Published May 16, 2013
With UB’s presence growing in downtown Buffalo, there’s a need for enhanced two-way communication with the surrounding neighborhoods. As a result, UB opened a new community relations office in the Downtown Gateway building at 77 Goodell St., formerly the site of the M. Wile building.
The office opened in late March. Linwood Roberts, director of community relations who relocated downtown from his office on the South Campus, already has seen plenty of residents walk in to chat about UB’s involvement in the Fruit Belt, Cold Springs and downtown neighborhoods.
The university’s expanded presence downtown positions UB closer to its vital partners on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Additionally, the new School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences building will be constructed nearby, starting this fall, and is expected to be completed by 2016.
In June, UB will open the new Educational Opportunity Center on Ellicott Street, next door to the Gateway building.
UB also is continuing discussions to acquire from Oak-Michigan Housing Development Corp.—the development arm of St. John Baptist Church—the McCarley Gardens property and has been actively engaged with the community to keep residents apprised of developments going forward.
With so much activity happening downtown involving UB, the new community relations office will serve as a “front door” to the university for residents who live there.
“We have three campuses and we felt it was important to have a physical presence on each campus,” says Michael Pietkiewicz, assistant vice president for government and community relations, adding that UB’s two other community relations offices—in Allen Hall on the South Campus and in Capen Hall on the North Campus—will remain open.
“Our relationship with the surrounding communities is important. There’s a lot of public outreach with the new medical school and McCarley Gardens. We need to build relationships and open lines of communication, and learn how people want to communicate with us,” Pietkiewicz says.
The work of the community relations office is supporting recommendations made by the Economic Opportunity Panel created by UB and St. John Baptist Church. In an April report assessing how the sale of McCarley Gardens could benefit the community, the panel recommended that UB continue to engage residents of McCarley Gardens and the Fruit Belt in planning UB’s downtown expansion, and that the university expand its communication efforts in these communities.
The community relations office has added multiple channels to communicate with people who live and work near the downtown campus, including the introduction several years ago of the UB Downtown newsletter.
The addition of a community relations office in the Gateway building also coincides with President Satish K. Tripathi’s belief that community engagement plays a strong and vital role in UB 2020, the university’s strategic plan.
Toward that end, the downtown community relations office includes community meeting space. Eventually, the first floor will include a “community collaboratory,” a place where residents can stop in to view building plans and construction models, search UB job postings and learn how UB faculty research is addressing needs in the community.
For his part, Roberts is excited to be working in the Gateway building and reunite with his old stomping grounds. Roberts grew up in the Cold Springs neighborhood and his mother still lives there. His aunt’s family, he notes, was one of the first families to move into McCarley Gardens.
“Community Relations’ presence downtown is important because UB is there, it has a physical presence and we are positioning UB as a gateway to downtown. It’s easier to do that when you’re physically there, in a community relations office,” Roberts says.
He says initial feedback from the community has been great, and that residents are pleased that UB has a community relations office downtown. “A lot of people have stopped by already. McCarley residents can walk right across the street. I’m getting more face time with the community. It’s been great,” Roberts adds.
And he points out that he has a vested interest in the success of the neighborhoods surrounding the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and UB’s Downtown Campus. “To have the opportunity to effectuate some change in the neighborhood I grew up in is great,” he says. “It’s going to be a happening place to be and I’m excited about the potential down here.”
UB’s downtown community relations office is located in the Downtown Gateway building, 77 Goodell St., Suite 201. Appointments, while not required, are encouraged by calling 829-3099.