Buffalo, NY
Larkin District Plan Update
Historic Photo of the Larkin Terminal Warehouse
The Larkin Terminal Warehouse Prior to Restoration
The Larkin at Exchange Building after its Opening in 2002
Pre-Restoration Image of "The Filling Station" and the Larkin U Building- this is the site of what became the Larkin Square Plaza
Post-Restoration Image of "The Filling Station" and the Larkin U Building set in Larkin Square
The Larkin U Building Fully Restored
Larkin Square on a Late Wednesday Afternoon
Concepts for Hydraulic Street from the Plan Addendum 2015
Larkin District Plan Update

For nearly a century, former warehouses and factories in Buffalo’s Hydraulics District sat empty, making the neighborhood look rundown and desolate. A local developer had a different imagination of what the historic Larkin warehouse could be and sparked revitalization throughout the neighborhood. The area, now referred to as the Larkin District, is a lively, mixed-use neighborhood one mile from downtown.

City View Properties commissioned a master plan for the district after completion of the warehouse building conversion to class A office occupancy. The Urban Design Project at the University at Buffalo prepared a plan calling for the creation of a strong identity driven by the history of innovation in the area, for distinctive gateways and street themes, improved transportation, and for a network of green public spaces and a public plaza. The district’s early successes led to more brownfield cleanups, additional reuse of historic buildings, and new construction.

Project Details
  • Region
    • North East
  • city
    • Buffalo, NY
  • neighborhood(s)
    • Perry Choice
    • Old First Ward
    • The Valley
    • Seneca Babcock
    • Clinton-Bailey and Metcalf
    • Broadway-Filmore
  • Project Size
    • Approximately 60 acres surrounded by six neighborhoods with 4,341 residential parcels, 30% vacant, 66% owner occupied with an average year built of 1913.
  • Project Cost
    • To-date more than $50 Million invested
  • Project Status
    • In operation and development ongoing
Strategies Implemented
  • Build on strengths and do not strand new assets through the development of a public square at the heart of the district (2006 plan)
  • Add to the energy in the square and to adjacent properties by the construction of a walking street on Hydraulic St. to the east of the Larkin at Exchange and develop further mixed use facilities, housing and parking supports adjacent to the existing development.
  • Capitalize on the history of the site: Conducting an historical resource inventory, acquiring an historic designation as a local landmark, identifying other historic site, developing interpretive programs and adopting new zoning regulations and guidelines
  • Promote the Larkin District by marketing to design related firms, adopting flexible zoning regulations, restricting incompatible uses, and the use of innovative design in the streetscape
  • Making streetscape improvements at key gateways, adopt zoning regulations consistent with street themes, establish the Seneca Street “Neighborhood Image,” Design and install streetscape features consistent with Seneca Street and Exchange Street Themes
  • Reconstruct and enhance Seneca Street, make enhancements for bicycles, provide way finding signage, implement traffic calming measures, and initiate downtown airport rail services
  • Create new parks and enhance existing parks as well as complete the planed Olmsted Parkway System connection
  • Invest in infill and new construction, restore and rehabilitate building stock, encourage mixed use development, restrict incompatible uses and encourage adaptive use of existing stock
  • Larkin Development formed a unique partnership with a major tenant, First Niagara Bank. The bank adopted the Larkin District as its regional corporate headquarters and underwrote much of the Senaca Street improvements according to the 2006 plan.
  • Building owners avoided a “formal” approach to reaching out to neighbors to discuss shared interests in neighborhood development and long-term relations. Instead, the developer, Howard Zemsky, reached the neighborhood most effectively by going to them one house and one business at a time during “neighborhood walkabouts.” His frequent candid impromptu conversations gauged interests and acquired opinions about his planning. In this fashion support for the work and respect for the man emerged organically.
  • The Old First Ward Community Association has emerged as one of the grass roots institutional links to the community and its history, and the development team often attended their regular meetings seeking guidance on actions they were considering.
  • Howard Zemsky collaborated with Tim Tielman, an activist and preservationsist who also leads an organization called the “Campaign For a Greater Buffalo,” a non-profit organization striving to make Buffalo a better place through arts, history, and preservation. Part of that continuing relation Mr. Tielman was engaged to design the public plaza that has become the heart of the district.
  • TOTAL PROJECT COST: $50+ Million invested in this effort to-date
  • This project changed the paradigm for financing projects in Buffalo. Construction started on the Larkin at Exchange project well in advance of any lease. The developer’s patient money proved well invested as the initial project leased up quickly after construction. This approach to financing sends a clear message to standard practices with the banks and development community that usually won’t start construction until there is a 50% lease up
  • The district work also was a change in standard practice as the developer did not wait (or even ask for) municipal planning to help place the initial investment in a district context. He commissioned the plan and coordinated it with evolving form based code work in an now pending Unified Development Ordinance
  • New Market Tax Credits with LISC Buffalo support: $8.5 Million
  • Private Funds for Street Improvements -- Larkin Development Group and First Niagra Bank: $2 Million
  • Historic Tax Credits for the redevelopment of the Larkin U Building at 239 Van Rensselear Street
  • Private Financing and conventional bank financing related to tenant acquisition because there was not a significant public component to the work except for items related to transportation
  • Project did not require policy or regulatory changes to implement
  • Project itself was not a new policy or regulation
Project Impacts
  • The project allowed the city to see the opportunities of adaptive reuse development and urban revitalization efforts in unprecedented and untested areas of a city that has lost over half its population since WWII. Dealing with abandoned and underutilized assets have long been thought to be unapproachable problems

  • The project proved to other developers that suburban developments are not the only locations for successful commercial and housing efforts

Buffalo, 2010

Pop. Loss Since Peak
Peak year: 1950
0 75
2010 Unemployment
0 75
2010 Poverty
0 75
2010 Res. Vacancy
0 75
Population Change
-30 0 15
Unemployment Change
-30 0 15
Poverty Change
-30 0 15
Res. Vacancy Change
-30 0 15