History of WFD

During the Fall of 1979, Erie County Legislator Joan Bozer met with the Women’s Coalition of Rochester, a civic organization comprised of representatives of various community and social groups in the Rochester area. The coalition had spearheaded a beautification program, master signage plan, and efforts aimed at improving the image of the city. Impressed with the Coalition’s efforts and its focus of bringing the views of women into the City planning process, Joan invited a cross section of women active in civic and governmental affairs in Buffalo to meet with her to discuss the development of a similar Buffalo coalition.

Following a series of organizational meetings held during the Fall of 1979, Women For Downtown was born. Gail Johnstone served as the Chairperson of this diverse group of women interested in the improvement and revitalization of Downtown Buffalo. The group selected a name, set their agenda, elected officers, created by-laws, and incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1980. In the Spring of 1998, with the majority vote of its members, the name of the organization was changed to Working For Downtown in an effort to create a more inclusive identity. The name change was intended to broaden our reach. The overriding goal of Working For Downtown is: “the promotion of Downtown Buffalo and assistance to the area’s cultural, commercial, residential, and aesthetic improvement.”

Working For Downtown (WFD) members have taken an active role in Downtown issues since 1980, and the accomplishments are noteworthy:

  1. In 1980, WFD’s first accomplishment was a survey of the attitudes and concerns of Buffalonians regarding downtown. It was the first time citizens were asked to voice and document their opinions. Over 2,000 responses were received, and the data from that study became a valuable planning tool for City and County officials.
  2. Additional surveys conducted over the years include a parking survey, downtown rest room availability, housing surveys, retail surveys and a survey on the proposed Washington Street one way direction.
  3. WFD participated in a collaborative effort with Buffalo Green Downtown which resulted in the Beautification Task Force, WFD conducted an extensive inventory of all Downtown green spaces and public plazas, pinpointing problems and potential.
  4. WFD researched, designed, and printed the first downtown Buffalo map in 1981. The map was made available to the public and over 135,000 copies were distributed to the citizens of WNY.
  5. WFD and The Junior League were the innovators of the Main Street Farmers’ Market. The Farmers’ Market was taken over by Buffalo Place and continues to be held every Tuesday and Thursday through the summer and fall of each year making fresh produce, fresh baked goods and many other products available to downtown residents and workers. Since its inception in 1981, the Main Street Farmers’ Market has become a mainstay of the downtown scene.
  6. WFD was the catalyst for the first City Fest celebration in 1982, known as Imagifest. The Junior League and the Chamber of Commerce supported this five-day event as co-chairs. From Imagifest came the idea for UpDowntown, a happy hour networking event for downtown office workers. This program was rejuvenated by WFD in 2000 and is now known as “Thursday in the City”, which is held every Thursday from September through April.
  7. WFD endeavors to bring an enhanced sense of style and life to downtown Buffalo. In prior years, WFD especially wanted to encourage and be part of creating a festive atmosphere during the holidays. Holiday lights were distributed to small businesses as a means to light-up storefronts and encourage retail shopping. The holiday light project was a starting point for the WFD Victorian Holiday. This event was held for three consecutive years in 1985, 1986 and 1987 and drew hundreds of people to downtown Buffalo.
  8. In the mid-eighties, WFD had representation on a subcommittee of the Regional Center Plan, a downtown master plan. WFD reviewed the strategies of the plan and authored position papers on housing, public spaces, and parking.
  9. Throughout the years, WFD has had representation on various Buffalo boards and committees. These have included the Downtown Buffalo Management Corporation, NFTA’s Transit Mall Task Group, the Downtown Core Coalition, The Theatre District Board, the Stadium Design Advisory Committee, the Zoning Committee of the Regional Center Plan, Greater Buffalo Development Foundation, the Main Genesee Task Group, and the Common Council’s Committee on Parking in the eighties and, in later years, Buffalo Place’s Parking, Marketing, and Planning Committees, Waterfront Task Force. Neighborhood Revitalization Board, the Downtown Summit Steering Committee, Citizens Advisory Group to the Police Commissioner and the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team.
  10. In 1990, WFD held Downtown Visions I in collaboration with the Greater Buffalo Development Foundation and Coalition for Downtown Retail. The event to promote downtown retail featured presentations by the Mayor of Binghamton and several downtown retailers and attracted over 600 attendees. WFD sponsored Downtown Visions II the following year.
  11. In 1991 WFD presented a two day symposium on “Strategies for Affordable Market Rate Housing. Topics included the developer’s experience, the planner’s viewpoint, financing and alternative housing ideas. In 1994, WFD sponsored a day-long housing symposium , “Buffalo Neighborhoods: Easy to Love”. It consisted of a morning panel discussion and an afternoon housing fair where people could talk discuss city living with representatives from banking, real estate, city school, fire, police, the Mayor’s office and community organizations.
  12. As part of WFD’s mission to educate the public on issues affecting downtown Buffalo, the “Buffalo Forum” was created in 1991 with the first forum featuring a debate on the location of the proposed hockey arena. The earliest forums covered such issues as the planning for Lafayette Square, the Waterfront, and the Theater District. The ongoing objective of the “Buffalo Forum”/ “Buffalo Talks” series is to bring attention to issues and stimulate public awareness, discussion, and direction.
  13. In 1995, WFD developed “Downtown’s Heritage,” a self-guided walking tour map of downtown Buffalo’s architecture (in conjunction with the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier). Over 60,000 maps have been distributed to residents and visitors.
  14. WFD Annual Awards presentation recognizes individuals and organizations for their contributions to Buffalo and the downtown community. The Awards, presented annually at the WFD Annual Meeting include the WFD Member Recognition, the Fernbach, and the Joan K. Bozer awards. The WFD Member Recognition Award honors a WFD member for his or her contributions to the organizations and efforts in making Downtown Buffalo a better place to live, work and play. The Fernbach Award initiated in the early 1980’s as the “Bright Spot Award”, recognizes deserving organizations that actively participate in the aesthetic revitalization of downtown. The Joan K. Bozer Award was initiated in 1995 to recognize individuals who have made a significant contribution to improving downtown Buffalo.
  15. In 1993, The World University Games came to Buffalo and WFD participated by planning, coordinating and scheduling welcoming ceremonies for visiting dignitaries to be held in several downtown venues.
  16. In 1995, WFD developed “Downtown’s Heritage,” a self-guided walking tour map of downtown Buffalo’s architecture (in conjunction with the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier). Over 60,000 maps have been distributed to residents and visitors.
  17. In 1995, the Waterfront Forum was held at the Buffalo Yacht Club to discuss waterfront development. Featured were speakers from six Great Lakes cities including Toronto, Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Racine and Deluth.
  18. In 1995, Revival!Downtown was a collaborative effort between WFD and Buffalo Place to form a housing development corporation. Its first project was The Glenny Center, home of Hostelling International. Revival!Downtown’s event, Explore!Downtown, featured the participation of at least 42 downtown restaurants and resulted in their increased patronage.
  19. In 1995-96, the WFD Housing Committee worked with the City of Buffalo Planning Department, the Lower West Side Development Corporation and neighborhood block clubs to lead the “Map Buffalo” project, an outgrowth of WFD’s neighborhood inventory which consisted of a parcel by parcel inventory of the lower West Side.
  20. In 1996, WFD initiated Waterfest, the first downtown waterfront festival. Waterfest has been held every August from 1996 to 2003 on Buffalo’s waterfront. The festival offered a relaxing look at the waterfront and activities for both adults and families.
  21. In 1997, WFD was presented with a Civic Empowerment Award. WFD was recognized for its successful collaborations and its many accomplishments which have improved Downtown Buffalo.
  22. WFD was the financial coordinator of the “Main Street/Art Street: The Window Project”. The unveiling of the collaborative project’s latest artwork was held on September 17, 1999 during the Curtain Up celebration in Downtown Buffalo. Twelve works of art created by local artists over the past two years filled formerly vacant Main Street downtown windows.
  23. In 2000, Bricks for Buffalo was initiated as part of the celebration of WFD’s 20th Anniversary. Located at the NFTA’s DL&W terminal (behind HSBC Arena) on the Buffalo River, Bricks for Buffalo includes a Women’s Walkway and a Plaza Walkway. Both walkways contain engraved bricks and other items purchased by current and former WNY residents to commemorate family and friends. The Women’s Walkway will also contain commemorative granite stones to honor 100 deceased women who have contributed in a profound way to Western New York . The Women’s Walkway, through the collaboration of WFD and the Women’s Pavilion Pan Am 2001, commemorates the Centennial Celebration of the Pan American Exposition. Three essay contests on “Why Western New York is a Great Place to Live” were held for 4th grade, 6-8th grade and high school students. Commemorative bricks, engraved with the student’s names and schools, were awarded to the winners. WFD will continue to direct the Bricks For Buffalo project in the future. All proceeds from the sale of the Bricks goes toward a downtown public art fund.
  24. WFD partnered with the New Millennium Group to bring Thursday in the City to Downtown Buffalo. The kickoff party was November 30, 2000 at the Empire Brewing Company. This networking event is held from the fall through the spring on Thursday evening at a downtown restaurant.
  25. In 2000, WFD presented “Brag About Buffalo”, a project to initiate and facilitate positive promotions of Buffalo through the use of national and special interest magazines. A grassroots effort to spread information about Buffalo’s positive aspects includes contributing magazine sources for a data base, writing “letters to the editor” or calendar listings as well as professionally prepared pictorial layouts and articles.
  26. In 2000, WFD led a contest, “Buffalo Hunt: Herd About Buffalo- Have You Seen the Herd?” in cooperation with the “Herd About Buffalo” organizers, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Burchfield Penny Center. The object of the contest was to uncover the answers to clues while visiting the Buffaloes on the streets of Buffalo. Thousands of entry forms were submitted and the winners, selected from among those with correct answers, received gift baskets and lunch with Mayor Masiello and his family.
  27. In 2001, WFD was represented on the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT). The program combined local resources with the expertise of a multi disciplinary team of nationally recognized professionals to identify ways to encourage desirable change in a community and to measure results. The target area was Downtown Buffalo and was focused on developing a feasible Downtown Housing Strategy.
  28. WFD presents The Brown Bag Lunch Series from September to May of each year. These monthly informal sessions feature speakers on a range of topics from Buffalo Downtown development, cultural institutions, and current events and issues.
  29. In 2001, the Downtown Neighborhood Committee, whose objective is to enhance and improve the quality of living, working and visiting downtown Buffalo, focused on the beautification of Washington Street. WFD coordinated the effort that resulted in a new sidewalk leading to the Library stairs, flower planters at building entrances, and reduction in prolonged dumpster usage in the area. WFD planted a rich and beautiful garden, the Library Garden, located at the entrance to the Buffalo & Erie County Library on Washington Street. The garden is in bloom every Spring and Summer and beautifies the landscape of our downtown neighborhood.
  30. From 2000-2005 WFD, in collaboration with other sponsors, presented Mayor Masiello’s “State of the City” addresses. This was a program to discuss the financial status of the city and the accomplishments of the current city administration.
  31. Beginning in 2004, WFD with the City of Buffalo and Buffalo Place sponsored a series of Buffalo Walks Tours. Mayor Masiello led the initial tours highlighting the adaptive reuse development projects in Downtown Buffalo – primarily the residential lofts. Subsequently, the Waterfront was the scene of Buffalo Walks. WFD helped to present these walking/bus tours of Buffalo’s extensive waterfront.
  32. In October 2007, WFD and the Rotary Club of Buffalo sponsored the celebration of the removal of the Ogden and Breckenridge Niagara Thruway toll barriers.  A ceremonial check representing the savings to the taxpayers was presented at the event held at the Market Arcade Building.
  33. From 2007 to 2010, WFD monthly activities were featured in The Downtowner newspaper in a column written by Jill Benker-Beck  of the Downtown Neighborhoods Committee.
  34. In 2010, WFD celebrated its 30th Anniversary with a Gala fundraising event.  The event featured theme basket raffles, silent auctions, and a performance of Diva By Diva by O’Donnell & Company.
  35. The Waterfront Committee has participated in public review of waterfront development.  In 2010, the Waterfront Committee conducted informational meetings on the site options for the proposed bridge linking the inner and outer harbors.  The choices, Main Street Bridge, Erie Street Bridge or No Bridge, were submitted to the WFD membership for a vote.  84% of the members favored the construction of the bridge  with the Main Street site as the winning choice.  The results and the WFD position paper were forwarded to the press, the Erie County Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC), and the WFD membership.
  36. The 10th Anniversary of the Bricks For Buffalo dedication was celebrated at the Bricks site in September 2011.  Invitations were extended to the original and current Bricks For Buffalo Committee members, WFD members, purchasers of Bricks and local dignitaries.
  37. In 2010 and 2011, WFD coordinated the “Pick Up Buffalo” project, as part of the Pearl Street Corridor Renewal Project to help maintain and care for the Erie Hills Pocket Parks.
  38. In 2013, WFD redesigned its website to promote interaction with the members, to provide up to date information about the WFD organization, and to publicize WFD’s current activities and events in  Downtown Buffalo.
  39. 2013/2014 – WFD continues to offer a series of Buffalo Walks informational tours of innovative, relevant projects and historical local venues in Buffalo.  Tours in 2013/2014 included the ECC City Campus, the Buffalo Lighthouse, Silo City, the Cobblestone District, Buffalo River Works and the Fontana Boathouse.
  40. 2012 to 2014 – WFD continues to present the Buffalo Talks Speaker Series from September to May on the first Wednesday of the month at the Central Library.  From 2012 to 2014, guest speakers included:  Congressman Brian Higgins, Althea Luehrsen of Leadership Buffalo,  Mary Roberts of the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House Complex, Anthony Bannon of the Burchfield Penney Art Center,  John Koelmel of HARBORcenter Development, LLC, Carl Paladino of the Buffalo Public Schools Board of Education, and Michael Schmand of Buffalo Place.
  41.  2014 to 2015 – Thursdays in the City events are currently on hiatus, but are typically held throughout the Spring, Fall, and Winter and, periodically, various organizations will host an evening.  Previous hosts included Realty USA, Jaeckle Fleischmann and Mugel, LLP, Veraview LLC, Phillips Lytle LLP, and Algonquin Studios.

Currently, WFD continues many events and projects including “Buffalo Talks Speaker Series,” “Bricks For Buffalo,” and “Buffalo Walks” tours, and collaborates with other groups on various civic projects. WFD holds an annual meeting for its members, and now has this new Website to share information and promote interaction with its members.