Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo hardly said a word Tuesday as he toured Buffalo’s booming construction and development aboard a shiny new Metro bus.
Instead, he let the construction cranes – and top lieutenants like Robert D. Gioia and Howard E. Zemsky – do the cheerleading for him. From Canalside to HarborCenter, along Ohio Street to the Small Boat Harbor, then on the outer harbor and finally at the sprawling Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Cuomo took in all the activity.
But at the groundbreaking for the new $375 million University at Buffalo medical school at Main and High streets, Cuomo could no longer contain himself.
“We wanted to say to Buffalo: ... ‘I know you believe you’ve been forgotten and that Albany is a long way away and that state government doesn’t care about you,’ ” he said. “But I’m saying it’s a different day.”
Cuomo on Tuesday morning found a bully pulpit and an audience of much of the region’s top political, educational and business elite to proclaim:
“It is irrefutable that this is a different Buffalo than it was five, six, seven years ago.”
He offered a litany of accomplishments for Buffalo, in the one region of the state that rejected his candidacy three years ago and on a day when his campaign team announced a fundraiser with tickets ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo on Nov. 6, the day after Election Day.
Cuomo’s bus tour and groundbreaking allowed the governor to tout everything from progress on the Peace Bridge (after a skirmish with Canada that sources say is not forgotten across the border); to the transfer of outer harbor land from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to two state agencies; to the “Buffalo Billion” program aiming to jump-start economic development in the region.
Cuomo told hundreds of UB supporters gathered under a huge tent that the state has paid attention. He pointed to a job-creation program linked to the SUNY system and its primarily upstate campuses. He mocked naysayers doubting the future of the Buffalo Bills in Western New York by pointing to state investment in Ralph Wilson Stadium, and “indisputable signs of progress to ... negate the decline and negativity.”
“This is exactly where you are today,” he said. “You can feel it when you drive through the city ... you can see it on peoples’ faces.”
The mantra is a familiar one. On Tuesday he saw it for himself, as he received a personal tour of all that his state agencies have been sponsoring in Buffalo, aboard a Metro bus with Mayor Byron W. Brown, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, and several state officials.
Gioia, chairman of the Empire State Harbor Development Corp. and doubling as tour guide on Tuesday, began by telling Cuomo and others on the bus that the state’s $55 million investment in Canalside has resulted in 800 events on the waterfront that 800,000 people attended.
“Five years ago, this was all vacant land and vacant buildings,” Gioia said.
Then he told the governor that, spurred by adjacent Canalside, the Buffalo Sabres’ $175 million HarborCenter development stands as the biggest investment in a city block in Buffalo history and is projected to attract 500,000 annual visitors.
“Add that to the 800,000, and you really start to get some critical mass here,” Gioia said.
Gioia showed Cuomo the nearby Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino that he said will also serve as part of a major entertainment district, before pointing out new development like Riverfest Park.
Zemsky, co-chairman of Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council and chairman of the NFTA, then highlighted the former port terminal complex that the authority has sold to Gracious Living of Toronto, which promises to create 250 new jobs at a new outdoor facility there.
But the capstone surrounded development on the Medical Campus, which Zemsky said offers economic opportunities. He pointed to projections for 17,000 people working on the campus within five years, the presence of dozens of new businesses and organizations, and state investments in Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the Jacobs Neurological Institute, and the Hauptmann-Woodward Institute.
“One of our objectives is to see the Medical Campus as home to private-sector companies,” he said. “All these assets can be great magnets for private-sector investment.”
None of it escaped the governor’s attention, who seemed to absorb everything from his construction site tour and pour it out to the hundreds hearing his speech.
“You can do it because you have proved it,” he told the crowd. “You’ve turned a negative into a positive. With this leadership and with this energy, there’s no stopping what Buffalo can do.”