Tag Archives: East Side

Broadway-Fillmore Alive Needs You

13 Oct

HELP

Buffalo-Fillmore Alive needs your help! The group is dedicated to the renaissance of the Broadway-Fillmore area on Buffalo’s East Side, and was started in 2005 by Chris Byrd, the late, great Mike Miller, and Michele Johnson

The stated goal was to “open a window to the neighborhood…and start promoting it as a whole”, and to basically help people realize that there’s a whole world there, largely denigrated or forgotten but just as alive and vibrant as any other Buffalo neighborhood. 

“Our mission is to work together with community groups, businesses, residents, churches and other organizations to help promote, preserve and revitalize the Broadway-Fillmore area.”

Miller’s untimely death conspired with family and work constraints that made it harder for the group to accomplish its lofty mission, but Byrd writes that BFA is starting a concept called “Team Alive”.  From Byrd’s blog post: 

The idea is to put together a broader BFA volunteer group of people interested in working on some neighborhood projects in B-F, write for BFA, take photos and more. At the core of the concept is what we started to do when we came up with Broadway Fillmore Alive.

Through the work here and with the various organizations BFA is affiliated with, our idea has always been to have people look at the neighborhood as a sum of all its parts. I am very proud of this little window we give the world of B-F.

But…

There is more work to be done…there is a lot of the neighborhood that doesn’t get the attention or focus it needs.

If you are interested in finding out more and getting involved, you can fill out the Team Alive form by clicking here or call 716.218.0BFA.

Picking One’s Battles: Part 2 – the Jacobs Plan

7 Oct

The following is a guest post from Stephanie Perry, a fellow BU alumna, a former writer for the Daily Free Press, seen on Twitter at @stephperry. Last week, She began Tweeting about this topic and I asked if she would write something up for Artvoice. 

Stormy over Buffalo Central Terminal

Stormy over Buffalo Central Terminal by Daniel Novak at Flickr

Six months ago, a curious manifesto appeared on Buffalo Rising. This “concept proposal” was sweeping and ambitious, but hardly in the right ways. The writer proposed the mass relocation of Buffalo’s police and fire departments’ headquarters and of the region’s blue chip nonprofit service organizations to the worn but charming public market in the East Side’s  Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. Into the desirable mansions and buildings vacated by these public and charitable entities would go loft apartments and boutique hotels. Rich people would live in these nice properties while organizations that help disadvantaged people, many of whom are minorities, such as the International Institute, Child and Family Services and the United Way, would be sequestered in a distressed and racially segregated neighborhood that’s not easily accessible to the citywide population.

Private developers would make a killing on these new apartments and condos and return a bit under $800,000 annually to the city and county tax bases so that the city and county might provide services to the public, such as centrally located and publicly accessible police and fire departments, except not that anymore. Never mind that the city budget alone totals $1.4 billion. This is a plan to help the community help rich people help the community.

It would be nearly impossible to propose a more transparently self-serving plan to redistribute real property wealth to developers while simultaneously displacing organizations that have tirelessly served the community and maintained the architectural heritage of the Delaware District for decades. Plus, the short-sighted proposal is stock full of faulty assumptions about urban planning, crime and private property rights. Furthermore, the author’s inappropriate use of first-person perspective, sentence fragments and the conspicuous absence of facts together evoked the tone of a hastily composed high school civics project. I wondered who produced such an implausible, socially irresponsible and poorly written report. Was this the homework of some Rich Kid of Instagram?

The article’s byline was simply “Chris Jacobs,” the author bio at the bottom of the webpage blank. Chris Jacobs the county clerk? Chris Jacobs, whose erratic political resume suggests his most cherished platform is Keeping Chris Jacobs In Office? Chris Jacobs, nephew of the 185th richest person in America?  The odd placement of this brazen but amateur civic proposal on a website mostly dedicated to critiquing storefront aesthetics and hip restaurants suddenly made sense. A very wealthy man of great self-appointed importance had an idea, and this narrative was almost inevitable. It is an election year for the county clerk. The idea was out there and it was only a matter of time before everyone was forced to respond to it. I set a Google news alert for key terms from the proposal and went about my life for half a year.

Finally, last Friday, it happened. Chris Jacobs’s poorly considered vanity proposal complete with professionally commissioned architectural renderings, landed on Page One of The Buffalo News.  The only appropriate answer to the plan that imperils the stability of Delaware Avenue and downtown while disrespecting the work and property rights of nonprofit service organizations is “Thanks but no thanks,” and I find myself empathically supportive of the city’s reaction, as reported by the News, that “at this time the city has no plans” to act.

The article hints at the implausibility of the proposal —

Convince the city to move Police Headquarters to the East Side. Then do the same with the Fire Department.

Next, persuade the many nonprofits that occupy Buffalo’s grandest mansions along Delaware Avenue to pick up and move east, too.

Then sell the old headquarters and the mansions.

— but ultimately validates it more than any amount of billionaire blustering could. The article is predicated on the notion that the Jacobs proposal is worthy of consideration, which it is not, and that City Hall has an obligation to respond to and engage with him on the matter, which it also does not. As originally posted, the article lacked a link to the sloppy proposal Jacobs has been promoting and provided no assessment of its production quality. The News failed to ask Jacobs why he omitted from his list of nonprofit buildings best converted to private residences the UB Foundation-owned mansion that bears his family’s name.

The result is that Jacobs, who is peddling a steaming pile of bullshit, positions himself as a bipartisan populist concerned about the economic recovery of the East Side, while the mayor is an obstructionist, do-nothing fool. Few better narratives exist for campaign literature. (Imagine the flyer reading “Jacobs: Bold plan to boost East Side; City: ‘No plans to do that.’”) The Democratic challenger for county clerk has made an appropriate statement categorically rejecting Jacobs’s proposal. That anyone even needs to engage with this proposal is a travesty. 

What makes it difficult to refuse to engage with Jacobs’s plan is that it presents explicit goals that are worthwhile to pursue: Yes, revitalizing distressed neighborhoods should be a civic goal. Yes, the East Side’s many neighborhoods deserve more attention from the county and city. Yes, grappling with the fact that an enormous portion of the property in Buffalo — particularly hospitals, churches, colleges, museums, schools, nonprofit foundations, even Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency-owned First Niagara Arena — is not taxable is a worthwhile endeavor. However, Jacobs’s plan is a poor one to achieve these worthy goals.

First, Jacobs claims that the strength of the downtown, Elmwood Village and Medical Campus Corridor real estate markets requires mansions and prime-location properties to be put “back in private hands and back on the tax rolls.” Aside from the fact that the claim that valuable real estate must belong to private investors is patently false, (how would any public agency exist in Manhattan were this the case?) the stability of downtown is hardly a foregone conclusion. One Seneca Tower competes with ubiquitous downtown parking lots for the title of most conspicuous under-utilized space in Buffalo. As many people have pointed out, nothing currently prevents private developers from making offers to nonprofits owning buildings they desire. For the right price, a move might be negotiated.

Jacobs’s list of nonprofits ripe for relocation is glaringly classist in its aims. The Red Cross, United Way, International Institute, Child and Family Services, Salvation Army, EPIC and the Catholic Center have strong commitments to aiding poor people. The real estate assets of at least some of these groups bolster their outreach and fundraising capabilities. The strongest example of this may the Buffalo branch of the American Red Cross, an organization that received its mansion at Delaware Avenue and Summer Street specifically as a philanthropic bequest from Carolyn Tripp Clement. Tours of the home not only raise money for the Red Cross but also make the beautiful structure publicly accessible. The Red Cross’s most significant fundraiser, the Mash Bash, takes place on the grounds of the mansion, without which the Red Cross would be unable to raise more than $352,000 in a single night

The implicit goal of Jacobs’s proposal becomes clear when one considers what non-taxed entities with very fine real estate are omitted from his plan: Nardin Academy, Canisius High School, the Ronald McDonald House, the Jacobs Executive Development Center, Gilda’s Club, the County Clerk’s Office itself. Downtown, Elmwood and the Medical Corridor are too nice for poor people, according to Jacobs’s vision. Jacobs euphemistically says relocating service organizations to the Broadway Market would put those groups helping poor people “in closer proximity to those they serve.” In reality, the Broadway Market is less accessible than Delaware Avenue via public transportation for all but those in its immediate neighborhood.

Jacobs’s understanding of crime is fundamentally flawed but central to his proposal. While more densely populated urban neighborhoods generally are safer than those blighted with vacant properties and fewer residents, that busy areas guarantee public safety is oversimplified and confuses cause and effect. “More activity, more people, and more police would make this area begin to feel and to become safer. If people feel safe, many great things begin to happen, such as more people wanting to live in that community,” he claims. Public safety is a necessary condition for growth but no promise of it. And increased public safety itself is by no means a guaranteed outcome of having a police administration building in a neighborhood. Surveillance and safety are hardly synonymous despite the faulty claim that “not just the perception of more eyes on the neighborhood but the reality of more eyes on the neighborhood” will lead to increased safety. The origins of concentrated violence and crime in poor urban neighborhoods are far too complex to be solved by an eight-page development proposal.

The problems of Buffalo’s neighborhoods east of Main Street likewise are too complicated to be summed up by a poorly deployed Yogi Berra quote: “No one goes their anymore. It’s too crowded.” [There/their usage error from original document.] Jacobs refers to the East Side again and again as a monolith even though his proposal affects only one neighborhood, Broadway-Fillmore. His rhetorical questions, “How can we jump start a significant amount of activity? How can we infuse hundreds of people into the East Side in short order?” arrogantly imply hundreds of people do not already live on the East Side. In fact, tens of thousands do. 

Jacobs wraps up his barely coherent proposal by admitting that maybe it’s not very good and, well, do you have a better one, Mr. Mayor? 

After a more detailed analysis, some of these suggested moves may not be feasible, but then many other non-profit/governmental entities exist that were not mentioned here that likely could move. Additionally, locations other than the Broadway Market may be suggested and they absolutely should be considered. The public and non-profit sector should convene to discuss this proposal, perhaps convened by the Mayor of Buffalo.

If it seems like Jacobs does not care to express a coherent plan aware of the city’s long history of poverty and segregation and sensitive to the needs of organizations that benefit the community while simultaneously benefiting private investors, it’s because he really does not care. If Jacobs’s never-going-to-happen proposal has the effect of making Buffalo developers a little wealthier, that would be incidental to what may be the true aim of his plan. The plan’s main purpose is to give Chris Jacobs a talking point and to put the city, the county and his political opponents in the difficult position of saying they reject his plan that has such apparently worthy goals.

It is certainly newsworthy that the holder of a countywide elected office is talking up a ridiculous, low-quality, ill-considered plan to anyone who will listen. The newsworthiness is not in the ideas of the plan itself, burnished by the competent writing skills of a professional reporter. What should be news is the amateurism of plan, which is readily pointed out by the UB School of Architecture and Planning dean interviewed by the News. Unfortunately, too much of the News article is dedicated to drumming up support, creating an impression of false balance, where in fact there is a rather clear judgment to be made on the quality and thoughtfulness of the proposal.

We can and should stop the spread of Chris Jacobs’s terrible proposal for upending public and charitable organizations in the service of making developers wealthier right now. The plan is not worthy of critical analysis, serious consideration or any more printer’s ink. To not offer an immediate counterproposal with fancy renderings does not invalidate the rejection of the plan. I don’t want anymore Google news alerts about “Chris+Jacobs Broadway+Market,” and the people and organizations affected by that monstrosity of a plan deserve more than to be afterthoughts in a mad grab for land and political power by a very wealthy white man.

Everything from the Outer Harbor to #BringBackOurGirls

13 May

Remember last year, when I began a semi-weekly excoriation of Donn Esmonde and posted things about the Clarence schools budget crisis/vote? I’m sparing you the ugly details this year because I’m putting on my dusty activist hat and making sure the perfectly reasonable budget that the school board passed unanimously is passed next Tuesday, and also campaigning for a school-friendly slate of candidates. This is why posting here has been lighter in recent days. That, and the fact that there’s nothing new under the sun.

For instance, it was late 2004 when my blog transitioned from one that focused on national politics into one that looks more closely at local matters. Since that time, local political blogs of all partisan stripes have come and gone, but I’m still here.  The first local thing that really got me going on a roll a decade ago were three competing plans for Buffalo’s Outer Harbor that the NFTA was pimping. They ranged from bucolic park-like setting to mid-density brownstone to what I called “elevator to the moon“. Of course, nothing came of any of them and in 10 years we’ve seen the Outer Harbor be the focus of patented Buffalo inertia and hand-wringing.

The best we’ve done has been to improve access to the area, and even that was met with false yelling about  how Route 5 was a “wall” that separated downtown from her waterfront, never mind the river and grain elevators you had to get past before you ever reached the road.

So, if I wasn’t currently concentrating on schoolkids and their futures, I’d be writing about this:

1. The Outer Harbor: it’s a state park! It’s a sports complex! It’s the location of the Bills’ new stadium! It goes to show you that there’s nothing new under the sun. 10 years down the line, we’re still arguing over what to do with a patch of dreadfully contaminated real estate on a chilly lake.

A few weeks ago, Pat Freeman, the sports director for WUFO was on Twitter and Facebook urging people to contact  Governor Cuomo and urge him to back the museum/stadium on the Outer Harbor. Someone even got a hold of my cell phone number and the same message was – unsolicited – texted to my phone on two occasions.  And Facebook messaging.

Freeman blocked me after I asked him how and why he got my number. Suffice it to say that it’d be swell if the city or Erie County Harbor Development Corporation would put whatever property won’t be a park on the market and sell it, complete with a comprehensive plan and mandated architectural standards.  Government’s job should be to pave the streets, wire the electric, put in the plumbing, and extend the light rail.

2. David Torke is one of the bloggers who’s still at it 10 years later. He’s morphed into a preservationist activist, so he’s totally in with that local clique. I recall some years ago, he would take people on tours of the East Side, where he lives, and show them how owners of properties – the city in particular – would let them become uninhabitable solely through neglect. He’s revived the “tour de neglect”, and the News’ Colin Dabkowski joined one this past weekend.  On on the one hand, it’s good to open people’s eyes to the problems plaguing a huge swath of the city that’s seen little of the incremental good news we have on the West Side. On the other hand,

Most of the conversation focused on buildings; there was very little talk about the East Side’s current residents, many of whom could be negatively impacted by the kinds of development strategies now being enacted or proposed.

You help the East Side of Buffalo get better by addressing the pervasive socioeconomic difficulties present there. The East Side isn’t a crisis of architecture, but of poverty. We can’t – and shouldn’t – be concerned with the potential we see in buildings until we address the potential in people. It will be people, after all, who will ultimately help to change the East Side, and it’s addressing poverty and violence that need to be in the forefront. Like the annual invasion of the relatively affluent to a poor neighborhood to get drunk on Dyngus Day or shop at the market in someone’s grandparents’ neighborhood, a group of affluent, privileged white faces biking through a neighborhood should be focused first on people, not on cornices. This, to me, is the fundamental flaw in all the planning and preservation activism in Buffalo.

3. A local bar owner is planning on bringing a branch of the iconic Bavarian Hofbräuhaus to downtown Buffalo. Seeing as how Buffalo likes beer, sausage, and boiled cabbage, this has some potential. You’ll just have to learn to pronounce “dirndl“, now. No word yet on how a German chain might affect our sense of place or authenticity.

4. Camille Brandon is apparently one of the Democrats who is planning to run for the Assembly seat most recently kept warm by creep Dennis Gabryszak. In the News’ article, our own local political Snidely Whiplash, Steve Pigeon, just can’t help but to suggest that he might bring in his acolyte, Kristy Mazurek,  to run as well. But if you pay close attention, note that both Erie County Democratic Committee chairman Jeremy Zellner and his chief rival, Frank Max, are backing Brandon. Any effort by Pigeon to insert Mazurek into the race – and the brutally defamatory race that would ensue – would go a long way towards maintaining the Democratic infighting on which Pigeon thrives.

Make no mistake, Pigeon’s insertion of Mazurek has more to do with preserving Tim Kennedy’s Senate seat than the useless Assembly.

5. Much of the natural gas located in the part of the Marcellus Shale that’s in New York isn’t as marketable as what Pennsylvania has. Because of the fracking boom that’s scarred, among other places,  the Pennsylvania countryside, the price of natural gas has plummeted. There are too many unknowns, and the people shilling for drilling are likely overstating the potential economic benefits for New Yorkers. I think that fracking in New York is inevitable, but I hope they regulate how it’s done and ensure that people know what chemicals are being injected into the rock in order to extract the gas. It’s not worth it, e.g., to sacrifice clean drinking water for a short-term boomlet of natural gas.  Although it has to do with coal, not natural gas, use West Virginia’s Elk River disaster as a cautionary tale.

6. A Muslim terrorist group in Nigeria kidnapped 276 schoolgirls and is supposedly selling them off into slavery. Nigeria doesn’t have an especially competent government, so there haven’t been any credible attempts to do something about this. People are trying to bring attention to this tragedy through social media, using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.  Even Michelle Obama tweeted a picture of herself holding a piece of paper with the message on it.

Of course, because Mrs. Obama got involved, the right wing is politicizing it. They mock the notion of hashtags and efforts to inform people about something horrible that happened.

But it wasn’t Michelle Obama’s idea. It’s not her thing. It was started by a Nigerian lawyer.

It’s thanks in large part to an initially uncoordinated campaign launched by local Nigerian activists that the girls’ disappearance didn’t continue to fly under the radar at major news providers. The campaign began on April 23 with a single tweet by Nigerian lawyer Ibrahim M. Abdullahi, the first to use the now viral #BringBackOurGirls tag, amid what he calls “complete dissatisfaction” with his government’s response to the incident.

As Abdullahi watched a live address on that date by former Nigerian Minister of Education Obiageli Ezekwesili, he tweeted a phrase she used as follows: “Yes #BringBackOurDaughters #BringBackOurGirls declared by @obyezeks and all people at Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014.”

The lawyer and activist tells DW it is a “great joy” and “heartwarming to know that [the campaign] has gone so global,” as #BringBackOurGirls today nears three million uses on Twitter since April 23. In the Nigerian capital of Abuja, Abdullahi says a group of around 20 campaign volunteers has expanded into more than 100 individuals. They meet daily to monitor progress on finding the girls and follow how the viral campaign is developing.

I don’t get what’s so wrong about this. Suddenly, people are talking about it. British Conservative PM David Cameron even joined in. The point is that the online effort has brought much needed attention to what happened in a part of the world that Americans especially tend to ignore completely. Conservative mocking of #bringbackourgirls is, in effect, saying that we shouldn’t raise awareness about horrible things that are taking place. With this crowd, no matter what Michelle Obama does, she’s just the President’s fat wife who is micromanaging kids’ lunches or whatever. At least #bringbackourgirls brings attention to something worthwhile. #tcot is just a typical conservative circle-jerk of hatred. I suspect that conservatives on Twitter won’t be abandoning #tcot, though.

The Foundry’s Fundraising Campaign

28 Jun

To close out the week, I want to direct your attention to something fun, exciting, and important that’s happening on Buffalo’s east side. Located at 298 Northampton Street not far from Main Street, the Foundry could be described as a low-tech incubator, of sorts. It started out last spring to create something new out of other people’s trash – materials would be salvaged and picked to reduce waste and reuse things that still had useful life. 

The Foundry has an urgent need for contributions from the community to help it meet its immediate building improvement goals

Last May, a small group of folks moved into a recently vacated building on the East Side of Buffalo. We were passionate about using reclaimed and salvaged materials, found objects and trash-picked treasures to create new things, to create new opportunities for average people with a skill, some motivation, and a dream. 

The Foundry is whatever its members need it to be; a workshop, an office, a studio, a community space, and a place for imagination and creativity in a oft-forgotten neighborhood. Some of the entrepreneurs and artisans making up the Foundry include: 

But in order better to fulfill its mission, the Foundry need support – both personal and financial. If you don’t have money to donate, they can use your time and knowledge. It’s not just about empowering people to fulfill their dreams, but about creating a better economic future for a community. On the Second Saturday of every month, the Foundry opens itself up to the public, and you can watch participants do their work, buy their wares, explore and get involved. You can get everything from hand-made soaps to salvaged church pews. There’s coffee, beer, welders, weavers, and glass blowers. 

 

In its first year of existence, the Foundry has accomplished the following: 

  • Created ten studios equipped with the necessary specialized tools for each craft.
  • Completed a 3,000 square foot addition to expand the building’s footprint.
  • Outfitted a technology lab, a woodworking shop and a metalworking studio with necessary tools and equipment.
  • Reached agreement with the landlord to purchase The Foundry.

With Community Support, the Foundry:

  • Leveraged hundreds of hours of volunteer labor from residents and supporters to clean, organize, and create new spaces.
  • Future fiber arts studio has been outfitted by a generous donation by Daemen College.
  • With help from a National Grid grant,  the Foundry upgraded all the first floor lights to high efficiency lighting fixtures.
  • With commitment of in-kind support from the Sprinkler Fitters Union Local 669, the Foundry is upgrading its entire fire protection system.
  • Created a master build-out plan, pro-bono, with architect Anne Dafchik to accommodate more residents, a community venue and spaces for our kitchencafe and a future restaurant.

The Foundry contributed to the community around it by, 

  • Hosting Buffalo’s Torn Space Theatre’s production, “He Who Gets Slapped”.
  • Hosting Vermont’s world famous Bread and Puppet Theater, Adam Ende and Puerto Rico’s Puppeteers Poncili Company.
  • Serving as a location for local film production “Give and Take”.
  • Initiating the Second Saturday at The Foundry series, and hosting Second Saturdays every month since May 2012
  • Holding a series of free workshops, classes, and trainings for community members.
  • Providing meaningful, hands-on internships for City Honors and Nichols students.
  • Mobilizing 50 volunteers to plant 150 trees in the Masten Park Neighborhood.  

By working together and engaging in the community, the people behind the Foundry believe that they can have a bigger impact than by acting individually. 

 

The Foundry is looking to raise $30,000 to make some important changes and upgrades to its physical plant, including

  • The fire protection system: The Foundry’s effort received a huge boost with an in-kind donation from Davis Ulmer Sprinkler Company for a design of our new system. The Sprinkler Fitters union is helping by getting apprentices involved in completing most of the work. The Foundry still needs to float the materials, and it’s big. $15,000.
  • Steel Staircases, Fire Doors and Firewalls: To access the second floor and open up twelve additional studios for new residents. $13,200. 
  • Heating System: The Foundry has its sights set on a new energy-efficient furnace that will heat the facility with waste fuel. $12,500.
  • Windows and Doors: As Buffalo Lab works to implement the property’s keyless access system, they need to upgrade numerous doors in the building and open up windows that have long been blocked in. $1,750.
  • Electrical System Upgrades and Improvements: all the ground level lighting has been switched to high efficiency fixtures, but they need to complete the second level, and additional wiring improvements throughout the building. $3,500.
  • Safety, signage, security system: $ 1,200.
  • Plan review and permitting: $750.

The maintenance and development of the building will be largely supported through revenues generated by space rental to emerging entrepreneurs, artisans, and small business owners. The Foundry strives to strike a balance between offering affordable spaces for all its residents while also making sure the building can sustain itself well into the future.

Rent for participating entrepreneurs includes utilities, access to community workspaces (wood shop, glass shop, metal shop, office space), access to a growing inventory of reclaimed materials that can be utilized for projects, and first priority on professional and skill development classes.

The Foundry is running an Indiegogo fundraising effort right now to help it meet its immediate financial goals. You can check it out and contribute by clicking here. There’s 9 days left in its fundraising efforts, and it’s 1/3 of the way towards meeting its goal. 

The Foundry Website: www.thefoundrybuffalo.org

Net Positive, The Foundry’s sponsoring organization: www.netpositivefoundation.org

Anderson Cooper Reacts to Dyngus Day

11 Apr

Here, TV’s Anderson Cooper learns about the “traditions” of Dyngus Day, which Buffalo is very proud to host every year. Cooper’s reaction is quite appropriate, all things considered. It’s an odd celebration, because for all intents and purposes Buffalo’s East Side Polonia has been reduced to almost nothing in the past few decades. Once a year – around Eastertime – Buffalo’s Polish diaspora converges on its old neighborhood to celebrate a community that’s left, and a heritage that has been diluted. It’s always that way with immigrant communities – time brings assimilation and old traditions become excuses to binge drink in abandoned buildings.

Consider why Buffalo hosts its Italian festival on Hertel Avenue, and not on Grant Street, where the Italian immigrants largely lived during the first half of the last century. 

The Dyngus Day festivities and their ancillary events take place in what is now a very poor neighborhood with little hope and less opportunity.  There are myriad non-profits, volunteers, and caring people who work tirelessly and with little or no remuneration to try to make life better for those neighborhoods and their residents.  I don’t know how you turn blight around when there are no jobs to be had, but it seems to me that the annual drink-fest taking place in a neighborhood that Buffalo’s Polish community has abandoned seems disturbingly superficial and crass, given the human suffering that happens there during the remaining 364 days of the year. 

So, instead of drinking mass quantaties of Tyskie, join or contribute to Buffalo ReUse, follow community news at Broadway Fillmore Alive, or volunteer to help preserve the Central Terminal.   

Stenhouse Settles (How Not to Run a Poor City)

15 Jan
Buffalo City Hall

Buffalo City Hall by Flickr User Alex Fisher Photography

The corruption lawsuit brought by NRP, a Cleveland developer, against some city bigshots just got itself an empty chair to which the other defendants can point. It’s alleged that the Rev. Richard Stenhouse and his Jeremiah Partnership conspired with Byron Brown, Steve Casey, and others to shut NRP out of a proposed east side housing development project unless it would retain Stenhouse’s unwanted services.

No one who pays even passing attention to Buffalo politics was surprised by it. The only surprise is that an out-of-town plaintiff with little else to lose was willing to go to war over it.  Racketeering, Buffalo style: city government fails even at that.

Stenhouse’s insurance company reportedly paid $200,000 to settle the case. That leaves city officials still litigating the case, and Stenhouse is free and clear but could still be subpoenaed to testify at trial. That Stenhouse’s insurer chose to dump the case at this stage for a hefty six-figure sum is indicative of a thought there that the facts and law weren’t shaping up all that favorably. And instead of paying Stenhouse $80,000 for unwanted “services”, NRP itself got paid for enduring the insult.

But I’ll take note of something else that troubles me about Stenhouse and his Jeremiah Partnership. The east side, as we all know, is not at a loss for housing; it’s at a loss for habitable housing. There are thousands of vacant homes blighting the city, abandoned to the clinging remnants of once-thriving neighborhoods. To modernize each one costs a small fortune – especially if one is poor. New windows, new siding, lead paint remediation, structural repairs, updating the utilities – these cost loads of money that are seldom justified by a concomitant rise in home value. That’s why land banking is a viable option for much of Buffalo, and why the state passed a land banking law, and why Empire State Development is accepting land banking bids.

This program permits municipalities to apply for and create land banks in their communities.  Pursuant to Article 16 of the New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation Law, signed into law by Governor Cuomo in July 2011, certain municipalities are permitted to create land banks upon approval of ESD.  Land banks are not-for-profit corporations created to take control and redevelop vacant or abandoned properties to where they can better serve the public interest.

Program Highlights

  • In order to combat the problem of vacant and abandoned properties, the program permits local communities to create land banks to be utilized by communities to facilitate the return of vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties to productive use.
  • The primary focus of land bank operations is the acquisition of real property that is tax delinquent, tax foreclosed, vacant and/or abandoned, and to use the tools of the program to eliminate the harms and liabilities caused by such properties.
  • Ten land banks will be permitted to be created within New York State.

Eligibility, Criteria & Additional Program Information

Eligibility, criteria and additional program information, can be found in the Land Bank Program Guidelines. For additional information, please review the Land Bank Act (Article 16 of the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law).

And what is the Stenhouse track record of improving and lifting up the community? David Torke at the FixBuffalo blog will tell you all about it. Take, for instance, 38 Ada Place. A quaint little one-block street of once-tidy homes, Ada Place has loads of rehabilitation potential, given its proximity to Main Street and  Canisius.

Torke writes:

Rev. Stenhouse’s organization Bethel Community Development Corporation purchased 38 Ada Place in 2002. Three years ago I included a post about 38 Ada Place in a six part series about a failed neighborhood housing plan.  Rev. Stenhouse wanted to be part of that plan.  38 Ada Place  looked like this in March 2009.

Rev. Stenhouse was invited to Housing Court for his failure to properly maintain a string of houses across the street from his Bethel AME Church, near the corner of East Ferry and Michigan and directly across the street from one of the City’s newest school renovations – Performing Arts.   He later resigned from the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority when he plead guilty in Buffalo’s Housing Court in 2007.  He’d been appointed by Governor Pataki to be the Control Board’s Secretary and Treasurer in 2004.

What happened to that failed neighborhood housing plan?  It’s dead.  Rev. Stenhouse and his now defunct Jeremiah Partnership are defendants in a Federal “Pay-to-Play” lawsuit.  Here’s a copy of that lawsuit filed on behalf of a Cleveland Ohio based developer NRP Group in June 2011.  According to public records the Jeremiah Partnership failed to file the required 990’s for three consecutive years. The IRS has revoked its exempt status.

It would seem to me that the Rev. Stenhouse is already in water far too deep for his own abilities, and that he ought to concentrate on the structures he already owns, rather than allegedly conspiring with city officials to clumsily strong-arm developers into a job or a contract.

It’s indicative of the fact that the city isn’t about governing, per se, it’s about enrichment through money and the use of power. Through land banking and a strong homesteader program with grants and no-interest loans for people to fix up old homes, we can shore up what’s good, land bank what’s not, and try to rebuild communities block by block using existing home stock, rather than vinyl ranch homes that look more at home in Cheektowaga than a few blocks from the central business district.

Stenhouse's Contributions as per the BOE

Also, a Buffalo News headline claimed that Mayor Brown, in a Friday court filing, “took the offensive” and “countersues”. The case docket with the District Court reveals that the defendants have filed no counterclaim. In fact, what was filed on Friday is a Federal Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss; in this instance, it’s been filed in lieu of a formal Answer to the Complaint, because the defendants argue that the plaintiff has no case. In the old days, it was called a “demurrer“.  But no counterclaim or “countersuit” has been filed, and the headline author was incorrect on that point. 

In its papers, the defendants say that the “pay to play” allegations are untrue because Stenhouse never made a contribution to the Mayor. That’s true, as far as we know. However, the Jeremiah Partnership is a faith-based organization, and as such may be exempt or legally barred from making political contributions. However, it’s not Stenhouse or Jeremiah that’s alleged to have “paid” to play, but that they conspired with city officials to make NRP pay Jeremiah Partnership to secure a lucrative development contract.

You can read the relevant parts of the Mayor’s and Steve Casey’s motion below. Defendant Demone Smith filed a similar motion on Friday. Much of what’s written there is bluster and public relations about NRP’s own reputation.

Amended Complaint NRP v. Brown et al//

12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss NRP v. Brown et al//

Memorandum of Law in Support of Brown’s Motion to Dismiss//

The Woodlawn Row Houses, RIP

7 Aug

David Torke has been writing about these historic row houses in the Masten District since about 2004.  Owned by the city, he has cared for them, written about them, tried to get developers interested in them, all to no avail.  They were, if I recall correctly, the reason why he started his blog, Fix Buffalo, in the first place.

Well, they’re gone now.  David photographed the fire and its aftermath. They were granted local landmark status in 1982 by the Preservation Board.  Here’s his last pre-fire post about the houses – he always remembered to give them an occasional plug. Private property owners are required to abide by all relevant building codes.  The city exempts itself.  As David concludes,

The path to the City’s Division of Real Estate is well worn. Responsibility lies there. Accountability doesn’t. Why?

As the saying goes, that’s rhetorical.  But City Hall is probably right.  We don’t need a plan for anything.

The Urban Farm

12 May

Dave Torke reports that the city has reached an agreement to permit an urban farm to be operated on 27 vacant lots on Wilson Street on Buffalo’s east side.

All’s well that ends well.

Broadway Market Fail

22 Oct

There is a way to make the Broadway Market an attractive year-round shopping mecca, but unfortunately the disgraced outgoing board pretty much went out of its way to ruin almost every good idea to come along.

Now that they’re out, and now that someone is going to have to come in and fix the mess, the disgraced do-nothing board is (out of spite? out of stupidity?) auctioning off treasured items that are part and parcel of what little drawing power the Market has/d.
From Buffalo Business First, via Broadway Fillmore Alive:

“This is your chance to own a piece of Buffalo’s history, everything from the historic Broadway Market signs to the Easter Bunny hut will be sold,” said Cash Cunningham, who runs the Buffalo-based auction and real estate development company.

It’s akin to a kid on your block being a jerk and taking his ball and going home, so no one else can enjoy it. BFA recommends you contact City Hall if you’re outraged, too.

The Broadway Market

26 Jun

The Broadway Market is a city treasure, filled with history and loaded with potential. Unfortunately, it’s under-utilized, losing money, keeps bad hours, and is really, truly ugly.

We know it has potential because of the Eastertime rush. We know it has potential because of its history, and people’s nostalgia for it. That potential is tempered by the decline of its surroundings over the past decades.

If I had all the money in the world, I’d rip it down and build a brand-new structure as a destination for the area. After all, if Canal Side can all of a sudden draw people to a once-blighted and benighted parking lot under the Skyway, then a gleaming, modern Broadway Market could help draw people to Broadway-Fillmore.

Of course, I hardly have enough money to fill up a tank of gas now, and I doubt that there’s political will or financial sense to be made of constructing a gleaming, modern marketplace on that site.

I think what’s happening is that the market’s potential is being stunted by a whole host of issues. Let’s simplify.

What if we abandoned the building completely? What if, instead, we set up something like what’s shown below on the site of the former K-Mart across the street?

Make the cost of entry for vendors de minimis, and soon you’ll have a thriving, grassroots market. Tell farmers from other areas to market their wares there. Abolish restrictions on the use of the market.

If it can be proven that people will use the market outside of Eastertime, then a push can be made to build a new enclosed market across the street.

Just a thought, anyway. Being open on Sunday, when the refugees from the old neighborhood go to church, would help, too.

UPDATE: Check out the article in ArtVoice about the market, and these excerpts:

The problem, Byrd says, is lack of vision. He took a position on the board because he imagined that it could be a part of the larger effor to revitalize Buffalo’s old Polonia dsitrict, which revolves around fixtures like the Central Terminal, St. Stanislaus, Corpus Christi, and the Adam Mickiewicz Library. This year Byrd was voted in as president of the board by a bloc of similarly minded progressives, offering a glimmer of hope for those who hoped to change the way business is done at the market.

But the current board leadership managed to retain power by invalidating the vote that won Byrd the presidency, through a series of shenanigans that included ousting one board member on a technicality and fetching a compliant former board member from a nursing home to take his place, in order to make a quorum. In the aftermath, Byrd resigned; the old leadership returned and booted reform-minded board members Marty Biniasz and Father Anzelm Chalupka of Corpus Christi Church for missing too many meetings, which are held at 8:30 in the mornings on weekdays—tough to make for working professionals.

For all the complaints about lack of public money, the current management practically threw away $1.2 million from Congresswoman Louise Slaughter in 2006. Slaughter, who was instrumental in the successful rejuvenation of Rochester’s public marketplace, earmarked the money for a public kitchen and a variety of much-needed infrastructure improvements. But Fronczak and the board conspired to use $1 million of Slaughter’s earmark to lure in a new tenant who proposed to open a factory outlet selling discount clothing—not at all in line with Slaughter’s vision of the market as a hub for community development and a source of healthy food in a multicultural neighborhood. Slaughter took her money off the table and walked away, disgusted, vowing never to help the market while Fronczak was still there.

“They wanted to give this guy $1 million, Slaughter’s money, to open a factory outlet,” Franczyk says. “Is that right for the market? He subsequently went out of business. If you had given this guy $1 million, he probably would have skipped town.”

We all know that KeyBank left the market. What better way to attract people to a fading market in a fading neighborhood, then to add the lowest common lending denominator – the usurial check cashing place:

More recently, when the departure of KeyBank left the market with nagging vacancy and a loss of $6,000 per month in rent, Fronczak and the board courted a check-cashing operation based in New York City. Maybe check-cashing is a sevice the neighborhood needs, says Dobosiewicz, but it hardly burnishes the market’s already downtrodden image. “This is the plan there: Get whoever you can who will pay rent, don’t worry about who they are and how they fit in with the market,” he says.

Luckily, there are people with vision and energy who can hopefully jettison the mediocrity and stasis of the market’s current board:

The current board has been less than receptive to new marketing ideas; they only halfheartedly went along with a Christmas market event last year, for example, which turned out to be hugely successful. Tenants who suggested a Fourth of July promotion were told it was bad idea. Why? Because it had never been done before. And management seems unwilling to accept the conclusions of customer surveys that indicate the market would attract more business if it stayed open past five o.clock on weekdays and instituted Sunday hours.

Sandy Starks is a founding member of Western New York’s convivium of the Slow Food movement and a career professional in the food and wine industry. She was one of the organizers of the Christmas market, an effort in which she received so little cooperation from the market’s management that it wound up costing her money. She’s one of a number of Broadway Market enthusiasts who are waiting in the sidelines to contribute their ideas and expertise to the rebirth of the market. Starks imagines organic vegetable stands, high-quality coffee, good cheeses, and microbrews to draw in customer with expensive tatses; she imagines reaching out to potential new vendors in the Fillmore District’s burgeoning Vietnamese and Muslim communities, as well as a consistent effort to include the district’s majority African-American population in the market’s cultural history and governance, which have been an island of Eastern European whiteness in a neighborhood that is predominantly African American. Starks imagines events every weekend, promoted not only by individual participants but by the market’s management. Starks, Byrd, and Dobosiewicz point to the Clinton-Bailey market—in an equally distressed neighborhood, even further removed from downtown—as an indication of that the Broadway can succeed.