Implementing the “Third Place Theory” on Jefferson Avenue

Could you please tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Erica. I was born and raised in Buffalo and I’m one of the boomerang people. I’ve left Buffalo for quite some time. Almost two decades. My connection to the East Side is as a kid, I grew up kind of on the edge of the East Side, right near the Trico plant on Main Street which was at the end of my house, but I spent all of my time in Central Park Plaza because there was stuff there and that’s where all my friends lived. Most of my free time was spent over there and now I live over there. I live off Jefferson. I am an event planner by trade. And my business is basically celebrating special moments in people’s lives. And I do the logistics so people can enjoy their weddings, enjoy those life markers with food and drink, which is the easiest way to bring people together, I think.

I was working freelance for a very long time. I moved back to Buffalo after living in New York for 15 years to care for my father, who was ill. And after he passed, I was going right back to New York and I had a job as an event planner in New York and was supposed to start in April 2020. So needless to say, events changed drastically, so I ended up staying here.

How did you learn about the CBREDT program?

I went to Golden Cup Coffee a lot on Jefferson, and there was a building that I used to pass close to the Frank Merriweather Library that had this beautiful, curved edge. I always wondered about that building. I was chatting up the owner and it turned out that it was his building because he had gotten a grant from Empire State Development to move from his current location to the building that I was admiring. After that, I went and looked up the program and saw the stories and the videos from the other cohorts. I had just missed the deadline to file to be in the 2022 class, so I filed again when the applications were open.

Tell us about your project then. What is your building or your development?

So the goal has always been to open my own event venue and to have it be kind of a dual-purpose space. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with “third place theory” — having neighborhoods that have a space for community to gather where they don’t necessarily have to buy anything. But that’s not your work and it’s not your home. It’s somewhere beautiful to be in your own neighborhood. And I want to open a space like that that’s really lovely and has rental space in the area for a kind of startup like food and retail that they don’t have a brick and mortar yet, but they can have this as kind of like a lab as well, offering refreshments and things to buy to the people who are in the free space and while they learn their own trade and then have my main revenue driver be throwing events in that space when it’s not used as a community space.

What have you learned from the class that will help you accomplish your goals?

I think it’s just the actual process itself is what I learned. What I would have to do and who and how to approach the development process. It took a lot of the mystery out of it, just pointing people in the right direction who have these big ideas but don’t necessarily know how to break them down to put them into action logistically. This program has helped us. It’s helped me. Knowing what I’m going to need to do next to navigate the city of Buffalo, to navigate contractors, to navigate the financial backing. It was just all so foreign to me. I knew it existed, but I didn’t know how to go about starting it. And now I do.

Would you recommend this program to others?

I would say to really be realistic about your expectations. This program is the start of a conversation. I think a lot about the feedback that they ask us for just being very honest about what a long haul of a process this is, but that it is probably something that most people who are interested in commercial real estate for their community would have wished they had maybe when they were in college or when they were even in high school. But it’s never too late, so I would recommend it because it does open up your eyes. I look at buildings and blocks in a completely different way and all I see are possibilities now. And that’s something that is incredibly valuable. It kind of makes you look and appreciate your own city in a different way. So, yes, I would recommend it. It provides the confidence to take something that’s just a vision in your head and take actionable steps to get there.

Lots don’t look like lots anymore. That old ugly building used to be a storefront. “Mixed use” — that term did not exist before because you didn’t know the vocabulary. And on the optimistic side, it’s really wonderful to see that potential. I enjoy seeing the possibilities and even the history — knowing how to look up the history of a building and what it was used for, and who it served before. It’s really fascinating.

What is your vision for the East Side?

My vision for the East Side of Buffalo is to return it to my grandmother’s time when many, many more of the neighborhoods were self-sustaining. Every neighborhood has a different flavor because they all have different resources. My vision is for that to return to the East Side. What was happening in Central Park Plaza before, where there were multiple grocery stores and multiple shops and multiple things to do really had the community anchored. That’s how all communities should be. Everything can’t be concentrated on Hertel or the Elmwood Strip. I want to see a vibrant, lively return to Jefferson’s heyday that my parents talk about all the time and I have pictures of — and I know it’s possible because it was there before and it can be there again.