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Mark Hamister Reflects on the Partnership's 20 Years of expertise@work | Business

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Mark Hamister Reflects on the Partnership's 20 Years of expertise@work
Mark Hamister Reflects on the Partnership's 20 Years of expertise@work

As the Buffalo Niagara Partnership marks the 20th anniversary of its 1993 formation, we’re catching up with former Partnership board chairs to get their thoughts on the organization’s role in Buffalo Niagara’s evolving economy.   Today, we’re sitting down with Mark Hamister, who served as Partnership board chair from 2001-2003.  This is the second part in our series which will run throughout 2013.

Name: Mark Hamister, Chairman & CEO, the Hamister Group, Inc.

Term as Board Chair: 2001-2003

How did you first become involved with the Partnership?

The Partnership had formed the previous year when the Greater Buffalo Chamber of Commerce and Greater Buffalo Development Foundation came together.  I’d been involved with both, and Don Quinlan called to ask me to come on the board.  Admittedly, my involvement was minor at first, but as I got to know the personalities here, I saw more and more of an opportunity to have an impact. 

What motivated you to serve as board chair?

I’d been involved in enough projects that I knew I wanted to support Andrew and the Partnership in the biggest way possible, as I saw huge potential for the organization to do transformative things.  I’d just finished my involvement in two major Partnership projects – Greater Buffalo Niagara Partnership Buffalo Bills Task Force (this group focused on the then stadium improvements and lease renewal in 1997) and the formation of the University at Buffalo’s Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences – and was open to the next challenge. 

In both projects, I saw how the Partnership added major value to initiatives that were critical to the region’s future – frankly, the Partnership kept the right players at the table throughout long and complicated processes.  Having seen all that, I didn’t give it a second thought when I had the opportunity to increase my involvement even further. 

How is Buffalo Niagara different now than when your term began?

It’s simple.  Back then, we were still working to create momentum.  Today, we need to focus on maintaining if not accelerating the momentum. 

What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment(s) at the helm of the Partnership?

There’s a lot that I’m proud of, but the single item that stands out the most is the creation of the Buffalo Niagara Regional Agenda.  For years, our elected officials were telling us they needed all of Buffalo Niagara’s economic development players to get on the same page.  We convened business groups, economic development leaders, and elected officials from across the region to put one document together for everyone to work from.  When we took the Regional Agenda to Albany and Washington, they were genuinely surprised that we had one document for everyone to legitimately stand behind. For the first time, the Regional Agenda allowed the region’s entities to speak with one voice. 

A second item is the finalization of funding for UB’s Center of Excellence.  That project began before my term, and came to fruition just as my term began.  For ten years now, the CoE continues to be a major asset for our entire region.    

Why was the Partnership able to have such an impact with the Regional Agenda?

It was the right thing at the right time, and it’s paid dividends for our community, year after year.  We’ve gotten more and more done via the Regional Agenda as time has progressed.  Just a few examples off the top of my head: UB2020, the new Federal Courthouse, retention of the Niagara Airbase, and Hydropower Proceeds legislation… the Regional Agenda provided a huge lift to each of those. 

The Regional Agenda also speaks to a common theme of which the Partnership can be proud- bringing multiple parties together to collaborate.  And that’s a real testament to Andrew Rudnick - It’s been a real pleasure to work with and support Andrew; he doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves.  He cares more than anyone knows, and his unique combination of caring and intelligence has been an enormous asset to this community, and will continue to be for years forward.     

You’re involved with a major reinvestment project downtown as you turn the Tishman Building into a mixed-use facility.  What have you learned from that experience?

It’s been fascinating and rewarding – but never easy.  It would be nice if we could find a process to accelerate the approvals and funding needs of adaptive reuse projects, throughout the region but particularly in the region’s core. 

Urban projects have unique challenges - parking, asbestos, floor plate size, etc. - that combine to create a situation where projects are difficult to complete unless lightning strikes.  There are lots of good programs in place, but it can be difficult to fully understand and leverage all of them at the same time.  My company does projects in other parts of the country, where “one stop shops” are set up to help developers reinvest.  It cuts the lead time on projects almost in half.

Again, the Partnership is doing good work here.  Last year’s Buffalo Building Reuse Project is absolutely a vehicle that can help to make all of this work in our downtown.  But it won’t be easy – it’s important for the right stakeholders to support BBRP and leverage the advocacy tools that we have in place to fully implement it. 

What message do you have for Buffalo Niagara business leaders in 2013?

Respect the past that has created the momentum we finally have today, but don’t miss the opportunities for change that will create even further momentum for our city and community.  We need to continue to strive for collaboration in everything we do. 

What do you see as the biggest opportunities for Buffalo Niagara in 2013 and beyond?

My first thought is that we finally have significant momentum.  There’s huge progress on Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, at Canalside, and scattered throughout downtown.  The opportunity represented by revitalizing the urban core will continue to have a profound and transformative impact on the city and the region.

Seeing is believing- I run a company based in Amherst that is moving downtown.  I know how frustrated many folks have been for decades and we are finally doing things the right way.  We can’t let up, we need to keep at it, and we can’t take anything for granted.  The progress of the last 10-15 years is finally evident and it is a direct result of business leaders coming together, collaborating on a common cause, and making sure there is private sector input to Buffalo Niagara’s economic growth. 

Is there anything else you want to cover?

I’ve said a bit of this already, but as the Partnership celebrates its 20th anniversary, and Andrew Rudnick prepares for retirement, I want to express how appreciative I am of Andrew’s leadership.

Andrew has an uncanny ability to study, become informed on, and advocate on multiple issues and their solutions simultaneously.  He’s a tireless advocate for doing the right things for the right reasons, even when he knows that results will not be achieved in the short term.  He’s a long term thinker and understands the importance of building a solid foundation before you build the house.  He has been a willing face of the business community for over twenty years, and does not get enough credit for the work and dedication that has established so much of what we enjoy today. Thanks, Andrew, and enjoy your well-deserved retirement. 

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