Road Trip! Destination: Buffalo
Newell Nussbaumer says Buffalo is becoming a place “where people come to live their dreams.”
He calls himself a “grassroots activist” and is the editor of buffalorising.com, a website that has chronicled developments he and other enthusiasts are calling the “Buffalo renaissance.”
Restaurants are opening. Hotels are going up or being rebuilt. The city's harborfront has a new industry: entertainment and recreation.
All of this makes Buffalo a place to visit.
Nussbaumer likens it to Pittsburgh's growth: A city that has found new muscle to replace the industrial sinew that departed.
And, as Buffalonians will tell you, it doesn't snow all the time.
Shipping in the changes
Development of Buffalo's Canalside gets a great deal of credit for the excitement sparking the city.
Robert Gioia, chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., says New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's initiatives that turned over then-useless industrial land led to $200 million in private development projects.
As hotels, clubs and restaurants emerge, events follow. There are hundreds of festivals, concerts and shows planned there this year, Gioia says.
Excitement there leads to enthusiasm elsewhere and renewal spread, he says. “Western New Yorkers are really feeling good about their community.”
On a roll
Water Bikes of Buffalo (716-681-4643, waterbikesofbuffalo.com) may cruise on the Buffalo River, but its headwater is in the Mon.
Lisa Florczak says when she and her husband returned to their hometown of Buffalo after two years in Pittsburgh, they wanted to see the same kind of renaissance that had turned a dilapidated train depot into Station Square.
“We saw what happened in Pittsburgh and said, ‘Why can't that happen here?' ” Lisa Florczak says.
They got involved in the development of Canalside, “which was a wasteland,” she says, and founded their family-owned water-bike company. The pedal-powered floating bikes were an attempt to provide yet another way to enjoy the outdoor area of Canalside.
It's now part of a busy area of outdoor yoga classes, bike and kayak rentals, even a ferry service to take bikers and hikers to other parts of the waterfront.
When the harbor development group opened its ice-skating rink in the winter of 2014, Water Bikes developed its Ice Bikes option, a tredded vehicle mounted on a frame.
The drama of history
Theodore Roosevelt took a dramatic route to the presidency that began in the Adirondack Mountains and ended on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo.
The TR Inaugural Site (716-884-0095, trsite.org) offers a look at his inauguration after the 1901 assassination of President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition. Alone, that story has great drama: the vice president being rushed back from a camping trip when McKinley suddenly worsened. But the inaugural site in a large home on Delaware has taken on a bigger role. It is not only a historical site that looks at those striking days, but it's the start of walking tours of the area. It also offers a series of programs Tuesday evenings with speakers and trivia nights.
What's old is new again
Leslie Zemsky bears the enviable title of director of fun at Larkin Square.
She's evidently doing a good job, because there is plenty of it happening at what once was a collection of grubby industrial buildings. Larkin Square (larkinsquare.com) shows how old buildings can bring new life to a neighborhood.
Her husband, Howard, brought new life to the 600,000-square-foot Larkin at Exchange Building after buying it in 2002.
The building once was part of the Larkin Soap Co., the business whose top brass created Frank Lloyd Wright's legacy in Buffalo. Founder John Larkin once saw a need for a square in the neighborhood, so Zemsky decided to go through with the idea.
The Larkin Co. Filling Station became a restaurant and is now the core of the area. Food Truck Tuesdays, with about 30 vehicles a week, draw thousands to the plaza. Live at Larkin concerts do the same on Wednesdays. There are Pickleball courts, a mini-golf course called Larkin Links, and Fitness in the Parks programs.
If you're looking for something else, the Hydraulic Hearth restaurant is across the street.
Everything is all Wright
The Buffalo renaissance might have been spurred by a surging interest in the city's collection of Frank Lloyd Wright homes.
When restoration of Wright's Darwin A. Martin home (716-856-3858, darwinmartinhouse.org) began in the 1980s, it led to a burgeoning interest in the architect's works in the area.
Buffalo is a virtual Chicago of the east with its Wright buildings. There's the Graycliffe estate (716-947-9217, graycliffestate.org), the weekend home of Martin and his wife; and Blue Sky Mausoleum (716-885-1600, forest-lawn.com) in Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Two other Wright designs were built recently from his plans: the Fontana Boathouse (716-362-3140) and a gas station (716-853-0084, pierce-arrow.com). There also are two still-occupied Wright homes not open for touring.
New items on the menu
Buffalo's renewal is more than a bunch of Horsefeathers. It has led to a building of that name becoming the home to a foodie's haven. It also has led to the renewal of what was once a flophouse into a world-class hotel-apartment complex.
Martin Danilowicz, owner of Martin Cooks in Horsefeathers (716-259-9306 or martincooks.com), says those renewals have an even bigger side because “restaurants make neighborboods.”
Martin Cooks, which opened two years ago, is going so well — it's booked until September, he says — he is looking at opening another site.
Meanwhile, developer Rocco Termini has turned a dilapidated downtown hotel into a site with rooms, apartments and restaurants.
Amid the cluster of chain hotels in the city, The Hotel @ The Lafayette (716-853-1505, buffalobrewerydistrict.com/lafayette/home) stands at a place that is reflective of its present and a tribute to its past — right down to the former speakeasy in the basement that is now one of the restaurants.
Masterpieces for a city
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery (716-882-8700, albrightknox.org) is a part of Buffalo that didn't need a renaissance. Since 1862, the museum has presented a panorama of art from around the world, and it is famous for its collection of post-war American and European art. The collection spans Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh to Jackson Pollack and Andy Warhol.
It's aimed at being a museum that offers art as a living creature. Exhibits like its current “Dan Colen: Shake the Elbow” (through Oct. 18) presents the work of a New York City-based abstract painter. “ArtGames 2.0” is being offered as a free, digital way for youngsters to experience art.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7852.