improved commercial activities.  

One of the tools LISC has brought to the table in Buffalo has been the opportunity for capital investment through our subsidiary, the New Markets Support Company, which has invested over $1 billion in underserved communities nationwide over the past 14 years. By working with LISC, two local developers were able to access New Market Tax Credits and obtain the resources needed to transform vacant, historically significant buildings in their communities into commercial assets. 

In 2005, the principals of Righteous Babe Records – Scot Fisher and recording artist Ani DiFranco – collaborated with LISC to rescue and restore the historic 19th Century Asbury Church in downtown Buffalo. A facility that was at one time in danger of being demolished was transformed into a mixed use facility that is now home to a large concert and events space, lounge, art gallery, and offices for the Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center.  

LISC provided $9.2 million in New Market Tax Credit investment to the $13.7 million project, which was also supported by a $7.45 equity investment from HSBC. The investment added 30,000 square feet of viable commercial space to the neighborhood, and created a new hub for the local visual and performing arts community. 

LISC also collaborated with the Old First Ward Community Association and the Larkin Development Group in 2013 to kick-start the transformation of a former manufacturing district into a vibrant commercial corridor. LISC provided the Larkin Development Group with $8.5 million in New Market Tax Credits to renovate the vacant Larkin Soap factory building (also known as the “U” Building) into a headquarters for First Niagara Bank.  

LISC expanded the impact of this large rehab project by providing capacity funding for the Old First Ward Community Association to apply for a New York State Main Streets program grant. They were awarded $500,000 to make streetscape improvements in the district and rehab three vacant mixed-use properties. Visitors to the Larkin District today can see the ripple effect of these investments, as they walk through a bustling, vibrant commercial district with restaurants, an outdoor performance and event space, and former industrial buildings that now host office spaces for thriving businesses, foundations and banks. 

In addition to funding support, LISC can provide partners with the support of its Metro Edge market evaluation team to analyze the market potential in their neighborhoods. Metro Edge worked with our partners at PUSH Buffalo and the University District Community Development Association (UDCDA) to develop a study showing market potentials, which in turn helped each group apply for a New York State Main Street award to encourage investment in their commercial districts.   

Thanks to that technical assistance from LISC, in 2015 a total of $1.9 million in state funding was allocated to UDCDA, PUSH, and Heart of the City Neighborhoods for streetscape enhancements and small business façade improvements on major commercial corridors in their respective districts. This was paired with private funds to create a total of $4.85 million in investment for their communities. 

Thanks to that technical assistance from LISC, in 2015 a total of $1.9 million in state funding was allocated to UDCDA, PUSH, and Heart of the City Neighborhoods for streetscape enhancements and small business façade improvements on major commercial corridors in their respective districts. This was paired with private funds to create a total of $4.85 million in investment for their communities. 

"It's through these fine-grained, incremental investments that real neighborhood change happens," said Darren Cotton, Director of Planning & Community Development at the University District Community Development Association. "By leveraging years of community-led work, we have a real opportunity to bring the heart of our neighborhood back." 

LISC also provides partners with special funding for staff to help carry out their commercial efforts. Our strategic investments leverage the resources needed to foster new developments and support the organizations on the ground who are working toward long-term economic growth for their communities. 

Just this year, our partners at Heart of the City Neighborhoods received another New York State grant from the Better Buffalo Fund to continue their efforts to revitalize the Grant Street commercial corridor on Buffalo’s West Side. The grant will be used for streetscape improvements and renovating storefronts and attached residential units. Support from LISC – through technical assistance and funding for staff - has enabled them to build their capacity and generate the momentum needed to keep pushing the revitalization of this corridor forward.