Mayor Brown celebrates 'strong' state of city, confirms Tops to open downtown

Feb 5, 2016

The Buffalo-Niagara Convention Center was filled with what Mayor Byron Brown reported to be its largest sit-down audience in history during the 2016 State of the City address.
Credit Jerry Urban / WBFO News

Saying the state of the City of Buffalo is "strong," Mayor Byron Brown looked back on accomplishments while announcing who will develop a highly-anticipated downtown grocery store.

Brown delivered his tenth State of the City Address to an audience reportedly in excess of 1,600 people. According to officials, it's the largest sit-down audience in the convention center's history.

Brown's address Friday afternoon used selected highlights from previous State of the City speeches, including a clip from his 2008 speech during which he declared the city's fiscal crisis over. He said the city was over back then, as he stated, but there's more work to do and announced that he will hold the line on property tax rates and freeze assessments this year. 

He told the audience that his administration's efforts have resulted in the highest level of investment in the city in decades, with $5.5 billion in economic development activity since 2012 and the creation of more than 12,000 jobs. 

The most anticipated part of this year's speech was Brown's announcement that a bidder has been selected for redevelopment of 201 Ellicott Street in downtown Buffalo. Ciminelli Real Estate was identified as the winning bidder. The company's plan for mixed-use development of what is now a parking lot includes the introduction of a grocery store, identified by Brown as Tops Market.

While stating he could not speak on behalf of Tops, Paul Ciminelli, president of the real estate company, told reporters that the downtown location will be different than the supermarket chain's other sites.

"You're working in a fairly tight urban environment," Ciminelli said. "It's more vertical., which they traditionally are not. Their stores are more what you call horizontal, more suburban type settings. this is their first urban, vertical type development that they'll be going into."

Mayor Brown said shovels should be in the ground to begin the development by next spring, though he and Ciminelli said other parts of the plan have not been finalized. Neither would discuss what public incentives might be sought by Ciminelli for the project. Brown said he would not comment because negotiations were continuing.

Other accomplishments discussed by the mayor during his address:

- Taking a lead role in the transformation of a former city-owned parking lot into HarborCenter.

- Bringing the city's credit rating to the highest in its history.

- Reopening a third major block of Main Street to vehicular traffic, helping to stimulate economic growth in that neighborhood. 

- Committing over $1.3 million to Say Yes Buffalo, which in turn has helped city schools achieve the highest graduation rate in several years. 

- The city's lowest number of reported crimes in its recorded history last year.

Among the mayor's announcements for upcoming development is the forthcoming construction of 150 additional parking spaces at the Buffalo Zoo, the sale of a parcel of land on Buffalo's waterfront to create a site for a soon-to-be-restored vintage carousel, and economic development initiatives including the Northland Avenue Corridor Redevelopment Project and Beverly Gray Business Exchange Center. 

During the speech, Brown presented Mary Wilson with a Key to the City. The widow of Buffalo Bills founder Ralph Wilson was handed the framed key in a posthumous tribute to the football team owner, whose fortune is now being used to invest in various community causes through the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation.

"It's exciting for our foundation to be a part of Buffalo and Western New York today, because with all the support that is coming into Buffalo we can really do a lot," Mrs. Wilson said.