Drivers heading south on Oak or Ellicott Streets and looking ahead at Coca-Cola Field (where the Buffalo Bisons play ball) and the magnificent Gothic Revival Old Post Office towers overhead may experience a spate of jaywalkers rushing to classes on the city campus of Erie Community College. This downtown campus is divided by rushing traffic, so much so that the campus does not seem like a campus at all.
ECC’s classrooms, offices, and public spaces are within the Old Post Office, surrounded by Oak Street, Ellicott Street, Swan Street and South Division Street. Tree-lined Fireman’s Park, Engine 1/Ladder 2 Fire Department and the dismal concrete bus station are on neighboring properties. ECC’s student affairs building, a squat white brick building, is where students wait for buses and congregate: occasionally people are spotted in the park.
Nearby, a few blocks away, is a city-owned parking lot at 201 Ellicott Street, just over 107 square feet of asphalt. A “Request for Qualifications” was released on June 16 to submit ideas for developing the parcel into parking, a grocery store and residences. The deadline is July 29 for all developers who might “put 201 Ellicott Street to a higher and better use.”
The Public sat down with Mike Pietkiewicz, Senior Vice President of Operations at ECC recently to discuss plans the college has for a downtown campus redesigned to better serve its 3,000 enrolled students.
Pietkiewicz, the number two guy at ECC who “helps run the college from soup to nuts – day-to-day operations, h.r., finance, academics and student affairs all report to me,” works directly under college president Jack Quinn. Quinn, on the job since 2008, worked with Pietkiewicz previously in Congress, and wooed him away from his U.B. gig of fifteen years in 2014.
“One of the things that we are trying to do is right-size and understand the role that each of our campuses plays in the community. When I was at U.B. I worked and lived through the transformation, its awakening through the UB2020 process and now it’s a regional powerhouse. The growth of the medical campus occurred because of U.B. working with its regional partners – and its recommitment to downtown.
Part of our challenge is that we are a three-campus system with a lot of duplication across our campuses, we have to do a better job of defining each of the campuses and what their roles are. One of our challenges is that we can start to make the downtown campus more loveable, to make people want to be down at that campus. Based on my experience with U.B. you have to think of how to make it more accessible, to capture the energy going on downtown, to be a part of it.”
As with other areas in the city and in surrounding suburbs, there is discussion about the need for slowing of traffic to make the area around ECC more pedestrian-friendly. The only green space around the college is the underused Fireman’s Park: the park has no nearby parking (spots near the Ellicott Square Building are the closest) to enable easy visits.
Pietkiewicz, looking at plans of the college’s neighborhood spread out on the table between us, talks about starting to “organize our neighbors around us so that we have a say in what happens to these roads (around ECC). I learned enough from Bob Shibley (Dean of the U.B. School of Architecture and Planning) to be dangerous. We want to make it obvious that you’re on a college campus, slow traffic down with lights, pavement, colors and treatments. We did have a preliminary meeting about this in early 2015.”
Several changes downtown seemed impossible years ago; that the waterfront would become a lively destination at one time seemed unlikely. And for those of us who live downtown a grocery store (!) has been on the wish list for ages. It is conceivable, and necessary, that the area around ECC will be transformed from Jaywalkers’ Way to a more aesthetic place, and a slower and more humane drive.