Officials Unveil Old First Ward Improvements

November 10, 2010 Updated Nov 10, 2010 at 3:02 PM EDT

By WKBW Programming

November 10, 2010 Updated Nov 10, 2010 at 3:02 PM EDT

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) - First Niagara Financial Group, Inc. and Larkin Development Group celebrated the official completion of the Spotlight Larkin Streetscape project Wednesday.

The project includes newly developed sections of Seneca, Van Rensselaer, Swan and Emslie Streets in one of Buffalo’s oldest neighborhoods now known as The Larkin District.

In December 2009, First Niagara announced that more than $2 million would be invested toward the Larkin Community Improvement Fund and the Larkin District Streetscape Improvement project. The streetscape improvements stretch more than a half-mile across Seneca Street between Fillmore Avenue and Larkin Street and include new streets, sidewalks, bike lanes, curbs, landscaping, lighting, benches, bus shelters and crosswalks.

“Today’s celebration represents growth, transformation and a major step forward in creating a place to work, live and play in the Larkin District,” Larkin Development Group Principal Howard Zemsky said. “First Niagara took a lead role with us and the Old First Ward Community Association, National Grid, New York State and The City of Buffalo also share our vision. Through their generous support and continued commitment, we are on the path to urban resurgence. I couldn’t think of a better neighborhood to do it in.”

“When we made our decision to move our corporate headquarters to the City of Buffalo, we knew that the Larkin District was where we wanted to be,” First Niagara President and CEO John R. Koelmel said. “Howard Zemsky and the Larkin Development Group exemplify innovation, commitment and perseverance. Those attributes mirror our corporate culture, and we felt that there were clear synergies for First Niagara and Larkin Development to collaborate on this project together.”

As announced last year, First Niagara committed $1.5 million toward streetscape improvements, plus $50,000 to the Larkin Community Improvement Fund. The City of Buffalo provided a $200,000 investment to the area. Mayor Byron Brown commended Larkin Development Group, First Niagara and the Old First Ward Community Association for their commitment to the neighborhood.

“The continuing transformation and revitalization of the Larkin District is a testament to the vision of Howard Zemsky and the Larkin Development Group, along with the commitment and critically important support of John Koelmel and First Niagara Bank,” said Mayor Byron W. Brown. “These private sector partners who share a common vision for this historically significant section of Buffalo, in collaboration with the city and nearby community-based organizations, are helping to redefine economic development in Buffalo, bringing new energy and excitement to the process. I commend them for their continuing success and look forward to further collaborations for the benefit of the Larkin District and the entire city."

In addition to last year’s commitments to the Larkin Community Improvement Fund, the Old First Ward Community Association announced the addition of a $500,000 grant to assist in the Larkin Development Group’s vision. The grant which is designed to boost commercial revitalization is part of the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) Main Street program which will aid in commercial and residential restorations located within the district including the Larkin U Building, the Kamman Building and the Schaefer Building. This grant demonstrates the new commitment of state housing agencies to collaborate and synergize funding for community development.

The Main Street program employs an overall philosophy of revitalizing commercial areas that are critical to the continued vitality of a neighborhood. The Larkin District’s U Building has been designated as the anchor structure for redevelopment, and is considered to be a pivotal piece of the overall project and growth of the neighborhood.

“When we were first brought to the table with Larkin Development Group and First Niagara, we knew that they were going to do things right,” Old First Ward Community Association Director Laura Kelly said. “They made commitments to building relationships with the neighbors and pledged to create an economically viable district; I’m proud to be standing here today and can confidently say that they have done just that.”

The 57,000 square foot Larkin U Building which will house office space is already under renovation. Notable exterior improvements can already be seen with the installation of replacement windows, exterior masonry paint removal and repainting, and a new roof. The building is slated to open the end of the first quarter of 2011.

In addition to the Larkin U Building, the grant will fund improvements to eligible commercial and residential spaces including Chaintreuil, Jenson and Stark Architect’s Kamman Building units. The overall goal of the grant is to retain and grow business and offer attractive retail, residential and commercial space which will provide new opportunities for growth.

National Grid also provided a $250,000 grant from its urban corridor revitalization program, one of more than a dozen economic development programs the company manages to encourage and support business and community development in upstate New York. The urban corridor program is designed to assist the larger urban centers in National Grid's upstate service territory to achieve their revitalization goals, increase property tax bases, and promote "smart-growth" investment in central business districts and commercial corridors.

WKBW/First Niagara