BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) - The thought of luring major national and regional retailers to downtown Buffalo's central business district or some of the city's neighborhoods a decade ago would have been close to unthinkable.
However, changing demographics, including a dramatic rise in downtown residents and private sector-fueled investment that exceeds $2 billion, is painting a new picture.
Also, helping the development landscape is a more cooperative public sector including $1 billion in funds being earmarked by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"We have really good bones," said Robert Shibley, University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning dean.
Shibley was the keynote speaker on a six-person panel that addressed retailing conditions in downtown Buffalo, a major part of a day-long "Buffalo Deal Making and Networking" seminar presented jointly by the Phillips Lytle LLP law firm and International Council of Shopping Centers.
Shibley said the upward movement of downtown Buffalo's demographics is catching the eye of developers - both commercial and residential. Proof can be found with Benderson Development Co. convincing Marriott to open its first property in the city's central business district, a 96-room Courtyard by Marriott next fall.
Further proof can be found with the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, after a decade of courting, finally agreeing to open on Franklin Street next summer.
"There will be increasingly more retail deals to be made in the urban center," Shibley said.
Downtown is seeing a larger growth in its critical mass of people, both residents and workers.
The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, a decade ago, had 7,000 workers. Fast forward to 2012 and it has 12,000 people working there, with projections of 18,000 or more people employed there within the next five years.
Still, downtown has its challenges.
Chief among them: perception of safety.
"You need to create an environment where people feel safe and secure," said Eric Recoon, Benderson Development vice president of development and leasing.
The reality is downtown Buffalo has a lower crime rate than many suburban areas and shopping areas.
"Even if you don't have security challenges, if there is a perception that you do, then you do have that perception saddled to you," Recoon said.