Buffalo, NY to Become a “Hot” Real Estate Market?

In what seems like one of the most astonishing forecasts so far this year, John O. Norquist predicts that the new urban architecture of continually-depressed Buffalo, NY will lead to a boom real estate market over the next twenty years:

Buffalo may find itself in the forefront of tomorrow’s urban revival, the keynote speaker for the “Smart Growth Is Smart Business” series told nearly 300 people Tuesday evening. John O. Norquist, president of the Chicago-based Congress for New Urbanism and former mayor of Milwaukee, was the inaugural speaker at Nichols School for an eight-part series that will run through Dec. 8.

“I think Buffalo in the next 20 years will prove to be one of the best real estate markets in the United States,” he began. Then the tall, bearded Norquist quipped, “You can start the process of ending your feelings of depression any time now.”

Flashing images on the screen from cities around the world, Norquist made a case for the comeback of mixed-use city blocks with apartments above retail stores.

“Buffalo has a good architectural heritage with mixed-use buildings,” he said. “This is illegal in most cities….”

“Some might have called it cluttered,” he acknowledged, “but it has tremendous real estate value per acre. In fact, downtown Buffalo has higher value per acre than any other part of the city, because the urban core produces wealth and value.”

By maintaining the old, he said, Buffalo has a treasure just waiting to be revealed.

Folks, I’m not convinced architecture can save Buffalo. After all, this is the Buffalo of $190,000 six-bedroom homes we’re talking about. This is the Buffalo that lost 11% of its population in the 1990’s. In 2000, the median value of homes was $59K, compared with $149K in the entire state. While the unemployment picture of Buffalo City improved markedly in 2004, the unemployment rate is still at 7.2% compared to a national rate of 5.4%. It’s possible that Buffalo will see large gains in real estate prices, should the economy (and the weather) improve markedly, but I’m not convinced.I really have only one question regarding this rosy forecast: Is Mr. Norquist investing his own retirement savings in Buffalo real estate?

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