M&T Bank - Industry Award
BMHOF Class of 2015
Each business day during the summer, local performers take the stage outside of One M&T Plaza in Buffalo to participate in one of the country’s longest running corporate sponsored outdoor entertainment events. The “Plaza Event Series”recently finished its 46th year and has become a staple of summer in downtown Buffalo—fulfilling an architectural vision conceived more than 50 years ago to inspire new life and growth in Buffalo.
The story of the Plaza Event Series began in late 1961, when M&T Bank invited architectural firms to Buffalo in hopes of selecting a firm to construct its new headquarters on a block of land it purchased by Main, Eagle, Washington and North Division Streets—what is now One M&T Plaza.
M&T’s decision to build a new headquarters in downtown Buffalo stemmed from the bank’s “firm belief in the future of a new Buffalo.” It wanted to be the catalyst for urban renewal. The architect Minoru Yamasaki fully supported the bank’s quest, once remarking that, “architects must try to save our cities.”
Yamasaki took the bank’s wish into his own hands. The inclusion of a plaza in the plans for the new headquarters was his way of inspiring new life and growth in Buffalo. He imagined the space as a place for bank employees and customers to come together and enjoy a sense of community.
Upon the completion of One M&T Plaza, Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York at the time, wrote Chairman and CEO Charles W. Millard Jr. to congratulate him on the “new and beautiful building.” Rockefeller wrote, “By placing the impressive building on graceful arches that line a broad plaza, Minoru Yamasaki has designed an exciting park in the heart of the city itself.”
In the center of the plaza sits a fountain that was commissioned to commemorate the opening of One M&T Plaza. Italian-born artist Harry Bertoia designed the sculpture’s shell-like form and constructed it from bundles of copper tubes. Water rolls over the sculpture’s green curved edges into a shallow, aqua-colored pool.
The borders of the stone plaza are raised to give people a place to “sit in the sun.” Yamasaki again mixed form and function by fitting the plaza with heating-coils to encourage use of the space throughout the year. Landscaping along the wall of the plaza closest to the building complements the building’s concreteness, completing the park-like feel of the plaza which continually invites visitors.
In June 1969, two years after the building opened, Yamasaki’s vision of the plaza as a gathering place was fully realized. M&T held the first performance of the Plaza Event Series, which became an annually held event. Though the construction of the plaza was Yamasaki’s vision, the Plaza Event Series is the result of M&T’s own goodwill.
By its 20th year, the Plaza Event Series was a staple of the summer months in Buffalo. On the first day of its 20th season, Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski proclaimed Monday, June 12, 1989, as Plaza Event Series Day. As jazz great Bobby Militello kicked off his concert, 1,000 multi-colored balloons were released into the air.
In an era before social media, M&T’s public relations team had to think outside of the box promote the 20th year of the Plaza Event Series. Each balloon contained a card stating that the person that found the balloon the farthest distance from One M&T Plaza would win $200. The winner was a caretaker who found the balloon on a Rhode Island Estate.
Fun like this has graced the plaza for the past 46 years. During this time, more than 2,500 free performances have taken place outside of M&T’s headquarters. A wide range of musicians, vocalists, dancers and other artists from across western New York have been enjoyed by employees, customers and those who live or work in downtown Buffalo during the lunchtime hour.
When M&T decided to construct its new headquarters, it hoped to spark an urban renewal of downtown Buffalo. What it did not expect to do was usher in an era of renewed entertainment through its Plaza Event Series. Today, Buffalo is a town filled with entertainment. From the Elmwood Village Summer Concert Series to Thursday Concerts at Canalside, there are plenty of free events to enjoy. Buffalo is ever-changing, but the tradition of the Plaza Event Series is here to stay.
M&T Bank has been involved in other events, such as “Holiday Music Under the Dome” concert series. Last winter the series completed its 30th season at noon at M&T’s Fountain Plaza branch.
The annual concert series has become a holiday season tradition in downtown Buffalo, showcasing the extraordinary talent of young people throughout our region before a diverse audience while investing in downtown Buffalo’s community life.
The seasonal performances will occur every weekday at noon beginning in the second week of December, and finishing about a week before Christmas. Ensembles from various high schools usually perform, with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra completing the most recent season.
All of the concerts are free and open to the public.
(Profile by MeredithBattin, M&T)